Communities hit by rising hate crimes say Trump’s rhetoric is having a devastating impact

Muslim, Jewish, and LGBTQ organizations are among those who say there's a direct line from the White House to the violence.

Pedestrians look at graffiti on the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Virginia, Nov. 10, 2016. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Pedestrians look at graffiti on the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Virginia, Nov. 10, 2016. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Hate crimes rose last year, part of a larger trend activists and organizations say is prompted by the rhetoric unleashed by President Donald Trump and the rising prominence of white nationalism.

According to data released Monday by the FBI, hate crimes rose 4.6 percent in 2016. Black Americans constituted about half of those most likely to be targeted because of race or ethnicity — and were the most targeted group more generally — while crimes against Jews represented around half of hate crimes involving religion. Crimes against Muslims rose 19 percent from 2015 and doubled from the number reported in 2014. The LGBTQ community also constituted a large percentage of hate crime victims — 1,076 incidents saw queer and transgender people targeted. The majority of perpetrators — 46.3 percent — were white.

Much of that data is unsurprising. A study released in September indicated that hate crimes rose 5 percent between 2015 and 2016, the first time in over a decade that hate crimes increased in two consecutive years. That study predicted the FBI’s 2016 Unified Crime Report, which contains information about hate crimes across the country. Tracking by a number of organizations has yielded similar information, showing a spike in violence around the time Donald Trump’s presidential campaign began. Activists and organizations say they aren’t surprised.

I think it’s hard to miss,” said Ryan Ahari, a policy analyst with the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). Ahari told ThinkProgress that crimes against Muslims have been steadily on the rise since 2004, but the events of the past two years have worsened the situation.

Given the rise of the Trump campaign, white nationalism, the prominence of people like [white nationalist] Richard Spencer, these folks who have been empowered by Trump’s candidacy, it’s not surprising to see the rise in hate,” he said. “They’ve been validated. A lot of folks have seen the dog whistles that Trump has been blowing to his supporters and people feel emboldened. They have decided to act out on their violent thoughts.”

Others echoed Ahari’s comments, saying their communities have also suffered in the time since Trump’s campaign began.

“Trump, as a candidate and now as President, has encouraged and emboldened hate violence against our communities through his administration’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies,” Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), said in a statement. South Asians represent a diverse diaspora in the United States, but many are read as Muslim regardless of faith or practice. A number of brutal hate crimes — including the murder of Kansas-based Indian national Srinivas Kuchibhotla earlier this year — failed to attract much attention from Trump, despite widespread panic within the community.

For many, that isn’t surprising. As a candidate, Trump repeatedly targeted minority communities, calling Mexicans “rapists” and vowing to halt immigration. Since taking office, that approach has persisted. Trump has introduced several versions of a travel ban barring refugees and citizens from a number of predominately Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Failure to denounce rising anti-Semitism has earned Trump condemnation from Jewish groups and he has also rolled back LGBTQ work protections and sought to ban transgender military service members.

White supremacists, meanwhile, have grown increasingly bold. Online neo-Nazi forums celebrated in February amid news that white nationalist groups were likely to face less scrutiny under the Trump administration, which prefers to focus on extremism within Muslim communities. That energy helped spur a “Unite the Right” rally in August, where a white supremacist struck and killed 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer with a car in Charlottesville, Virginia. Undaunted, figures like Spencer are continuing to hold speaking events around the country.

As white nationalism becomes more prominent, many communities say they’re growing more afraid — especially those who are most visible.

“Through his rhetoric, the President, his advisers, and many of his supporters are fanning the flames of this hatred,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah, in a statement to ThinkProgress. “Their rhetoric and dog whistles have resulted in neo-Nazis feeling empowered to march in the streets, mosques and synagogues being regularly targeted for vandalism and violent threats, and people who don’t fit the white nationalist and Christian profile being attacked on the streets.”

The targeting of houses of worship has hit minority religious communities particularly hard. Ahari noted that many Muslims are increasingly fearful, especially those who dress and present in accordance with their faith.

“The problem with hate crimes is, one person is targeted in a hate crime, but to an extent the entire community is targeted. That entire community is anxious. Should I take off my hijab? Should I take off my religious garb? It’s a violation of religious freedom. People have to hide who they are. People fear violent retaliation,” he said.

Many advocates and organizations pointed to the intersecting nature of the violence.

“We think that there is a clear connection between the rise in visible [anti-Semitism], virulent Islamophobia and xenophobia, and racism and the policies and rhetoric of the political right,” wrote Leo Ferguson, who works with the organization Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, in an email to ThinkProgress. “State violence against Black people, Muslims, undocumented people and others sets the stage and gives permission for hate crimes, hate speech and discrimination.”

Advocates emphasized that the violence facing minority communities is nothing new. As rising hate crimes indicate, however, it is becoming more prevalent — something many say is clearly linked to the president.

“Throughout his march toward the presidency, Trump threatened the racist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBTQ policies that we are now seeing enacted,” said Zeke Stokes, Vice President of Programs at GLAAD, in a statement to ThinkProgress. Pointing to the 2016 hate crime statistics, Stokes expressed concern that the trend seemed likely to continue into 2017 if action isn’t taken to address the hate.

Stokes is likely correct. According to data collected by ThinkProgress between November 2016 and February 2017, violence against Black, Latinx, Muslim, Jewish, and queer communities was already on the rise at the beginning of the year. Recent numbers offer an even more sobering picture. The Anti-Defamation League announced earlier this month that anti-Semitic incidents have risen 67 percent in 2017 so far. Watchdog groups monitoring hate crimes have similarly noted ongoing violence targeting Muslims and communities of color. The queer community is also grappling with an ongoing crisis: more than two dozen transgender people, many of them transgender women of color, have been murdered this year.

“I think the trend will continue,” said Ahari. “Even when Obama was in office in 2015, candidate Trump had an impact. Until his administration becomes more concerned about hate crimes, until [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions decides to work closely with faith-based communities, I don’t think we’re going to see any change.”

Madihha Ahussain, who serves as special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry at the legal advocacy organization Muslim Advocates, expressed similar emotions to ThinkProgress.

“The environment that we are in today, given the rhetoric of our nation’s highest officials, has made it acceptable to target Muslims, immigrants, African Americans, and so many others — inspiring actual violence against these communities,” she said. “Unfortunately, it seems that bias-motivated violence will continue to occur until critical steps are taken by the administration to demonstrate that it is unacceptable.”