Karen Fratti
January 18, 2018 5:33 pm
Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

This should come as absolutely no surprise: According to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, white supremacists killed more people than ever before in 2017. Just letting that idea sink in is enough to make you want to curl up into a ball and wait for the world to end. Not only are right-wing extremists more violent than ever, but we have every reason to think this trend is poised to continue. The next time someone tries to tell you that hateful, racist rhetoric is “just talk” or a joke, remind them that when people in power speak, there are people out there who will follow their lead and take action.

According to the report released on Thursday morning, extremists killed 34 people last year and 59 percent (or 20 of them) were murdered by “right-wing extremists,” which means anyone who allies themselves with white supremacy, the “alt-right,” the “alt-lite,” and members of any anti-government militia. This is a lot more than last year, when only 7 people were known to have been killed by right-wing extremists. It’s also almost double the number of people who were murdered by Islamic extremists in 2017. The white supremacist murders average about one or two victims per instance.

So not only do we have to remind each other that racist words do matter, we also have to remember that although radical Islamic terror is a real and credible threat, white supremacy should be at the top of our list of “Things We Can No Longer Stomach.”

If you glance at the data from previous years, it might look like the president and his supporters are right when they talk about radical Islam being on the rise in America, but the data is skewed because of the size of some previous attacks. So in 2016, about 71 percent of people killed by extremists were murdered in the name of ISIS, but that’s largely because the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida happened that year, when 49 people were killed in one attack. The ADL says that even in light of that aberration, right-wing extremism is on the up and up. Between 2008 and 2017, white supremacists and other right wing violence killed 274 people out of 387 murders committed by extremists of any kind.

What does this mean? It’s clear that we need to approach domestic extremism from all sides. Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO, said in a statement, “We saw two car-ramming attacks in the U.S. last year —one from an Islamic terrorist and another from a white supremacist in Charlottesville —and the number of deaths attributed to white supremacists increased substantially. The bottom line is we cannot ignore one form of extremism over another. We must tackle them all.”

The first step in tackling extremism is changing the way we talk about it. Trump and members of the GOP are insistent that law enforcement and lawmakers call an act of violence “radical Islamic terrorism” when the perpetrator pledges allegiance to ISIS or reportedly does something in the name of Islam. But much like the Orlando shooter last year, the man who killed nine people in New York City in 2017 was radicalized here. Before judging the act of violence based on the person’s religion or race, we first have to acknowledge that they’re activated to hate on American soil.

White supremacy and radical Islam are just more precise ways of saying “domestic terrorists.” If we are going to call out terrorism when a person of color commits murder in the name of his religion, we also have to call it out when a white guy murders in the name of his race.

Let’s not pretend that white supremacist rhetoric has not been normalized by Trump, his supporters, and the media outlets that he endorses, such as Breitbart News or Fox News. Trump retweets Islamaphobic memes and headlines, he called every single Mexican a “rapist or a drug dealer,” and he refuses, over and over again, to denounce his white supremacist supporters. Whether it’s insisting on a border wall, banning immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries that have never organized an attack on Americans, or deporting people back to what he calls “sh*tholes,” Trump is more or less complicit in the right-wing extremist murders this year. Let’s never forget that after the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville this summer, he even said that some of those bigots were “good people.” 

It’s not like these people are murdering others in Trump’s name, but when he makes false statements about immigration, Islam, Mexicans, or about the “dangerous inner cities,” he is telling them that they’re right to be afraid, that they’re right to hate, and that they have a right to hurt other people. Instead of calling for acceptance and unity, Trump is too interested in winning the racist vote (because there are a lot of racists here) and insists on perpetuating fake news and conspiracy theories about people of color.

It’s sad that white supremacist violence is on the rise, but it’s even more depressing that white supremacists are being emboldened by men who hold power in the White House.

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