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President Trump’s first year in office proved to be just as racially divisive as his campaign — but even more consequential, says the Southern Poverty Law Center report released on Wednesday (Feb. 21).

“President Trump in 2017 reflected what white supremacist groups want to see: a country where racism is sanctioned by the highest office, immigrants are given the boot and Muslims banned,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “When you consider that only days into 2018, Trump called African countries ‘shitholes,’ it’s clear he’s not changing his tune. And that’s music to the ears of white supremacists.”

2017 was a year that saw the latest incarnation of white supremacy, break through the firewall that for decades kept overt racists largely out of the political and media mainstream, the SPLC report Year in Hate and Extremism said.

According to the SPLC report, for the first time since 2009, hate groups were found in all 50 states.

Neo-Nazi groups were up 22 percent, from 99 to 121. Black Nationalist groups expanded from 193 to 233 chapters in reaction to Trump and the rising white supremacist movement. Anti-Muslim groups rose for a third straight year. After tripling in 2016, they added 13 more chapters last year and now have 114.

Typified by their anti-Semitic, anti-LGBT, anti-white rhetoric and conspiracy theories, these black nationalist groups should not be confused with activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and others that work for civil rights and to eliminate systemic racism, the report pointed out.

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan blamed Trump for encouraging a “growing sentiment” to “put the Black, the Brown, the Red back in a place they have cut out for us.” His newspaper, The Final Call, wrote that “separation from White America” is the “divine solution” to the rise of white supremacy.

Not surprisingly, the ranks of black nationalist hate groups – groups that have always been a reaction to white racism – expanded to 233 chapters in 2017, from 193 the previous year.

Even with the growth, black nationalist groups lagged far behind the more than 600 hate groups that adhere to some form of white supremacist ideology – and they have virtually no supporters or influence in mainstream politics, much less in the White House.

Within the white supremacist movement, neo-Nazi groups saw the greatest growth – from 99 groups to 121. Anti-Muslim groups rose for a third straight year. They increased from 101 chapters to 114 in 2017 – growth that comes after the groups tripled in number a year earlier.

Ku Klux Klan groups, meanwhile, fell from 130 groups to 72. The decline is a clear indication that the new generation of white suprem­acists is rejecting the Klan’s hoods and robes for the hipper image of the more loosely organized alt-right movement, SPLC said.

The overall number of hate groups likely understates the real level of hate in America, because a growing number of extremists, particularly those who identify with the alt-right, operate mainly online and may not be formally affiliated with a hate group.

Aside from hate groups, the SPLC identified 689 active antigovernment groups that comprised the “Patriot” movement in 2017, up from 623. Of these, 273 were armed militias.

Historically, these groups rise during Democratic presidencies out of fear of gun control measures and federal law enforcement action against them. They typically decline under GOP presidencies. This has not been the case under Trump, whose radical views and bigotry may be energizing them in the same way he has invigorated hate groups.

The Year in Hate and Extremism report also pointed out:

· Trump appointed key administration advisers with ties to the radical right, including Stephen Bannon, the head of Breitbart News who boasted of turning the website into “the platform for the alt-right.” The president thrilled white supremacists with his policy initiatives, such as revving up the country’s deportation machinery and curtailing civil rights enforcement.

· Reinvigorated white supremacists staged their largest rally in a decade – the demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left an anti-racist counter protester dead and Trump equivocating over condemning racism. Former Klan boss David Duke called the rally a “turning point”
and vowed that white supremacists would “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back.”

· White supremacist groups ramped up their recruiting of college students. White nationalist leader Richard Spencer – who previously had prompted Nazi salutes from a post-election audience in Washington when he shouted “Hail Trump” – held a rally at the Lincoln Memorial and appeared on college campuses. The SPLC documented some 300 incidents of racist flyers being distributed on more than 200 campuses.

At the federal level, rabidly anti-Muslim figures, most notably Sebastian Gorka, were given positions at the White House and other executive branch agencies. High-profile figures associated with the hate group ACT for America landed in positions where they were able to influence White House policy, such as the Muslim travel ban. Michael Flynn, an ACT advisory board member, became Trump’s short-lived national security adviser, while ACT’s founder and president, Brigitte Gabriel, spent an entire day meeting with officials at the White House in late March.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net). He is the author of several books including Islam & Muslims in the 21st Century published in 2017.

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