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A United States Of Hate Has Exploded Under Trump

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Donald Trump’s campaign and presidential election has brought racism in America out of the shadows in a manner not seen in decades, with Muslims becoming the top target of attacks and violence, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual survey of domestic hate groups and extremists.

“There’s something going on right now in our country that’s really dramatic,” said Mark Potok, SPLC senior fellow and author of its “Year in Hate” analysis, an annual index of groups promoting ideologies elevating one race above others.

“Just a few weeks ago we had 63 different bomb threats phoned into various Jewish community centers and synagogues around the country. In the last month or so, we’ve seen two mosques burned to the ground. The one in Victoria, Texas burned just a couple of hours after the Trump administration announced the executive orders that comprised the so-called Muslim ban. Late last fall, we saw a major plot by three members of a radical anti-government group called the Kansas Security Force, with a subgroup called the Crusaders, who actually plotted to load four different vehicles with high explosives, park them on the four corners of a large apartment complex housing Somali Muslim immigrants in Garden City, Kansas, and to kill them all.”

Potok detailed numerous examples of racist threats, plotting, and violence in a two-hour briefing Wednesday. The trends were tied together by a common thread, he said, the modeling and license given by Donald Trump’s campaign and his administration’s early actions against immigrants and Muslims. Potok said America has become a nation where bastions of angry, aggrieved, economically struggling men—usually white—feel freer than they have in decades to lash out at anyone unlike them.

“I think what has happened is that the Trump campaign, in many ways, has kind of ripped the lid off Pandora’s Box, and all of these different kinds of hatreds have escaped, and it’s pretty damn near impossible to get them back into the box,” he said. “One of the things that was most remarkable about the hate crime, the bias incidents we saw immediately after the election, was they targeted virtually every minority out there—Jewish people, immigrants, Muslims, LGBT people, Latinos, and also a non-minority, women. That was quite specific to Trump and his attitudes towards women and the kinds of ideas that he promoted.”

Within 24 hours of Trump’s victory, there was an burst of “celebratory” incidents in which his supporters exulted in preying on others.

“We actually counted 1,094 different hate crimes and lesser bias incidents in just the first 34 days after the election,” Potok said. “That was clearly directly related to the election. First of all, the largest number of these incidents occurred on the day right after the election, and then they decreased after that. And in 37 percent of those incidents, the perpetrators actually named Trump, his slogan, ‘Make America Great,’ or his comments about grabbing women by the genitals. So the Trump phenomenon has really unleashed right-wing hate in the country in a way that is difficult to remember.”

The SPLC has been tracking and documenting domestic right-wing extremist groups for three decades. They define a hate group as any with an ideology that elevates one race above others, and taking a range of public actions to promote that racist view: seeking members, selling or distributing literature, holding rallies, planning and executing threats, and even violent attacks.

The jump from individuals searching online and sympathizing with white supremacist views to lashing out was not a straight or a predictable line, Potok said. Nonetheless, SPLC’s 2016 report found that the greatest increase in attacks were against Muslim-Americans.

“I would say that the most important thing that we saw happening, in terms of the numbers, was the really dramatic expansion in the anti-Muslim sector of the radical right,” he said. “That is where things really seem to be happening. Our anti-Muslim hate group count went up by 197 percent last year, from 34 groups in 2015 to 101 in 2016.”

“The most important factor has been Donald Trump and his campaign,” he said, elaborating. “His vilification of Muslims. His description of them as so dangerous that we need to keep them out of the country. His idea that we have to form a registry, a kind of Naziesque registry, in which we are going to put down the names of all Muslim Americans. His proposal to surveil all mosques and on and on and on. Trump, of course, is a man who promoted the idea, the entirely false idea, that 25 percent of American Muslims agree that violence against Americans is justified in the name of jihad, and so on.”

But there are other forms of racism in America and those people reacted differently to Trump. Many “patriotic” or militia groups became dormant in 2016, SPLC found, with their number falling from 998 in 2015 to 623 in 2016. Potok said that was because Trump was “so revered” by the people in these groups that they no longer needed operate independently and simply joined his campaign. On the other hand, Trump’s white nationalism led other previously shadowy groups to emerge publicly.

“We are also seeing a lot of activity that is not measured in the numbers of hate groups,” he said. “For instance, in the last year, 2016, we counted 117 different instances of the Klan, or a Klan group, leafletting entire communities. This occurred in 26 different states.”

Stepping back from 2016’s political rhetoric, Potok said the emergence of the so-called alt-right was nothing but a “rebranding” of white supremacist ideology aimed at luring younger adherents.

“The alternative right is simply a Machiavellian rebranding of what is really white supremacy or white nationalism for the purposes of public relations,” he said. “These are people who generally favor suits and ties over Klan robes and swastika armbands, and there are some kind of unique traits of the alternative right in that it is a very youth-oriented edge of the white supremacist world. It is very much aimed at young people and colleges, and is very internet savvy by its use of that means. But at the end of the day, the alternative right is fundamentally about the idea that civilization and cultures that are healthy are simply expressions of race—that everything healthy is based on race. In other words, that America, that most of the European countries, are countries that were created by and for white people, and that is the way it ought to stay or the state to which we ought to return.”

This message, which was at the core of Trump’s candidacy and dominates White House policies, is causing real harm, he said, citing one study in which 90 percent of 10,000 K-12 educators said the election had created a negative climate in their schools, and 80 percent of non-white students “had raised fears in serious ways.” Moreover, these beliefs are shared by many in Trump’s inner circles.

“I would point out today that we are minus one key anti-Muslim adviser to Donald Trump with the departure of [national security adviser] Michael Flynn,” Potok said.” But I’d just like to point out that there are quite a few very serious anti-Muslim ideologues left at the heart of the Donald Trump team: Stephen Bannon, his strategic adviser; Steven Miller, another key White House adviser; Kellyanne Conway, who was the person who actually produced the bogus poll claim that 25 percent of American Muslims support jihadist violence; Jeff Sessions, a former senator from Alabama who is now our attorney general; and, of course, Trump himself. It’s hardly like the departure of Michael Flynn is going to mitigate this really terrible onslaught directed at American Muslims.”

Hate Groups Across America

The SPLC map of hate groups shows that no state is immune. Potok said every population has a cohort, and they often arise where economic hardship confronts rapid social change.

“The groups follow population,” he said. “In very, very low population states, like North Dakota, you might have one group. In a very high population site, like California, we’ve got 79. Similarly in New York State, not exactly the deep South, we’ve got 47. I don’t think its fair to describe what we are seeing as a southern phenomenon. Or even a coastal, or inner country, non-coastal phenomena. I do think they track fairly closely with some variations as a matter of historical accidents from state to state.”

The expressions of hate and their local faces vary with local culture, Potok said.

“There are different kinds of groups in different places,” he said. “You will not find the black nationalist groups, the black separatists that we list, in the wilds of Montana or Wyoming. They don’t exist there. Those groups are very much urban phenomena and prosper in large cities up and down the East Coast and West Coast. Similarly, you won’t find Klan groups in New York City. Where they’re found is they’re almost invariably very rural and very small towns, and generally towns that are not doing very well financially. Same with militias, those are generally not urban, they’re rural. So there are different kinds of groups. We have a whole neo-confederate movement. These are groups who are located in the south because that’s what they are all about.”

Potok gave the example of the outer suburbs near Los Angeles as being an area where lower income whites resent an influx of non-whites from that diverse city.

“We’ve seen over the years that you tend to get very high counts of hate crimes in areas, in regions and communities that are changing very rapidly. And especially those communities that have reached a kind of tipping point,” he said. “So you go to a place like the Inland Empire of [Southern] California, an area that was once mainly composed of white suburbs and exurbs of L.A., because there has been a lot of middle-class black migration out of the city and into those areas in the Inland Empire, there’d been a big racial shift and as a result we have seen, over time, an awful lot of racist skinhead groups and an awful lot of anti-black hate crimes. So when you get those kinds of conflicts and very rapid changes happen in a community.”

What is alarming today is how white supremacists are ascendant, Potok said. Contrary to right-wing propagandists’ claims, there is no corollary on the left.

“What was said in the right-wing media about our report was that it was hogwash, that we made stuff up out of whole cloth and in any case we could never prove that it was linked to Trump or the election, and I think that is patently false,” he said. “It was a real wave of incidents that washed across this country in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election, and I would describe it as celebratory violence and hatred. A tiny number of those incidents were anti-Trump, came from opponents of Trump. The vast majority came from people how were very pro-Trump, who felt licensed, or given permission, by Donald Trump to say the things that they had been feeling and thinking for some time. They were essentially legitimized.”

“We are talking about false equivalencies,” Potok continued. “I don’t claim that the country never had a radical left that engaged in real violence. Obviously, we did. That was certainly true in the ‘60s and the early ‘70s. But the idea that there is a substantial radical left in this country, committing or intending to commit major crimes and major terrorism, is frankly utter hogwash. It’s baloney. It’s simply false. And unfortunately, we have seen on any occasions, under the prior [George W.] Bush administration, top officials of the FBI testifying to Congress that so-called eco-terrorists, groups like the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front, are the most serious domestic terror threat that we face in the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t know how they can justify making a claim like that. It’s ridiculous. To back up what I’m saying, these groups, the ALF and the ELF and like-minded groups, have never killed a single person.”

In contrast, Trump and his base are promoting white supremacy and using the means at their disposal—including presidential decrees—to achieve that end.

“What we are seeing is the rise of right-wing populism,” Potok said. “By that, I mean, in the words of a couple of scholars who came up with a pithy description of what right-wing populism is, that is the ideology that, ‘pits the virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous others, who are depicted as depriving the sovereign people of their prosperity and rights.’ So in other words, it’s the idea, as Trump has said, that there are international bankers and elites who are basically screwing the rest of us, and that we have these kinds of parasitic underclasses who are described variously as Muslims, as immigrants, as black people, as brown people, as LGBT people, as Jews, and so on.”

Potok is under no illusions that the Pandora’s Box of hatred unleashed by Trump is going away anytime soon. The percentage of foreign-born people in the country now—13.7 percent—is on par with the levels in the decades of the 1910s and 1920s. In 1924, Congress passed a federal immigration law with quotas that prevented Europeans fleeing the Nazis from coming here.  A year later, the Klu Klux Klan boasted 4 million members, the largest number ever.

American history doesn’t quite repeat itself, but the SPLC report suggests that the country has entered a dark era, where white supremacists will keep lashing out—especially as the numbers of whites continues to shrink nationwide in an ever-more diverse overall population.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights.

IMAGE: A tattoo on the knuckles of a Klansman reads “Love” as he participates with members of the Nordic Order Knights and the Rebel Brigade Knights, groups that both claim affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan, in a cross lighting ceremony on a fellow member’s property in Henry County, Virginia, August 9, 2014.   REUTERS/Johnny Milano 

Here’s How We Prepare To Be Ungovernable In 2017

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

“We cannot and should not legitimize the transfer of authority to a right-wing populist who has neo-fascist orientations,” Kali Akuno told AlterNet over the phone. “We shouldn’t legitimize that rule in any form or fashion. We need to build a program of being ungovernable.”

As the co-director of the Mississippi-based group Cooperation Jackson and an organizer with the nationwide Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Akuno is one of countless people across the country working diligently to build a platform sturdy enough to confront Trump’s America.

Movimiento Cosecha, led by undocumented people and immigrants, is planning to go on the offensive to organize a a migrant boycott and general strike demanding “permanent protection, dignity, and respect of immigrants.” Groups including Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) are already striking preemptive blows against a potential Muslim registry under Trump by successfully demanding that the Obama administration eliminate the regulatory framework for a Bush-era registry. The New Sanctuary Movement, meanwhile, is getting ready to mobilize large numbers of people to intervene against a potential escalation of raids targeting immigrants.

For Akuno, whose organizations strive for self-determination for people of African descent and the eco-socialist transformation of society as a whole, now is an important time for movements to be talking to each other and strategizing how to unfold a program of noncompliance and noncooperation on both the federal and state levels. “We are not going to legitimize this regime, and we are going to try to draw a deeper level of criticism to the entire system,” he emphasized. “If Trump and Clinton were the best the system could offer, there is something wrong with the system. There always has been. We need to start envisioning what kind of future we want and need.”

A call for civil servants to resist

“A core component of resistance is to get the class of civil servants, particularly on the federal but also the state level, to not comply with arbitrary laws and policies that are going to be created,” said Akuno. “To not recognize the laws we know are coming that will discriminate against Black people, Latinos, immigrants and queer people. There is no need for anyone to comply. Let’s not give it legitimacy just because it’s the law. We need to be prepared to disobey and engage in civil disobedience. We need to get ready for that now.”

Akuno said there are already encouraging signs that such resistance is building among civil servants. Concerned that critical climate data will vanish under a climate-change denying Trump administration, scientists and meteorologists are working to copy and safely store public data using independent servers. Earlier this month, the University of Toronto held a “Guerrilla Archiving” event inviting volunteers to “join in a full day of hackathon activities in preparation for the Trump presidency.” The website “Climate Mirror” was erected as part of an effort to “mirror public climate datasets before the Trump Administration takes office to make sure these datasets remain freely and broadly accessible.”

Meanwhile, media reports are emerging that some Department of Energy officials are refusing to comply with a Trump administration demand to hand over the names of all of the agency’s contractors and employers who have worked on key climate policies under President Barack Obama. The request elicited concerns of a witch hunt and purge orchestrated by the incoming administration. But The Independent reported earlier this month, “The US Department of Energy (DOE) has refused to answer questions issued to them by Donald Trump’s transition team.”

In a letter dated December 28, attorney general offices from 13 states threatened litigation against Trump if he discards the Clean Power Plan, as he has vowed to do.

Such resistance, of course, contrasts with the narrative of a “peaceful transition of power” at times embraced by the Obama administration and much of the Democratic Party. But among lower-level workers, opportunities for resistance are manifold. According to Akuno, “it is impressive to see a certain level of resistance that members of civil society are already engaging in. I don’t think this should be taken lightly. A broad alliance can be made, with a clear articulation of a call for resistance.”

Akuno emphasized that such resistance is just one prong of a broader strategy that he says entails “not going to work, not participating in your run-of-the-mill economic activities, with the hope and aim that we can build prolonged acts of civil disobedience that lead to a general strike.” While such plans are not fully fleshed out, he noted organizations across the country are actively discussing such a possibility.

‘Build and fight’

Strategies for large-scale disobedience should be buttressed by local plans that simultaneously prepare us for survival and orient us towards social transformation, he argued. “Cooperation Jackson is in the midst of a pivot that we’re calling, ‘Build and Fight,’” said Akuno, explaining that the initiative is premised on the assumption that “the left’s infrastructure domestically and internationally is profoundly weak. There needs to be a building piece in our view. This has to be a primary focus, and we want to build something that leans in an anti-capitalist orientation, like community-production based, cooperatively-owned digital fabrication.”

For inspiration, Cooperation Jackson looks to black freedom organizers like Fannie Lou Hamer, who, in 1969, helped found the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Sunflower County, Mississippi, which was aimed at boosting food security and independence for Black community members who faced systematic dispossession. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, meanwhile, has played a critical role in protecting those communities on the front lines of Black freedom and civil rights movements.

According to Akuno, now is a time to fortify infrastructure for autonomy and resistance. “That’s where co-ops, land trusts, time banking, mutual exchange, community production, and other new social relationships come in,” he said. “We want to build society in a prefigurative way. We want a guaranteed level of food security and energy security. We need bottom-up solutions to sustain ourselves and transform the world.”

Towards this end, Cooperation Jackson is building three green cooperatives, as well as an eco-village aimed, protected by a community land trust. These bottom-up alternatives are coupled with a push for policies aimed at a “just transition” away from policies that worsen climate change and environmental racism.

In materials emailed to AlterNet, the organization explained that its approach is “premised on ending our systemic dependence on the hydro-carbon industry and the capitalist driven need for endless growth on a planet with limited resources, while creating a new, democratic economy that is centered around sustainable methods of production and distribution that are more localized and cooperatively owned and controlled.”

“We need to be building participatory democratic structures from below,” Akuno emphasized. “We should be building people’s assemblies, not as a substitute of the state, but to deal with areas where the neoliberal state is failing to provide basic social services.”

Learning from history

“This moment calls us to really look at our collective history critically,” said Akuno. “In reality, this is not a democratic society, never has been. But, it’s based on democratic myths, not the concrete practice of democracy. We can look at the struggles of indigenous, Black, Xican@, Puerto Rican communities and draw new lessons. We can win genuine multiracial class unity that can benefit us during this time of struggle.”

Akuno emphasized that there are plenty of lessons to be learned from struggles around the world. “In the 1950s through 80s, movements fought the right-wing neo-fascist dictatorships of Argentina and Chile,” he said. “It took decades to turn the tide, people were organizing on an underground basis after most of the left was liquidated. How folks organized and delegitimized the regime—I think there’s a lot to be learned from that.”

From South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement to Spain’s civil war to 1930s-era Germany, Akuno emphasized that we need to “use history as a guide.” But he also underscored that we have to recognize what is unique about this moment, which he says emerges from a uniquely American legacy of “white supremacy in its segregationist apartheid form.”

“The orientation we’re taking is not just about surviving Trump, but drawing attention to the fact that the system was already heading towards more severe types of repression, surveillance and austerity,” he said. “We’re also looking at the global dynamics as to why right-wing populism and fascism is spreading internationally.”

What is clear, says Akuno, is that the right-wing populism of the Trump administration will not be defeated by civil discourse and liberal democracy. He emphasized, “If we are serious and steadfast, we can create a clear and comprehensive message around being ungovernable.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet.

IMAGE: Cooperation Jackson

Austrians Reject Far Right Candidate In Presidential Election

By Francois Murphy and Kirsti Knolle

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s far-right presidential candidate was soundly defeated on Sunday, confounding forecasts of a tight election in which he would ride a wave of populism sweeping the West.

Norbert Hofer lost to former Greens leader Alexander Van der Bellen, who had put the June Brexit referendum at the center of his campaign, saying the far right would lead Austria down the same road and warning voters not to “play with this fire”.

“From the beginning I fought and argued for a pro-European Austria,” said Van der Bellen.

Hofer, of the anti-immigration and anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPO), was seeking to become Europe’s first freely elected far-right head of state since World War Two but conceded defeat soon after polls closed.

A projection by pollster SORA for broadcaster ORF, which included a count of 99 percent of ballots cast in polling stations, showed Van der Bellen on 53.3 percent and Hofer on 46.7 percent with a margin of error of 0.4 percentage points.

The result dealt a blow to populists who had hoped a wave of anti-establishment anger sweeping Western democracies would carry Hofer to power after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the U.S. election of Donald Trump as president.

Although Austria’s president traditionally has a largely ceremonial role, the election was a test of populist sentiment in Europe ahead of elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands next year.

European governments breathed a sigh of relief at the result, which opinion polls beforehand had said was too close to call.

“A weight has fallen from all of Europe’s shoulders,” said German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat. “If the projections are confirmed, the result of the election in Austria is a clear victory for reason against right-wing populism.”

‘INFINITELY SAD’

The election was a re-run of a May vote that was overturned due to counting irregularities, which was a far tighter affair with Hofer winning 49.65 percent of the vote.

“I am infinitely sad that it didn’t work out,” Hofer said on his Facebook page less than an hour after polls closed on Sunday and the first projections were broadcast, later adding that he would run again in the next presidential election in six years’ time.

He said he would now turn his attention to running for parliament in an election due by 2018, which polls suggest the FPO would win since it now has the support of roughly a third of voters, well clear of its nearest rival.

“Congratulations to the FPO, which fought valiantly. The next legislative elections will show their victory!” tweeted Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, an FPO ally who will contest the French presidential election next year.

Data from SORA showed that Van der Bellen’s pro-European stance was his supporters’ second-strongest reason for voting for him, cited by 65 percent of them, just behind the view that he would best represent Austria abroad.

Among Hofer supporters, the top reason was that he “understands the concerns of people like me”, cited by 55 percent of those respondents.

But a potentially bigger threat to Europe’s political establishment looms. Italy is holding a referendum on Sunday on constitutional reform that could decide the political future of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who has promised to resign if he loses.

There is also the more distant prospect of a clash between Van der Bellen and the FPO in the event of an FPO victory in a parliamentary election. The president plays an important role in the formation of coalitions after an election, and Van der Bellen has said he would try to prevent an FPO-led government.

Austrians will be glad to put behind them the comedy of errors that meant the election dragged on for almost a year, prompting some media to label the country a “banana republic”.

The result of the May 22 runoff was overturned mostly due to election officials cutting corners as they raced to complete the count. The re-run was then postponed because the glue on the envelopes for some postal ballots did not stick.

(Additional reporting by Michel Rose in Paris, Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Sasa Kavic and Branko Filipovic in Pinkafeld, Austria, and Shadia Nasralla and Michael Shields in Vienna; Editing by Susan Fenton and Pravin Char)

IMAGE: Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) presidential candidate Norbert Hofer waits for the first projections in his office in Vienna, Austria, December 4, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger