Far-right extremists and militia groups have grown emboldened by the presidency of Donald Trump, their ideologies and methods — long denounced by society in general — finding a new home in the rhetoric spouted by Trump at rallies and in speeches and at times in his administration’s actions.
Whether the president’s words are a catalyst for political violence has become a subject for national debate, particularly in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and pipe bomb mailings in the weeks before the November midterms.
The results of the midterm elections brought further indications that political violence could be in store, as the Democratic takeover of the House elicited far-right disdain.
The Washington Post noted: “There is legitimate reason for concern that right-wing terrorist violence will continue and perhaps increase — and that extremists could soon begin targeting politicians in office, especially if Trump singles them out for scorn.”
> According to Chip Berlet, an expert on the populist right, the phenomenon we’re watching unfold is known to sociologists as “scripted violence*.*” “If a very popular leader who is high up — it doesn’t matter if it’s political or a political or a movement leader — basically alleges that some group of people is conspiring against the common good, and they harp on that for a long time, it’s only a matter of time before people get killed,” he recently explained.
> There’s a long history of this kind of violence, dating from well before the Holocaust and continuing well into recent decades and even the present. In 1990s Rwanda, for example, thousands were massacred when radio talkers targeted communities for lethal violence as part of a tribal/ethnic cleansing campaign. In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte’s state-condoned death squads follow his cues to target alleged “drug users” for execution, leading to thousands of deaths. Trump has tacitly endorsed the tactic.
> His rhetoric at home is part of the same violence for which he is writing the scripts.
> “Trump clearly isn’t going to tamp this situation down, and he will likely escalate his anti-immigrant and extremist rhetoric as we move toward 2020,” says Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. “Since the GOP is becoming a bastion of older, white males who are angry, that’s the base they will be moving to turn out. This just follows a trend of more than a decade of increasing numbers of terror plots from the far right. And, at least at this point, it doesn’t seem the feds have a real strategy here, so they will likely be behind the eight ball on these issues as well.”
Though Trump has denied spurring violence with his words — accusing the media of promoting violence by reporting “fake news” — and at times offered hollow words of rebuke for America’s hate groups, those very groups still believe he is on their side.
> The problem is that not even the hate groups he’s disowning believe him. In chat rooms, message boards and alt-right blogs, the repudiations are interpreted as political necessities and dismissed as meaningless. Alt-right guru Richard Spencer sneered at Trump’s post-Charlottesville disavowal as “kumbaya nonsense,” adding: “Only a dumb person would take those lines seriously.”
Most Americans agree, the Post noted: “One poll, taken before the mail-bombing attempts and the synagogue shooting, found that a majority of Americans already believe that he enables white supremacists and that many have come to see him as a ‘legitimizing force’ for hate groups.”
Hate crimes are already on the rise since Trump took office, and it seems unlikely the trend will reverse at any time soon — particularly heading into an election where the president’s own power is at stake.
> Acts of domestic terrorism such as those in Pittsburgh and elsewhere in recent weeks come amid a rising tide of hate crimes and bigotry-fueled violence generally. Gutting of anti-terror efforts by the administration, recently reported by NBC News, bode ill for efforts to prevent this kind of violence from spreading.
> This is especially so when the president himself is throwing rhetorical lighter fluid on his political targets. He, and we, can’t be shocked when someone else provides the match. Indeed, it’s becoming clear that’s exactly the script he intends.