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Trump doesn’t think white nationalism is a threat — but data says otherwise

Nearly 50 people were killed in New Zealand, allegedly by a man inspired by white nationalist ideas. The US is no better off.

President Trump Vetoes Emergency Declaration Resolution Approved By Congress
President Donald Trump listens during an event on border security in the Oval Office of the White House on March 15, 2019.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

After a shooter allegedly inspired by the white nationalist ideas that fuel violence and attempted violence in the United States and elsewhere killed 49 people at mosques in New Zealand Friday, Donald Trump was asked whether he thought white nationalism is a global rising threat.

The US president responded: “I don’t really.”

But as evidenced by reports from civil liberties groups and American justice officials’ own data, domestic terrorism, specifically white supremacy, is on the rise in the United States.

Data recently released by the Anti-Defamation League shows white supremacists’ propaganda efforts increased 182 percent last year, with 1,187 distributions across the US in 2018, up from 421 total incidents reported in 2017.

The number of racist rallies and demonstrations also rose last year: The ADL data shows at least 91 white supremacist rallies or other public events attended by white supremacists were held in 2018, up from 76 the previous year.

Other evidence of the resurgence of white nationalism and related right-wing extremism in America abounds:

  • Right-wing extremists were linked to at least 50 murders last year, a 35 percent increase over 2017, the ADL revealed in January.
  • The number of hate groups operating across the US rose to a record high of 1,020 last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed in February. This made 2018 the fourth-straight year of hate group growth, and revealed a 30 percent increase following three consecutive years of decline near the end of the Obama administration.
  • Most terrorist attacks in the US in 2017 were thought to be motivated by right-leaning ideologies. Out of 65 incidents, 37 were tied to racist, anti-Muslim, homophobic, anti-Semitic, fascist, anti-government, or xenophobic motivations, Quartz revealed through data compiled and released in August 2018 by the Global Terrorism Database.

And the US government’s data shows a worrisome increase in extremist violence as well. The number of hate crime incidents reported to the FBI increased about 17 percent in 2017 compared with the previous year, according to the bureau’s annual report released in November:

  • According to the report, the most common bias categories in single-bias incidents were race/ethnicity/ancestry (59.6 percent), religion (20.6 percent), and sexual orientation (15.8 percent).
  • In addition to the 7,106 single-bias incidents reported last year, there were 69 multiple-bias hate crimes reported.

It’s not only an issue in the US. According to CBS, far-right attacks in Europe jumped 43 percent between 2016 and 2017.

But the rhetoric coming out of America is likely having an effect abroad, as evidenced by Friday’s attack — the shooter accused of the massacre called Trump “a symbol of renewed white identity.”

Trump has expressed sympathy for the victims both in comments to reporters and on social media. But the president didn’t see the 28-year-old alleged shooter as an example of a larger issue with white nationalism.

“I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess,” Trump said Friday from the Oval Office. “If you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s the case. I don’t know enough about it yet. But it’s certainly a terrible thing.”

Civil liberties groups say the data indicates otherwise.

“This attack underscores a trend that ADL has been tracking: that modern white supremacy is an international threat that knows no borders, being exported and globalized like never before,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt in a statement. “The hatred that led to violence in Pittsburgh and Charlottesville is finding new adherents around the world. Indeed, it appears that this attack was not just focused on New Zealand; it was intended to have a global impact.”

The FBI says it has approximately 900 open domestic terror investigations.