Hate groups on the rise

Charlottesville, Virginia, may have been the epicenter of white supremacist rhetoric and rage this weekend, but it’s certainly not the only U.S. city where hate groups have taken root.

At least 917 active hate groups are currently operating across the country, according to a February 2017 report published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy group.

SPLC found that the number of hate groups (defined as people harboring “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics”) had been declining since 2011 but spiked in the last couple years during the presidential election.

“[President Donald] 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,” the report stated.

SPLC reported 1,094 “bias incidents” swept the country in the 34 days following Election Day in 2016.

“The hate was clearly tied directly to Trump’s victory,” the report stated.

Many white nationalists, such as those involved in the violent clashes in Charlottesville while protesting the removal of a Confederate statue, have embraced Trump and felt emboldened by his rise to power.

Hours after 20-year-old white nationalist James Alex Fields allegedly rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters Saturday, killing Heather Heyer, 32, Trump vaguely condemned the hatred and bigotry from “many sides.”

Days later, the president had yet to personally denounce extremist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, involved in the protests, which left three dead and at least 19 injured. Lawmakers on both the left and right lambasted his soft response, while some white supremacist groups praised it.

The Anti-Defamation League said Charlottesville was the largest gathering of white supremacists in more than a decade.

“Our people are feeling real good right now,” said White nationalist organizer Eli Mosley.

“We view this is as a civil rights movement at this point. We’re advocating for white rights and white people, who will soon be a minority in this country. This day was a milestone pushing us into our next stage. We had a large turnout.”

“We’re coming back to Charlottesville,” he added defiantly.

With a president of the United States not condemning Nazism, and after over a year of signaling his support for white nationalism, experts are deeply concerned that we’re in store for political violence even worse than the kind that visited Charlottesville.

That’s because an emboldened fringe right, has in turn, emboldened the far left. Professor Brian Levin, head of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said that the fatality and injuries Saturday ensure that the “much smaller and less coalesced far left,” which includes anti-fascist or Antifa protesters, would go looking for “revenge.”

“It’s a reciprocal dance of extremism,” Levin said.

The Anti-Defamation League believes there’s a way to break this vicous cycle. The group called on Trump to “terminate all staff” with any ties to white nationalists, likely referring to prominent White House advisers Steve Bannon, Steven Miller, and Sebastian Gorka, all of whom are linked to racist, fringe figures and groups.

“This is a moment that demands moral leadership,” ADL President Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. “President Trump should acknowledge that this is not a matter of equivalence between two sides with similar gripes. There is no rationalizing white supremacy and no room for this vile bigotry. It is un-American and it needs to be condemned without hesitation.”