The Politics of Dog Whistles

“I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

KKK members parade in Virginia, 1922 (Via Wikimedia Commons)

A dog-whistle (not to be confused with an actual dog-whistle used in the training of dogs) is when coded language is used by the leader of a group that lets his most ardent supporters know what’s expected of them at a specific time or event. As someone who studies this kind of rhetoric, Donald Trump’s statement to Breitbart is what would be considered an activation message; a call to action, so to speak.

For context, Breitbart argues that Trump’s statement was specifically speaking to how the left plays politics in a more vicious manner than the right despite the tough people being on his side. It’s an explanation that changes nothing.

Breitbart’s argument further validates the ideology behind Trump’s statement. When he says “until they go to a certain point” is a clear message telling his supporters when to act against a specific group. In this context, anyone who doesn’t support him is the left. It’s a point I tried to make in a post titled, “To My Moderate Republican Friends” where I discussed how you’re either a Trump supporter or you’re a liberal; a leftist; an enemy of the state.

There is no moderation for Republicans. There is no middle ground for them anymore. You’re either in, or you’re one of the bad guys.

Conservatism, for all intents and purposes, is dead.

When viewed in totality with other comments he has continually made in his life, and even more so as the President of the United States, those who oppose him are Democrats, Mexicans, people of color seeking justice and equality; sons of bitches; nasty women; or come from shithole countries while white supremacists are very fine people.

It’s dangerous rhetoric that in many cases has led to violence in the past.

It’s not just Donald Trump though. We’ve seen it from Tucker Carlson, Jeanine Pirro, Rush Limbaugh, various bloggers, YouTubers, and even local talk radio hosts. In fact, looking at all these sources in combination with the not-so-publicly-known sites on the Internet that these terrorists frequent, makes these folks that use coded hate speech no different than ISIS.

The language used by these so-called provocateurs is what drives home-grown terrorists to act. The racists who are behind these attacks make it very clear in their manifestos or statements made just prior to, or after they commit mass-murders, that this is what drives their collective hate. It’s no secret.

Dylann Roof, for example, said he wanted to kill black people because he believed they rape white women daily. When federal agents asked him why he chose Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, he said that it was because he saw it described online as the oldest black church in the South.

He would come to believe that “black people raped white women daily” from websites who purposely only discuss crimes committed by people of color, thus creating a narrative that anyone who is non-white is a criminal, rapist, drug dealer, or thug. Make no mistake, they do this on purpose.

There’s a reason a website like Breitbart would use a story tag like “black crime” to focus on crimes by black people against whites. In Roof’s own manifesto he voiced his displeasure with how much attention the murder of Trayvon Martin was getting while the “brutal black on White murders” were being ignored.

“There were pages and pages of these brutal black on White murders. I was in disbelief. At this moment I realized that something was very wrong. How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored.”

In 2015, then-Presidential Candidate Donald Trump tweeted out a blatantly incorrect graphic showing a black man with a handgun claiming “whites killed by blacks” was 81% and “whites killed by whites” was only 16% citing the “Crime Statistics Bureau — San Francisco” as its source (an organization that doesn’t exist). The intent of the graphic was as clear then as it is now, and despite being corrected, Trump would never delete the tweet. The image has since been removed by the original poster but the baseless driver of such racially motivated hate endures. In other words, the damage has been done.

To be clear, this kind of dangerous rhetoric goes back to the days when the KKK first used the phrases “Make America Great Again” and “America First” in the 1920s, perhaps even further. Their message then was about preserving white-identity through politics such as it is today. It was based on the idea that the enfranchisement of black folks and immigrants eroded white dominance thus suggesting that America was no longer great.

Sound familiar?

While not new, dog whistle rhetoric has seen a resurgence of interest since the early 1990s and began picking up more steam after the election of Barack Obama; becoming more commonplace on the Internet. Stormfront, a website that many claim is the oldest hate-site on the Internet, has thousands of pages devoted to the “issue” of black-on-white crime.

It’s no secret where this hateful language comes from nor the motivations behind it. We all know what it’s about. Including those that promote the lies by sharing them across complex and vast networks where racism and hate are ingrained into the minds of the most ignorant low-information people on the planet. It doesn’t just impact us here at home, but all over the world.

“The real repository of racism in America — manifest in violent inter-racial assault — is to be found not in the white community, but the African American community.” — Pat Buchanan, 2007

Arguably, the biggest purveyors of hate come from smaller and more local sources in our everyday lives. Dog whistled rhetoric is promoted not just by the big names in politics and society at large, but by those in our local communities. As more people begin to believe these lies — whether they know the truth or not — they begin to use them as drivers in promoting their own hateful agenda by expanding on the deceit and convincing others that the only remedies are through actions such as mass murder.

Whether in Canada, New Zealand, Europe, or here at home, political dog whistles that are used to appeal to the white nationalist demographic are nothing more than coded hate speech. The similarities between all of these mass murderers is not a coincidence. They are commonalities based on the reach and impact hateful rhetoric has on white men. It’s purposely done.

Just like Donald Trump knows the impacts of his speech, commentators also know the impact they have on their viewers and/or listeners. Their main goal is to drive fear and loathing towards people who don’t look like them. When local talk radio hosts regurgitate hateful rhetoric — thus connecting with their listeners on a more personal and visceral level — they validate those beliefs.

“Figuratively, a ‘dog whistle’ is a coded message communicated through words or phrases commonly understood by a particular group of people, but not by others.” — Merriam Webster Dictionary

When Trump uses words like “invasion” when talking about migrants seeking asylum and equates them with murderers, rapists, and drug smugglers while claiming the United States is “bursting at the seams,” he’s dehumanizing people in search of safety and security. It’s rhetoric that opens the door for the echo chamber of racism on the Internet to explode with even more hateful language. Commenters all over the Internet typically begin to call for the slaughter of migrants every time he makes such claims. You really don’t have to go too deep on the Internet to find such language. You can find it in the comments sections of many “media” outlets and in viral Facebook and Twitter posts.

While Trump continues to portray the United States as a nation in crisis, he’s further promoting hate as he tries to justify his Muslim Ban, his actions against migrants of color, and his administration’s cruel treatment of migrant children. His language is sowing hate all over the United States as has been evidenced by the spike in hate crimes over the last three years and he knows it. He just doesn’t care.

As long as this type of rhetoric continues, white supremacists — like those who hide behind the title of nationalism — will continue to launch massacres similar to what we’ve seen in recent history and to what just happened in New Zealand. Unfettered hate speech cannot continue to go unchallenged.

The shooter in the Christchurch mass shooting made many of the same claims as others who were behind similar attacks. In his manifesto, he revealed that he hoped to spark a “civil war in the U.S.” and described Donald Trump as a “symbol of renewed white identity” while making claims that he was fighting against an “invasion” of Muslim migrants and “white genocide” — which only exists in the minds of white nationalists.

Again, taking the words of someone at the top of the chain and expanding on it to further his own cause. There is no denying it. He is viewed as their leader.

Until Trump calls them out and denounces white nationalists publicly, they will always consider him an ally in their psychosomatic nonsensical beliefs and will hang on his every word waiting for the proverbial call to action. Until then, it’s up to us to fight back against hate.

It’s not enough to call Trump out when he runs his mouth. We have to call it out on a much broader scale.

Especially, in our own communities.