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Hate Report: Trump Is ‘Absolutely Electrifying The Radical Right’

The Southern Poverty Law Center released its "Year In Hate" report on Wednesday and attributes much of the country's hateful unrest to one man: Donald Trump

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Photo Illustration: Diana Quach
Feb 15, 2017 at 5:38 PM ET

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Wednesday released its annual “Year In Hate” report showing that the number of hate groups across the country is nearing its highest level in nearly 30 years — and the report’s author thinks he knows why: President Donald Trump is “absolutely electrifying the radical right.”

“The Trump phenomenon has really unleashed hate in this country in a way that is difficult to remember,” Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC and author of the report, said at a press conference Wednesday. He continued, “While this is not Germany in the 1930s, there are some real parallels.”

There wasn’t a huge increase in the number of organizations the SPLC deems “hate groups” between 2015 and 2016 — about 3 percent, from 892 in 2015 to 917 last year — but the 917 figure is just 100 shy of the 30-year high of 1,018 in 2011, when the backlash over the election of the country’s first black president reached a fever pitch, and plans to build a mosque near the site of the World Trade Center outraged the radical right. That spike receded to 784 in 2014, its lowest level in nearly a decade, only to be revived again in 2015, when Trump launched his presidential campaign.

The difference between Trump and other presidents, Potok said, is that while others did their best to quell hateful hysteria, Trump thrives on it and encourages it. He pointed to former President George W. Bush, who after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon made it clear that Islam is not the enemy, extremism is.

“In 2001 [following the 9/11 attack], anti-Muslim hate crimes went up 1,600 percent,” Potok said. “In the following year, there was a dramatic drop in anti-Muslim hate crimes that clearly was the result of George W. Bush repeatedly saying Arabs are not our enemies. Our enemies are al Qaeda.”

Of all the different types of hate groups, the SPLC found the biggest spike in the number of anti-Muslim organizations, which increased by 197 percent from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016. The spike, the SPLC said, is not terribly surprising.

“Anti-Muslim hate has been expanding rapidly for more than two years now, driven by radical Islamist attacks including the June mass murder of 49 people at an Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub, the unrelenting propaganda of a growing circle of well-paid ideologues, and the incendiary rhetoric of Trump — his threats to ban Muslim immigration, mandate a registry of Muslims in America, and more,” the organization found.

Another trend the SPLC noted in its report is the rebranding of white nationalism under the banner of the “alt-right,” and the influence the once shadowy, web-based movement has achieved since Hillary Clinton mentioned the group by name during a campaign speech in August. Since then, members of the “alt-right” movement have come out of the shadows of cyberspace and started organizing real world events, like distributing white supremacist propaganda fliers at colleges and in neighborhoods across the country. A November conference in Washington D.C. hosted by the alt-right’s de-facto leader, Richard Spencer, concluded with him chanting “hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory,” as several attendees gave Nazi salutes. The inclusion of Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News — which he declared to be the “platform for the ‘alt-right'” — as Trump’s top advisor has further emboldened the movement.

“Whether or not the movement grows in coming years, it seems indisputable that its views have a better chance to actually affect policy now than in decades,” the SPLC said of the white nationalist movement rebranded as “alt-right.”