White supremacists say they are just warming up.
Violence at a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend served as only the latest data point on a dramatically escalating trendline of hate-group activity.
White supremacists picked up the pace in 2008, after the election of the first African American president, and again this year as white-power groups saw Donald Trump’s win as an opportunity to move from the fringes toward the near mainstream of political discourse.
“I believe that today in Charlottesville, this is a first step toward making a realization of something that Trump alluded to earlier in the campaign, which is, this is the first step toward taking America back,” David Duke, one of the country’s most infamous white supremacists and a former lawmaker, told a crowd of supporters in Virginia.
Already, white supremacist groups have promised more rallies in more cities and have begun raising money to pay for the legal defense costs associated with charges that might come out of the Charlottesville violence.
We’ve followed the radical right for more than 40 years and have never seen anything like it.
Richard Cohen, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center
This comes as no surprise to hate-group watchers, who have been documenting the increase in activity for years and attribute the latest surge to Donald Trump’s rhetoric, which frequently offended Muslims, women, immigrants and people of color while being cheered by people who consider themselves part of the “alt-right,” a loose confederation of groups who espouse white-nationalist and anti-Semitic beliefs.
After Trump's victory, Andrew Anglin, who runs the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, posted this reaction on Nov. 9, 2016: “Our Glorious Leader has ascended to God Emperor,” Anglin wrote. “Make no mistake about it: we did this. If it were not for us, it wouldn’t have been possible.”
Richard Cohen, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Trump’s fiery words have endeared him to many other hate groups.
“He’s run an incendiary campaign that has energized the modern white supremacist movement, sometimes called the ‘alt-right,’” Cohen said. “We saw it in the ugly surge in hate crimes immediately following his election, as white supremacists celebrated Mr. Trump's victory. And we saw it this weekend in the unprecedented gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville.”
In February, the center reported that hate groups in the U.S. were at “near-historic levels,” jumping from 892 in 2015 to 917 last year.
“That approaches the all-time high in some 30 years of counting groups, 1,018 in 2011, when hatred of President Obama on the political right was white hot.”
Anti-Muslim hate groups saw the largest growth, from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year.
In the first month following Trump’s election, hate crimes and incidents of bias-related harassment and intimidation skyrocketed, the SPLC reported.
Of 1,094 incidents reported from Nov. 9 to December 12, 315 were anti-immigrant in nature, 221 were anti-black, 112 were anti-Muslim and 109 were anti-LGBT.
According to the SPLC, “more than a third of the incidents directly referenced either Trump, his ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan, or his infamous remarks about grabbing women by the genitals.”
Over the same period, there were 26 anti-Trump incidents reported, six of which were also anti-white. Two other anti-white incidents were not Trump-related, the SPLC found.
A Saturday rally in Charlottesville to protest the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee turned deadly when suspected white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr., of Ohio, allegedly drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer of Charlottesville, and injuring others.
“We’ve followed the radical right for more than 40 years and have never seen anything like it,” Cohen said of the incident.
A legal defense fund has been set up for Jason Kessler, the white supremacist organizer of the Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally. Former Klan leader David Duke and others have been urging followers to contribute to the fund. As of 3:45 pm Monday, the site had raised nearly $2,600 — short of a $50,000 goal.
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe account for 20-year-old Natalie Romero, a counter-protestor from Houston who was struck by the vehicle, has raised nearly $110,000 of its $120,000 goal.
While today’s delayed words are welcome, they should have been spoken on Saturday. This unconscionable delay has undermined his moral credibility as our nation’s leader.
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
On Monday, Trump called white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan “criminals and thugs” after failing to mention them by name in his widely-panned response to the Charlottesville violence on Saturday.
“While today’s delayed words are welcome, they should have been spoken on Saturday. This unconscionable delay has undermined his moral credibility as our nation’s leader,” said a statement from Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Gupta and other civil rights and religious leaders still want Trump to stop advancing divisive policies and to fire advisers Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka because of their alt-right and anti-Semitic leanings.
“Supporters of white supremacists, violent extremism, racial bigotry, and neo-Nazis should not serve in the White House or at any level of government. The president should fire Stephen Bannon and Sebastian Gorka or any staffers who stoke hate and division,” Gupta added.