Trump’s history of racist rhetoric in the spotlight after mass shootings
By Keya Vakil
August 6, 2019

After a pair of mass shootings left more than 30 people dead, President Trump has come under renewed criticism for his racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric.

On Saturday, a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 20 people before being arrested. The death toll has since risen to 22, as two more victims died in the hospital, police said. The crime is being investigated as both a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism. 

Prior to the shooting, the gunman published a hate-filled, anti-Latinx manifesto echoing language used by President Trump.

Less than 24 hours later, another shooting took place in Dayton, Ohio, where a gunman opened fire at a bar, killing nine, including his own sister, before he was killed by police.

The El Paso shooting in particular has prompted backlash to the President, who has called Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals,” repeatedly attacked elected officials of color, called African countries “sh*thole countries,” and told four congresswomen of color to “go back” to their countries, even though three of them were born in the United States and the fourth is a naturalized American citizen. 

Connecting the Dots

On Monday, President Trump spoke at the White House and called on the nation to “condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy … Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.” Trump did not address the role his own racist rhetoric may have played in inspiring the El Paso shooter. Some Democrats did make that connection, however. 

“I mean, connect the dots about what he’s been doing in this country,” former congressman and 2020 Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) said at a vigil in El Paso. “He’s not tolerating racism, he’s promoting racism. He’s not tolerating violence, he’s inciting racism and violence in this country.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) also placed some blame at Trump’s doorstep. “I think, at the end of the day, especially because this was a white supremacist manifesto, that I want to say with more moral clarity that Donald Trump is responsible for this. He is responsible because he is stoking fears and hatred and bigotry,” Booker said on CNN’s State of the Union.

Other 2020 candidates also criticized Trump.

A handful of Virginia elected officials joined in, too.

Trump’s divisive rhetoric is all too familiar to Virginia.

Trump’s response to Charlottesville

In 2017, a Neo-Nazi rammed a car into counter-protestors during a rally in Charlottesville, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

Trump responded to the tragedy by stating that there were “very fine people” on both sides.

Trump’s remarks sparked widespread condemnation from across the country. In a recent interview with The Dogwood, then-Governor Terry McAuliffe said he “begged” Trump to come and do a press conference and “attack the neo-Nazis.” 

Trump did not.

“The President of the United States failed that day,” McAuliffe said. “The folks on the other side were neo-Nazis … they were carrying swastikas and they were screaming the most vile things I’ve ever heard against members of the African American community and members of the Jewish faith … There were not good people on both sides.”

In the two years since Charlottesville, Trump has time and again come under fire for his racist and anti-immigrant comments and the violence they incite.

Rising tide of hate crimes

A 2018 study found that violence increased in cities that hosted President Trump’s campaign rallies after he came to town.

In cities that hosted a Trump rally, there was an average of 2.3 more assaults reported on the day of the event than on an ordinary day, according to the study, led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and published in the journal Epidemiology. 

Trump’s language has also led to a surge in hate crimes. A Washington Post analysis found that counties that hosted a 2016 Trump campaign rally saw a 226% increase in reported hate crimes compared to counties that did not host a rally. 

The problem has spread beyond those counties, too. There was a 17% increase in reported hate crimes in the United States from 2016 to 2017, according to the FBI’s Universal Crime Report

The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” 

In Virginia, the rate of hate crimes skyrocketed by nearly 50% from 2016 to 2017, according to data from the Virginia State Police. In 2017, there were 202 hate crimes committed in Virginia, the most in any year since 2008. 

Virginia defines a hate crime as “any legal act directed against any persons or property because of those persons’ race, religion or national origin.” Virginia’s definition of a hate crime notably does not include include gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, though the Virginia State Police categorize offenses according to the federal definition.

Of the 202 hate crimes committed in Virginia in 2017:

  • 89 (44%) were racially motivated
  • 44 (22%) were religiously motivated
  • 38 (19%) were related to sexual orientation
  • 20 (10%) were related to ethnicity
  • 11 (5%) were motivated by bias against disability

While there were fewer hate crimes (161) reported in Virginia in 2018, that number is still up by more than 30% since 2013. 

The FBI’s 2018 hate crime data won’t be available until November, but a recent report from The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that hate crimes rose 9% in 30 major American cities in 2018, the fifth consecutive year the total number of hate crimes has increased. 

What now?

The surge in hate crimes, along with the deadly Neo-Nazi attack in Charlottesville, prompted Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring to call on the General Assembly to pass laws related to hate crimes in both 2018 and 2019. 

Among Herring’s proposals were measures that would have:

  • Updated the state’s definition of “hate crime” by adding gender and sexual orientation
  • Allowed the AG to prosecute hate crimes across multiple jurisdictions
  • Banned firearms from individuals who have been convicted of a hate crime

All of Herring’s proposals, and several others championed by Democrats were defeated by Republicans. 

While legislative action has not been taken, Herring did launch “No Hate VA,”  an initiative that includes resources for victims of hate crimes and advice on how to report a crime.

Outside of Virginia, the FBI continues to warn about the growing danger that far-right and white supremacist domestic terrorists pose to the United States, and many experts are calling for an increased focus on the far-right threat.

On Tuesday, Politico reported that the FBI Agents Association, which represents more than 14,000 active and former FBI special agents, has also demanded members of Congress classify domestic terrorism as a federal crime, saying it poses “a threat to the American people and our democracy.”

As for President Trump, he followed up his speech on Monday by amplifying a Fox and Friends critique of President Obama’s response to the mass shootings. 

Trump, who rode into the political world by advancing the false birtherism conspiracy that questioned Obama’s birthplace, tweeted again ten minutes later.

“I am the least racist person,” part of the tweet read.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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