The Year in Hate and Extremism–2015

Mark Potok, The Year in Hate and Extremism. Southern Poverty Law Center, 17 February 2016. “The number of hate and antigovernment ‘Patriot’ groups grew last year, and terrorist attacks and radical plots proliferated. Charleston. Chattanooga. Colorado Springs. In these towns and dozens of other communities around the nation, 2015 was a year marked by extraordinary violence from domestic extremists — a year of living dangerously. Antigovernment militiamen, white supremacists, abortion foes, domestic Islamist radicals, neo-Nazis and lovers of the Confederate battle flag targeted police, government officials, black churchgoers, Muslims, Jews, schoolchildren, Marines, abortion providers, members of the Black Lives Matter protest movement, and even drug dealers.”

[Domestic extremists] laid plans to attack courthouses, banks, festivals, funerals, schools, mosques, churches, synagogues, clinics, water treatment plants and power grids. They used firearms, bombs, C-4 plastic explosives, knives and grenades; one of them, a murderous Klansman, was convicted of trying to build a death ray.

The armed violence was accompanied by rabid and often racist denunciations of Muslims, LGBT activists and others — incendiary rhetoric led by a number of mainstream political figures and amplified by a lowing herd of their enablers in the right-wing media. Reacting to demographic changes in the U.S., immigration, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and Islamist atrocities, these people fostered a sense of polarization and anger in this country that may be unmatched since the political upheavals of 1968….

Just as the number of hate groups rose by 14% in 2015, so did the number of conspiracy-minded antigovernment “Patriot” groups, going from 874 in 2014 to 998 last year. The growth was fueled by the euphoria felt in antigovernment circles after armed activists forced federal officials to back down at gunpoint from seizing cattle at Cliven Bundy’s ranch to pay his grazing fees. So emboldened were activists by the failure of the federal government to arrest anyone following their “victory” at the Bundy ranch that armed men, led by Bundy’s son, began occupying a wildlife refuge in Oregon in January 2016 as a protest against federal land ownership in the West….

The impact of terrorism goes far beyond the body count. Violence motivated by racial, ethnic or religious animus fractures society along its most fragile fault lines, and sends shock waves through entire targeted communities. More hatred and fear, particularly of diversity, are often the response. Several political figures have harnessed that fear, calling for bans on mosques, Muslim immigrants and refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East. And terror can breed hate crimes, as evidenced by a string of physical attacks on mosques and Muslims, particularly after a jihadist couple in San Bernardino, Calif., murdered 14 people in December.

From start to finish, the year 2015 was remarkable for its terrorist violence, the penetration of the radical right and its conspiracy theories into mainstream politics, and the boost far-right ideas and groups received from pandering politicians like Donald Trump. And the situation appears likely to get worse, not better, as the country continues to come to terms with its increasing diversity.

Eight years after the election of our first black president, two years after the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, and half a year after same-sex marriage was legalized, Americans are arguably as angry as they have been in decades.

The bulk of that anger is coming from beleaguered working-class and, to a lesser extent, middle-class white people, especially the less educated — the very same groups that most vociferously support Trump. They are angry over the coming loss of a white majority (predicted for 2043 by the Census Bureau), the falling fortunes of the white working class, worsening income inequality, the rise of left-wing movements like Black Lives Matter, major advances for LGBT people, growing numbers of refugees and undocumented workers, terrorism, and more.

Their anger, above all, is directed at the government….

[The US] may be headed for a better place. But the Harvard scholar Robert Putnam has argued that as ethnic diversity rises, trust both between and within ethnic groups declines. As Putnam argues, that does not mean that multiculturalism is a failure, but rather that inter-communal bridgebuilding is important as diversity increases. In other words, the road ahead will not be an easy one, and Americans of all races and creeds will need to work to rebuild a true national community….

Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report. “The Intelligence Report is the nation’s preeminent periodical monitoring the radical right in the U.S.”

Democracy Now!, Winning His Race: Is Trump the Poster Child for the Rise of U.S. Hate Groups? 25 February 2016.