Post-US Elections

Surge in hate-based incidents in US since election a concern

Rev Harvey with messages of support left at his Maryland church after hateful words were found scrawled on the property. A US non-partisan centre that tracks hate crimes and hate groups says that since the Nov 8 presidential election, it has recorded
Rev Harvey with messages of support left at his Maryland church after hateful words were found scrawled on the property. A US non-partisan centre that tracks hate crimes and hate groups says that since the Nov 8 presidential election, it has recorded more than 437 hate-based incidents.ST PHOTO: NIRMAL GHOSH

Most common were anti-immigrants acts; African Americans, Muslims also targets

The mild-mannered Reverend Dr Robert Harvey walked out of the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in the early morning cold last Sunday to collect the mail, and a chill went up his spine. Scrawled in black on the red brick inner wall of a small memorial garden were the words: "Trump nation, whites only."

It was the biggest shock Dr Harvey had experienced in his 10 years in the community. "I thought, oh my God!" he told The Sunday Times. "I then went back into the church and out the other side, and then I saw the banner."

A white banner strung across the front lawn announcing the timing of Spanish-language sermons had been partly torn. Written on the back were the same words: "Trump nation, whites only.''

Silver Spring is a diverse community with a population that is about 48 per cent Latino. Some residents are of west African ethnicity.

The incident at the church was not an isolated one. Two days after the Nov 8 election, Rev Harvey said he chanced upon an elderly Latino woman trembling with fear outside a store as two white men accosted her, telling her to "Go back to Mexico, this is Trump country".

He said: "I put my arm around her and told them this is unacceptable... and I am going to call the police." The men left.

The Alabama-based non-partisan Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), which tracks hate crimes and hate groups, said that since the Nov 8 presidential election, it had recorded more than 437 hate- based incidents across the US.

Most involved vandalism and racial slurs. The most common were anti-immigrants acts followed by acts against African Americans. Muslims and gays were also targets.

But the SPLC has only recently begun tracking incidents, so it does not have baseline data for comparison. The United States has gone though spikes in hate crimes before - most notably in the aftermath of the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks - and it remains to be seen if the current one will be sustained.

"There does appear to be a spike in criminal hate incidents, but we do not know how precipitous the spike is," Professor Brian Levin of the Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the California State University at San Bernardino told The Sunday Times over the phone.

But he acknowledged that even non-criminal incidents have an effect on the targeted communities.

Last Friday, Attorney-General Loretta Lynch cited, in a video statement, FBI statistics showing a 6 per cent rise in hate crimes from 2014 to 2015, including a sharp rise in those aimed at Muslims.

"Beyond these 2015 statistics, I know that many Americans are concerned by a spate of recent news reports about alleged hate crimes and harassment. Some of these incidents have happened in schools. Others have targeted houses of worship. And some have singled out individuals for attacks and intimidation," she said.

She urged people "to continue to report these incidents… so that our career investigators and prosecutors can take action".

The incidents, though, are turning the focus on a disturbing spectre - white nationalism.

White nationalists enthusiastically backed President-elect Donald Trump's candidacy - though, under some pressure, he later disavowed an endorsement from the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan (KKK). After the election, he called for those behind racial attacks to "stop it".

But then he appointed firebrand right-winger Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist. Prominent white nationalists such as Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute; Brad Griffin, author of white nationalist website Occidental Dissent; and former KKK grand wizard David Duke all praised the appointment.

Before joining Mr Trump as CEO of his campaign, Mr Bannon ran the right-wing Breitbart News from March 2012 to August this year, turning it into a platform for the alternative right or "alt right" movement.

The SPLC has called Breitbart under Mr Bannon a "white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill".

But Mr Bannon last week told Hollywood Reporter that essentially, everyone was missing the point.  "I'm not a white nationalist, I'm a nationalist. I'm an economic nationalist," he said. "The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia.''

If the Trump administration delivered, "we'll get 60 per cent of the white vote, and 40 per cent of the black and Hispanic vote and we'll govern for 50 years".

He added: "It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution - conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement."

Until Mr Bannon's revolution arrives, though, Silver Spring has different problems. The Reverend Mansfield Kaseman, who works at the local county's Interfaith Liaison office, told The Sunday Times on the phone: "Since the election, things have taken a very distinct turn, we have incidents of anti- Semitism, children harassed in schools, and swastikas appearing.''  

Back at the Episcopal church, Rev Harvey said: "The President- elect has been talking about building walls when we should be building bridges. He said he would be President of everyone. But he must step away from his white constituency and be among the people."

The people, though, are pushing back. A letter signed by more than a dozen members of the local citizens' association says: "To attempt to intimidate a community and defile a sacred house of worship is completely unacceptable."

People have left flowers at the door of the church and messages of love and tolerance. There are posters with messages like "America is for Everyone". One poster, in Spanish, says  "Somos Americanos". Or "We are Americans". 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 20, 2016, with the headline 'Surge in hate-based incidents in US since election a concern'. Print Edition | Subscribe