This piece was originally published on The Hill.
Last week was one of those moments in history when the politics of hatred seized hold and as a nation we fell into a racial abyss.
Donald Trump led the way. Announcing that he was joining the Republican field as a candidate for president, he quickly seized on the language and rhetoric of white supremacists. Mexicans were singled out, because according to Trump “they’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists… I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”
The Republican Party’s official response to these hate-filled comments was muted at best, with the communications director mildly characterizing them as “not helpful to the cause.”
Two days later, a 21 year-old white man named Dylann Roof walked into a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina and killed nine black worshippers engaging in bible study. The words he allegedly uttered prior to the shooting were eerily similar to Donald Trump’s hate speech:
“I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
Roof later confessed to authorities that his intent was to start a race war.
The fact that both of these hate-filled fanatics invoked “rape” and the fear of national domination by a non-white group reflects a nation that still uses fear-mongering and violent imagery to justify bigotry. It invokes an old racist tradition that seeks to demonize and dehumanize people of color as a way to incite racial and ethnic hatred and violence. This type of language bastardizes patriotism with terrorism.
But that is not all. The outrageousness of Donald Trump’s recent remarks isn’t just in the shock of his incendiary and racist language as part of his presidential announcement. The outrage also lies in the fact that the right wing has created an environment in the GOP — and increasingly in our society — where racism and hate speech are somehow chic and accepted as legitimate within mainstream politics. The consequences of this are far reaching, creating a fertile ground for more extreme forms of hatred and violence – much like what we witnessed in South Carolina.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the number of hate groups in the country has risen by 30 percent since 2000. The number of Patriot groups, including armed militias, increased by 813 percent following the election of President Obama– from 149 groups in 2008 to a record breaking 1,360 in 2012.
What is the explanation for this rise in hate groups? Not surprisingly, SPLC’s analysis reveals that politicians are partly to blame, especially those who use the political stage to “legitimize false propaganda about immigrants and other minorities and spread the kind of paranoid conspiracy theories on which militia groups thrive.”
As the GOP continues to lurch even further to the right, and with the primaries in the GOP heating up we will likely witness more forms of racist, anti-immigrant speech – and not just from Donald Trump. Candidates will be looking to woo Republican primary voters, who are more right leaning than the average American and more susceptible to the politics of fear, bigotry and anger.
If we are to climb out of the abyss that continues to breed this hate, we must hold politicians accountable. We must confront racism head on before the next Dylann Roof can spew vitriolic hate and kill innocent people in an act senseless violence.