Hate speech seeps into US main­stream

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

The let­ter­ing is crude, scrawled in black spray paint on the side­walk in front of Karen Peters’ neatly kept home in the quiet, work­ing class neigh­bor­hood where she’s lived most of her life. But the con­tempt is clear. “KKK B **** .” The racially charged graf­fiti ap­peared in mid-October on cars, homes and tele­phone poles in the small city of Kokomo, In­di­ana. Many vic­tims, like Peters, were African Amer­i­can, though some were not. Many also had lawn signs for Demo­cratic can­di­dates in this week’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and the signs at sev­eral homes were painted over with the Ku Klux Klan’s no­to­ri­ous ini­tials.

“I think it’s a po­lit­i­cal thing; it’s get­ting out of hand,” said Peters, who be­lieves the heated tenor of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign - and es­pe­cially the ag­gres­sive, na­tivist rhetoric of Repub­li­can can­di­date Don­ald Trump - has em­bold­ened ex­trem­ists. “When you have (can­di­dates) say­ing ig­no­rant things, maybe other peo­ple think it’s ok to do this stuff, and that’s pretty dog­gone sad ... It seems like our coun­try is go­ing back­wards.”

Po­lice have no sus­pects in the at­tacks. Democrats, in­clud­ing the mayor and lo­cal party of­fi­cials, be­lieve they were po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated. Lo­cal Re­pub­li­cans are skep­ti­cal, sug­gest­ing the dam­age is the work of ig­no­rant hooli­gans with no place in the party. Across the United States, the in­flam­ma­tory and con­fronta­tional tone of po­lit­i­cal rhetoric is creep­ing into pub­lic dis­course and po­lar­iz­ing the elec­torate. It’s hard to quan­tify the im­pact; there is no na­tional data that tracks po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated crimes or in­cen­di­ary speech.

How­ever, the per­cent­age of vot­ers who be­lieve in­sult­ing po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents is “some­times fair game” has climbed over the cam­paign sea­son, from 30 per­cent in March to 43 per­cent in October, ac­cord­ing to sur­veys by the non-par­ti­san Pew Re­search Cen­ter. A ma­jor­ity of vot­ers for both par­ties have “very un­fa­vor­able” views of the other party - a first since Pew be­gan ask­ing the ques­tion in 1992 - and trust in gov­ern­ment is hov­er­ing near all-time lows.

“These in­di­ca­tors re­flect in­ter-group ten­sions that can trans­late into ev­ery­thing from coarse dis­course or low lev­els of ag­gres­sion all the way up to ex­trem­ist acts,” said Brian Levin, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for the Study of Hate and Ex­trem­ism at Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity. While much of the venom has been aimed at im­mi­grants, African Amer­i­cans and other groups typ­i­cally aligned with Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton, Re­pub­li­cans also have faced vit­riol and hos­til­ity.

Much of the de­bate over ex­trem­ism has fo­cused on the so­called Alt-Right, a loose-knit move­ment of white na­tion­al­ists, anti-Semites and im­mi­gra­tion foes that has emerged from the po­lit­i­cal shad­ows to align it­self with the Trump cam­paign. Trump’s vows to build a wall on the Mex­i­can border, de­port mil­lions of il­le­gal im­mi­grants and scru­ti­nize Mus­lims for ties to ter­ror­ism have en­er­gized the Alt-Right com­mu­nity.

Such rhetoric has helped le­git­imize the Alt-Right’s con­cerns about an ero­sion of the coun­try’s white, Chris­tian ma­jor­ity, said Michael Hill, a self-de­scribed white su­prem­a­cist, an­tiSemite and xeno­phobe who heads the League of the South, a “South­ern Na­tion­al­ist” group ded­i­cated to cre­at­ing an in­de­pen­dent “white man’s land”. “The gen­eral po­lit­i­cal cli­mate that sort of sur­rounds his cam­paign has been very fruit­ful, not only for us, but for other right-wing groups,” Hill said.

Sim­i­lar na­tion­al­ist un­der­cur­rents have stirred other coun­tries, from Rus­sia to Ja­pan to Bri­tain. Last sum­mer, as Bri­tain’s de­bate over leav­ing the Eu­ro­pean Union reached a fever pitch, Jo Cox, a pro-EU law­maker, was shot and stabbed in the street. Mur­der sus­pect Thomas Mair pro­claimed “death to traitors, free­dom for Bri­tain”.

In the United States, re­ports of hostile po­lit­i­cal dis­plays, van­dal­ism and vi­o­lence are crop­ping up reg­u­larly. In Mis­sis­sippi, a black church was burned and painted with “Vote Trump.” In North Carolina, a county Repub­li­can of­fice was set ablaze last month and a nearby build­ing spray painted with “Nazi Re­pub­li­cans leave town.” In Ohio, a truck load of ma­nure was dumped at a Demo­cratic cam­paign of­fice. In Utah, a man dis­play­ing Trump yard signs found KKK graf­fiti on his car. In Wis­con­sin, a fan at a col­lege foot­ball game wore a Pres­i­dent Barack Obama mask with a noose on his neck. Nei­ther the Trump nor the Clin­ton cam­paigns re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment.

Ex­trem­ism Goes Main­stream

Trump’s po­si­tions are con­sis­tent with the Alt-Right goal of “slow­ing the dis­pos­ses­sion of whites,” said Jared Tay­lor, a white na­tion­al­ist whose web­site, Amer­i­can Re­nais­sance, is a move­ment fa­vorite. But the me­dia is over-hyp­ing his sup­port within the Alt-Right “in an at­tempt to dis­credit him,” Tay­lor added. Trump has been crit­i­cized by both Democrats and some Re­pub­li­cans for be­ing slow to con­demn the more ex­treme el­e­ments of the po­lit­i­cal right. But when a lead­ing KKK news­pa­per ran a pro-Trump story on its front page last week, his cam­paign im­me­di­ately is­sued a state­ment re­ject­ing the “re­pul­sive” ar­ti­cle. Tay­lor, Hill and other Alt-Right fig­ures say they don’t ad­vo­cate or con­done van­dal­ism or vi­o­lence. They dis­miss the no­tion that their rhetoric con­sti­tutes hate speech, ar­gu­ing that their vil­i­fi­ca­tion by the left is far more hate­ful. Left-wing ex­trem­ists do have a his­tory of ag­gres­sive con­fronta­tion with peo­ple or groups seen as fas­cist or racist, says Heidi Beirich, of the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that mon­i­tors ex­trem­ist move­ments. “There’s usu­ally more vi­o­lence from the anti-racists than the racists,” she said.

The free speech pro­vi­sions of the US Con­sti­tu­tion’s First Amend­ment grant broad pro­tec­tions for in­flam­ma­tory rhetoric. But state and fed­eral statutes do give law en­force­ment agen­cies au­thor­ity to in­ves­ti­gate and pros­e­cute “hate crimes” mo­ti­vated by bias against a race, eth­nic­ity, re­li­gion, dis­abil­ity or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. A 6 per­cent in­crease in hate crimes doc­u­mented last year by the Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity re­searchers showed rel­a­tively lit­tle un­der­ly­ing change in at­tacks against most mi­nor­ity groups. But crimes against Mus­lims rose 86 per­cent. — Reuters

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