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Thursday, August 8, 2019

The tide of hate keeps rising

David Neiwert, Daily Kos Staff

Image result for alt-rightBoth real-world events and a recent report on hate crimes in America confirm: The incoming tide of white nationalism and its accompanying terror and violence is reaching crisis levels. But you’d never know it from listening to our national leaders and the media.

Last weekend, yet another red-pilled young man ginned up on white nationalist hate murdered innocent people while acting out his rage against nonwhites—this time in Gilroy, California, at the annual Garlic Festival. Editor's Note: And of course, the mass shootings in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH underscore how often analysis of the problem of hate violence cannot keep pace with the news. - Will Collette

A 19-year-old Gilroy man named Santino Legan, who recommended people read a white nationalist tract justifying violence that same day on Instagram, opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle on the crowd Sunday, killing three people and wounding 12, before police shot and killed him.

Legan’s involvement in white nationalist ideology was further confirmed Wednesday, when police reported finding white supremacist reading material in his apartment, along with indications he was planning a “mass attack.” 

In addition to urging people to read a notorious white supremacist tract titled Might Is Right, he had also complained on Instagram about “hordes” of mixed-race “mestizos” in Gilroy.

Only last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that his agency was seeing a dramatic upsurge in white supremacist criminal activity—having recorded nearly 100 cases related to the extremist ideology’s violent acolytes. 

And the Gilroy killings are only the most recent in a long line of killings committed or plotted by “red-pilled” young white nationalists radicalized online, including the recent murders in British Columbia.

Yet national Republican leaders—notably Donald Trump—have instead insisted on obsessing about the supposedly ultraviolent radical left, particularly the faction calling itself “antifa.” 

On Saturday, Trump—referencing legislation proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas—tweeted, “Consideration is being given to declaring ANTIFA, the gutless Radical Left Wack Jobs who go around hitting (only non-fighters) people over the heads with baseball bats, a major Organization of Terror (along with MS-13 & others). Would make it easier for police to do their job!”

The absurd wrongheadedness of this kind of leadership was underscored this week by a report on the national scope of hate crimes released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. 

Titled Report to the Nation: 2019, it underscored how deep the incoming tide of white supremacism has become, along with the horror of its terroristic violence.

Chief among the report’s findings was that the tide remains high, but appears to have begun to flatten out: “Nationally, hate crimes have been rising across most groups in recent years after bottoming in 2014, with CSHE/WVU analysis of FBI and police data showing the biggest spikes in politically conflictual periods in October 2008, November 2016, August 2017, and fall 2018.”

The numbers collected for 2019, however, suggest that though the rates remain high, some jurisdictions (notably, Phoenix, Arizona, a city where hate-crime reporting notoriously fluctuates) have recorded declines. 

It also notes that underreporting appears to be declining: A “slight majority of hate crime victims now report to police, but the majority of reported cases are still not cleared by arrests. Of those that are cleared by arrests, most are prosecuted by local authorities who do not charge them as hate crimes, largely owing to issues relating to evidence and the high burden of proof for specific intent crimes.”

The report also found that African Americans remain consistently the top targets for hate crimes, and that there’s a correlation between hateful online rhetoric and the particular kinds of hate crimes that erupt in given localities.

As for the right’s favorite current trope—namely, that hoax hate crimes, a la Jussie Smollett, are actually the rule—the report shoots these claims down with hard numbers and facts:

Confirmed official false police and campus reports of either fraudulent bias motivated criminal acts, or those deceptively reported to authorities in the U.S., numbered 11 in 2018 and constitute less than one percent of all hate crime estimated to be reported to police. They were often committed by young people or college students. There is simply no public list showing more than around one percent or less of police reported hate crimes as frauds.

The report’s most significant takeaway, however, is its portrait of a nation awash in online radicalization by far-right extremists who have been particularly targeting younger and often vulnerable audiences for recruitment into their pathological ideologies. 

The internet, as the report explains, has become a massive engine for this radicalization, despite the tepid attempts by various software platforms—notably social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube—to grapple with its consequences, which include horrifying outbreaks of violence.

What the report found was that in the face of these crackdowns, “hatemongers have increasingly migrated to splintered free speech, encrypted and affinity-based platforms, and messaging services, where hate speech is more prolific.” It identified these platforms as “4chan, 8chan, GAB, VK (Russian Facebook), and Telegram, among others.”

Moreover, activity on these platforms appears to have supplanted radical-right attempts to assert their presence in the mainstream, as occurred at Charlottesville. It described this shift as a “breakdown of more organized extremist groups and their leaders.”

In particular, it reports how the arc of online radicalization leads so frequently to a violent conclusion involving guns and attempts to inflict mass death:

The Internet has enabled not only newly hobbled extremist groups to maintain a public presence, it also provides organizationally unaffiliated extremists and loners with a tool to congregate, radicalize, and broadcast not only bigotry, but disturbingly, lone acts of mass violence that reference prior attacks. 

Social media has also been weaponized, not only by domestic and foreign extremists, but also by state actors like Russia seeking to “sow discord” and launch conspiracy theories amongst the electorate to advance prejudice and political division.

The report also includes a study of 4chan conducted by a CSUSB fellow who examined its growth in detail, finding that the “numbers and types of hate terms used by 4chan members from January 2015 through March 2018 precipitously increased, before a partial decline to elevated levels.” 

The analyst “found the number of hateful terms on 4chan numbered in the hundreds of thousands on a monthly basis. Except for ‘white genocide’ and ‘k-ke,’ which had more precipitous increases, most other terms increased in approximation of the rising activity on 4chan generally, which has also fluctuated around certain events, such as the 2016 election.”

As the report notes, this is not merely a fringe website: “4Chan now has approximately 20 million monthly visitors, comparable to that of a major news site. The sites 8chan and neinchan are more radical variants, created in response to perceived censorship, with users on these boards often posting even more extreme content than on 4chan.”

Though there are in fact worse sites, “bigotry on 4chan is still rampant, with hate speech comprising one out of every 15 comments posted on the site, 30 percent more than that found in comments on the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Cruz’s proposed legislation directs law enforcement to focus its attention on a movement that has produced exactly zero fatalities in the past decade: antifascists. 

Not only is this legislation absurdly misdirected at the wrong threat by political extremists, it’s so loosely written that it could readily be misdirected to bring about the arrests of any kind of anti-Trump protester, as well as any journalists who objectively report on the activities of these groups.

As Spencer Sunshine observes at Truthout, “The far right is desperately trying to depict the radical left as doing what the far right itself is actually guilty of: engaging in sustained, murderous violence with deliberate indifference from the highest levels of the government.”