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Springtime for Hate Groups

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You may have suspected this already, but the Southern Poverty Law Center has confirmed it: 2016 was a banner year for hate groups in the U.S.

According to the annual SPLC report, the number of hate groups rose to 917 in 2016, up from 892 in 2015. The report shows that the most dramatic change was the enormous leap in anti-Muslim hate groups, which tripled from 34 organizations in 2015, to 101 in 2016.

Let’s see, what could possibly account for the rise in anti-Muslim groups? Who had the biggest megaphone in 2016? Oh, right.

Much of the increased hate, the report noted, could be attributed to the rhetoric and fear-mongering espoused by President Donald Trump during his presidential campaign.

“Trump’s run for office electrified the radical right, which saw in him a champion of the idea that America is fundamentally a white man’s country,” wrote Mark Potok, SPLC senior fellow and author of the report. “He kicked off the campaign with a speech vilifying Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. He retweeted white supremacist messages, including one that falsely claimed that black people were responsible for 80 percent of the murders of whites. He credentialed racist media personalities even while barring a serious outlet like The Washington Post, went on a radio show hosted by a rabid conspiracy theorist named Alex Jones, and said that Muslims should be banned from entering the country. He seemed to encourage violence against black protesters at his rallies, suggesting that he would pay the legal fees of anyone charged as a result.”

Elections have consequences. So do campaigns. Surely we can attribute some anti-Muslim sentiment to massacres in Orlando and in San Bernardino, which were carried out by Muslim men (and one wife) who claimed allegiance to ISIS (at least while the attacks were happening, though they had no contact with ISIS before then). But let’s be clear. The rise in anti-Muslim sentiment, and the rise in anti-Muslim hate groups was stoked and encouraged by one political candidate, one who is now President. Recall if you will how George W. Bush, days after the 9-11 attacks made a point of saying Islam is a religion of peace and that the hijackers were worshipping a perverted sham of that faith. He was right to say that, and his comments are credited for keeping a lid on anger and hate crimes against Muslims in the days and months following the attacks.

Compare and contrast the person in the White House now, who has signed an executive order banning people from 7 predominantly Muslim countries, an order being stalled in the courts, and who is being advised by people like Jeff Bannon, who have a long history of anti-Muslim statements.

Leadership matters.