Hatred on the March

A screenshot from a recruitment video for the American neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, May 2019
Atomwaffen Division
A screenshot from a recruitment video for the American neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, May 2019

There is no longer any doubt that President Trump’s demonization of certain groups—immigrants in particular, but also his political opponents—has emboldened American right-wing extremists to commit violent acts. In the fall of 2018, just before the midterm elections, Cesar Sayoc Jr., a fanatical Trump supporter, sent pipe bombs to thirteen prominent Democrats—they were apparently not designed to explode, only to frighten the recipients—and Robert Bowers, an anti-immigration extremist, killed eleven worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history. In August 2019 Patrick Crusius, a white nationalist, murdered twenty-two people at a Walmart in a Hispanic neighborhood of El Paso. A few days later, the FBI arrested Eric Lin, a neo-Nazi, for threatening a Hispanic woman on Facebook, where he proclaimed that Trump would “launch a Racial War and Crusade.”

Trump has called immigration from south of the border an “invasion” and deployed thousands of troops to stop it. He has falsely claimed that Latin American immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than American citizens, and that large numbers of jihadists are infiltrating the US from Mexico. The manifesto posted online by Crusius adopted Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric, stating that “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”1 Sociologists call mayhem based on public political statements “scripted violence.”2 Crusius’s mass murder was a flagrant example of it.

In August 2017 the president intimated moral equivalence between “Unite the Right” demonstrators—including self-identified neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, neofascists, and white nationalists, as well as various militias—and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. There had been, he told reporters, “some very fine people on both sides.” He has vilified black professional football players for protesting police violence against African-Americans by kneeling during the national anthem, and he routinely insults nonwhite journalists and politicians. He has told several progressive, nonwhite congresswomen to “go back” to their countries, though all but one were born in the United States. At a political rally in Indiana in November 2018, Trump both exaggerated the threat posed by left-wing activists and belittled their strength, calling on presumably more muscular supporters—bikers, the police, the military—to confront them and giving the “Q” sign associated with white supremacy to someone in the crowd.3 As William Saletan observed in Slate:

When Muslims commit acts of terror, Trump blames radical imams and their ideology. When white racists commit acts of terror, Trump says racial propagandists have nothing to do with it. That’s because Trump’s beef isn’t really with incitement. It’s with Muslims and immigrants. He’s fine with incitement—very fine—as long as the incitement is his own.4

Right-wing violence has increased since Trump became president.5 According to the FBI, hate crimes, which by definition…

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