- Last week, in Portland, Oregon, a man with a history of white supremacist rhetoric allegedly killed two men and injured one other who had tried to stop his harassment of two young women—one black, the other wearing a hijab.
A week earlier, in College Park, Maryland, another young man—active in white supremacist Facebook groups— killed a black college student after confronting him on the street, according to police. In March, a white supremacist reportedly traveled from Baltimore to New York City with the express purpose of killing a black man, which he did, before turning himself into police. Earlier that month , a Sikh man was shot and injured in front of his house in a Seattle suburb.
His alleged attacker reportedly shouted “go back to your country.” Days earlier, in Kansas, authorities described how a man walked into a bar and shot three men , including two immigrants from India, after shouting “get out of my country” and yelling racial slurs. One of the Indian men, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, died of his wounds. More recently, a California man was alleged to have stabbed a black man with a machete after yelling racial slurs—he’s facing charges—and a Native American man was run down and killed by an assailant who allegedly shouted racial slurs.
These events are not isolated. They represent a growing tide of intolerance in the United States, fanned by the presidential election and embodied by the sitting president. At the same time, they—and the larger forces they represent—aren’t novel. The rise of racist reaction in politics almost always brings a similar rise of racist violence in civil society. For as much as the current period feels new, we are living through an old, and very American, cycle of behavior.
Nationally, white supremacist and white nationalist activity is on the rise, from more aggressive recruiting online, to active organizing and intimidation on college campuses. Law enforcement officials in cities such as New York have seen a surge in reported hate crimes, and the Southern Poverty Law Center reports an increase in the number of hate groups.
All of this takes place against a backdrop of political intolerance. Donald Trump ran for president on a platform of ethno-nationalism, offering interested white voters a chance to express and vote their resentments against Hispanic immigrants, Muslim Americans, and groups like Black Lives Matter. His campaign brought explicitly racist groups, individuals, and institutions into the mainstream, from Steve Bannon—who rode the success of his hate-fueled site Breitbart to a position as a top adviser in the Trump White House—to formerly fringe figures like Iowa Rep. Steve King, who routinely traffics in white nationalist rhetoric.
Millions of white Americans stomped the floor for Trump’s promise to end “political correctness” and restore prosperity through tough action against foreign others, turning out at higher numbers than either 2008 or 2012. This rhetoric has a real impact. A recent working paper suggests that when people view Trump’s popularity as going up, it “increases their willingness to publicly express xenophobic views.” *