This Election Year, A Significant Increase in Violence Against Muslims

Mark Potok, Senior Fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, says the Trump campaign bears responsibility for most anti-Muslim violence this year

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KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.

On Tuesday November 2nd, the Hopewell Baptist Church was victimized by arsonist. The church was set on fire and vandals actually spray painted on the side of the building, Vote Trump. Now according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, The Year in Hate and Extremism Report written by Mark Potok, it outlines how these terrorists’ attacks have been on the up rise.

Joining us right now to talk about white supremacy and extremism is Mark Potok. He is a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which is one of the country’s leading experts on the world of extremism. Mark Thank you so much for speaking with us.

MARK POTOK: Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

BROWN: Let’s talk about this attack that happened on the Hopewell Church. This happened in Mississippi. What have police said about this incident?

POTOK: Well basically what they’ve said is yes it is indeed arson. Yes, they are indeed investigating it as a hate crime. I think that was fairly obvious to anyone who looked, given that was obviously intentionally burned and as you said, the words vote Trump were left spray painted on the side of the building. But in any case, that’s the way it’s being officially handled and that seems obviously right.

BROWN: And your report talking about the year in hate describes the up rise of attacks similar to these by right wing groups. Why have we seen an increase in these attacks over the past 3 presidencies?

POTOK: Well I would say really the increase has been over the last 2 administrations. That is to say during the Obama years. We saw an enormous uptick in the number of groups on the radical right beginning in early 2009. In other words, immediately after Obama was elected as the nation’s first black president for the first time. There were I think other factors that were still in play.

First of all, it wasn’t just a visceral racist reaction to a black man in the White House. It was really what Obama represented that has kind of spurred the growth of these groups so much and that is the demographic browning of America. The idea that this country which has been 90% white from the early colonial era right up until the early 1960’s is now heading to a place over the course of the next 30 years or so where whites will be fewer than 50% of the population. So, we’re changing demographically in a dramatic way and Obama’s election kind of dramatizes that. At the same time of course we’ve had a very rough few years economically beginning right around the same time. The fall of 2008. The third factor that I would point to are huge cultural changes that are happening in this country. I think the easiest way to think about that, perhaps the best example is the advance of same sex marriage. That was something that just didn’t seem imaginable a near 15 or 20 years ago and yet here we are with same sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

So there are a lot of people out there particularly white Americans but not entirely who feel that this isn’t the country their Christian white forefathers created. They don’t feel at home in it anymore. They look at the president, the feel like that guy is not from here. Maybe he’s a Kenyan, maybe he’s secretly a Muslim. All those kinds of things. So, I think that is really what explains the growth not only of groups on the radical right but of actual terrorism, from real attacks from the radical right.

BROWN: Mark what’s also of interest is not only did the election on President Obama in 2008 sort of hasten or give the spark to this rise in white supremacist attacks on different targets from black churches to mosques or a variety of different individual attacks that people have experienced. But around that same time we did see the rise of Donald Trump. Not only with his reality show The Apprentice but Donald Trump also became somewhat of a mainstay on cable news as he was regularly questioning the credentials of President Obama regarding his place of birth, his birth certificate, the birtherism movement was largely fueled by Donald Trump. Also the questioning of President Obama’s credentials. He wanted to see his college transcripts and a bunch of things trying to devalue this man and his accomplishments as being the first African American elected as president.

Now what Donald Trump’s being the republican presidential nominee, he just received a quasi endorsement from The Crusader, the KKK backed newspaper. As we saw the rise of Obama we did see the rise of the mainstreaming of white supremacists ideologies as well.

POTOK: That is true. In the years before – look I think Trump was certainly important in the sense that yea he was the primary birther in the United States for about 5 years. You know I think that it is undeniable that birtherism, the whole idea that Barack Obama was not really born in this country is racist, period. It’s a racist attack on the president and on his credentials. As you noticed I mean Trump this incredible thing which was after Obama presented his long form birth certificate, finally Trump went on to question his transcripts at Harvard and so on right. He couldn’t really be that smart, he’s a black guy after all. I mean that was essentially what was said. So yes, there has been really a fairly significant rise in these kinds of attacks as a result.

BROWN: We’ve also noticed not only the outright attacks on not only the Obamas just because they are the ones in the White House right now and being the first African American anything is usually a challenge in America regardless of what level it’s at. But we’ve also seen the employment of voter suppression tactics done by state legislatures namely by state GOP offices to try to disenfranchise African American voters and Latino voters from the polls. But this all has a very long history of how white supremacy engages when it feels it’s being attack or it’s being put on its heels somehow.

So, talk to us about how voter intimidation along with attacks on individuals and attacks on black churches are part of this long playbook that has been employed throughout America’s history. Well you’ve said it really as well as I could. I mean it is absolutely true obviously that participation in our democracy was something that was not offered to black people in this country for a very long time. Then of course when the south was essentially forced to allow African Americans to vote in this country, they created a whole series of literacy tests and similar devices with which they kept black people from the polls. I’m sure people have heard many of these stories. But they would do things like have a large glass jar full of gumballs and for the “literacy test” African American voters would be asked the tell the person, the examiner how many gumballs are there in this glass jar. So it was ridiculous.

It is absolutely true that we’re seeing a resurgence of these voter suppression tactics. Especially in the wake of the failure, really the striking down of part of the Voting Rights Act. So, it’s really been quite something. It is absolutely so that republican administrations, republican legislatures in many states around the country have enacted programs that are definitely aimed at suppressing the black vote. It’s worth remembering that in North Carolina just a few months ago, a federal judge struck down part of their voter suppression law saying that it was aimed with “surgical precision” at moving or repressing black voters.

BROWN: Mark at the Southern Poverty Law Center, you all have been tracking instances of white extremism, white supremacy, hate crimes, etc. Are we on any particular trend right now? My real curiosity comes as to what do you think is going to happen after November 8th, after election day and after the start of the new year when we inaugurate a new president, be it Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Are we expecting this type of – this movement rather and these types of incidents to possibly go back down or are we going to see them continue to rise.

POTOK: Well first of all to answer the first part of the question I would say that what we’ve seen in the last year is a quite dramatic uptick in anti-Muslim hatred and hate violence. I would attribute that about 90% to the Donald Trump campaign. You know Trump has obviously vilified Muslims in all kinds of different ways. Proposing a ban on Muslims entering this country claiming absolutely falsely that he personally watched on television as thousands of Muslims cheered the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11. Utter falsehood but Trump refuses to take that back.

So, that has been a pattern. An awful lot of attacks on Muslims, on Mosques, incredible level of bullying Muslim school children in our nation’s public education institutions and as far as looking forward, you know I would say that we’re at a very worrying moment right now. The fact is that Donald Trump has kind of egged on his troops, his followers by telling them over the course now of weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks that they are about to be robbed. That the elites in tandem with the international banks and the media and so on are conspiring to rob Trump supporters of the election.

So, you know these are people who are very angry to begin with. If in fact Trump loses, I think that we will see some real rage on their part and that is what raises the Spector, the real danger of violence. So, I think it’s possible that we will see some violence. Perhaps on election day, perhaps in the days afterwards. I’m not predicting that. It’s impossible to know. But I do think that some fairly scary elements are in play right now.

BROWN: Well we’ve already seen in recent weeks and actually just in recent days an alleged white supremacist in Iowa shoot and kill two police officers there. This individual allegedly was waving a Confederate flag at a football game and was asked to leave. That was supposedly part of the reason why he was upset and then committed those acts of violence on those two officers and then the FBI was able to break up a cell in Kansas that was planning on blowing up an apartment complex occupied mostly by Somali immigrants. So it seems as if that these instances of violence and potential violence are already on the table and tragically they may just need some sort of spark which we hope doesn’t happen but at the same time these things can’t really be predicted.

POTOK: That’s right. I mean you’re absolutely right that these things are happening more and more close together. The plot by the 4 Kansas militia men was really something and they intended to kill hundreds of Somalis and Somalis let’s remember are dark skinned Muslims. So they kind of fit all the categories of the enemy for white supremacists and so on. Also, I think it’s important to remember about that plot that the idea was to carry out this mass murder, this huge bombing on the day after election day. So you know to me that says explicitly that these guys expected that Trump would lose and that this was supposed to be some kind of spark to set of the revolution or the race war or whatever it was precisely they were hoping to see happen.

BROWN: Downright chilling. We’ve been speaking with Mark Potok. He is a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). He’s been joining us today from Montgomery. Mark we appreciate your time today. Thanks a lot.

POTOK: Well thanks so much for having me. It was a real pleasure.

BROWN: And thank you for watching the Real News Network.

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