Maybe Its Time We Drop The Word ‘Domestic’ — White Supremacists Are A Global Threat
For years, people like myself have argued that we need to call out acts of terrorism and violence perpetrated by white men in the same fashion that we call out those committed by terrorists who claim to be Muslim or belong to a terrorist network overseas. Many of us have pushed for use of the term ‘domestic terrorism’ when discussing these tragedies, and now following the horrific attack in El Paso, Texas, the country’s collective conversation has finally moved in this direction. Federal authorities have said they’re treating the El Paso massacre which directly targeted the Latinx community as an act of domestic terrorism, and for the first time that I can recall, media outlets are finally somewhat beginning to use the same terminology. But perhaps we are all wrong. The term ‘domestic’ implies that this is just a national crisis; the reality is, white supremacists are a global threat.
In November of 2017, around 60,000 people — the majority of whom were white supremacists and fascists — marked Poland’s independence day by marching in Warsaw holding signs like “White Europe, Europe must be white” and “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust”. In May of 2018, about 10,000 Croatians, including neo-Nazis, were in the Austrian town of Bleiburg to mourn the defeat of a former Nazi-affiliated army. In March of this year, veterans of Latvia’s World War II-era SS wing and their supporters (about 1,000 people) marched through that country’s capital. A month earlier, members of a neo-Nazi group held a torch-wielding demonstration through parts of Nuremberg, Germany — yes, Germany. The march apparently began at a hostel for refugees.
It’s no coincidence that as open, public displays of hate and racist rallies are taking place across Europe and elsewhere, there is a simultaneous rise in hate crimes. According to a report by France’s National Human Rights Advisory Committee, anti-Semitic attacks in that country increased more than 70% in 2018 compared to 2017. Human Rights Watch reported that in Germany, anti-Semitic crimes rose 20% in 2018, while in the UK, there were 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents in the same year.
In Canada, reported hate crimes rose 47% in 2017 according to a study by Statistics Canada. As the Washington Post highlighted, “Law enforcement agencies reported that 2,073 hate crimes occurred in 2017, up from 1,409 in 2016, an increase fueled by incidents primarily taking place in Ontario and Quebec targeting Canada’s Jewish, Muslim and Black populations.” Let’s remember that Quebec was where a white male stormed a mosque in 2017, shooting and killing 6 worshipers and injuring several others.
After 51 people were slaughtered in the New Zealand mosque attacks a few months back, the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes in Britain skyrocketed 593% one week later according to reporting at the Guardian. They included things like a sledgehammer attack on five mosques and the stabbing of a teenager in what police determined to be a far-right terror attack. As the BBC reported in June, racism and race-related hate crimes increased so much since the 2016 Brexit referendum, that special community cohesion officers have been appointed in many areas. As if that weren’t distressing enough, a total of 10,571 racially-motivated hate crimes against children — children — were recorded by police in 2017–18 in Britain according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. That averages out to about 29 a day, and is growing at a rate of about 1,000 new crimes a year. As CNN highlighted, “Children as young as 10 are whitening their faces to avoid being subjected to racist abuse in Britain…” They go on to say that the crisis has swelled so severely that babies yet to reach their first birthday are counted among the victims of these hate crimes. Just let that sink in.
Here in the United States, hate crimes increased 17% in 2017 from the previous year according to the FBI’s own stats. Of the more than 7,100 hate crimes reported, nearly three out of five were motivated by race and ethnicity. (A reminder that reporting hate crimes to the FBI is still voluntary — not every police department or jurisdiction is required to submit this info, so the overall numbers are surely even higher). A recent report from The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism gives us an even closer picture: hate crimes rose 9% in 30 major American cities in 2018, despite the fact that overall crime rates have continued to fall.
It no surprise that this global rise in hate crimes is happening at a time when western societies are becoming increasingly diverse, and when xenophobic right-wing groups, leaders and parties have amassed power and seats in government. Earlier this year, the BBC did a powerful breakdown of the percentage of votes won by nationalist parties in the most recent European elections. Here’s a sampling: In Switzerland, the Swiss People’s Party won around 29%; in Austria, the Freedom Party won 26%; in Germany, Alternative for Germany won 12.6%; in Hungry, Fidesz won 49%. Whether it’s Matteo Salvini in Italy, or ViKtor Orban in Hungary or any of these other so-called leaders across Europe and elsewhere, the nativist, anti-immigrant rhetoric, campaigns and policies have been the recurring thread that binds them all together in an ugly pot of fear, insecurity and hatred. One could argue that our current President is the one stirring this vile mixture.
This weekend, 22 innocents lost their lives in El Paso at the hands of a reported white supremacist who directly repeated talking points of Trump and the right in his online screed. As the nation continues to grapple with this terrorist attack, with the ugly environment that has been created under a Trump Presidency (Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, etc.) and years of right-wing propaganda, as well as the rise of right-wing nationalism and white supremacy, we cannot lose sight of the fact that this is a global epidemic. And it’s not just disaffected youth getting radicalized online; there is an organized movement pushing ‘white replacement theories’ and running for office on campaigns of fear-mongering and winning.
It’s important to remember that the El Paso attack, a mob of people chanting “send her back” about a Muslim member of Congress, and the rise in hate crimes are all occurring at a time when things are relatively decent overall. The unemployment rate is the lowest in 50 years, the economy is ‘the best ever’ (according to the President himself), and there thankfully hasn’t been a terrorist attack committed by a Muslim. Now if people are able to be riled up in this manner when things are going reasonably well, it begs the question, what’s going to happen if there is another recession, skyrocketing unemployment or worse? As we all know, when economies tank or there is instability, racism, bigotry and hate is heightened even more.
Ultimately, the United States and all Western countries are grappling with the idea of what kind of societies they want to be; will they be diverse, inclusive and progressive nations, or racist, nativist and regressive ones? The answer will have consequences for us all — not just those being otherized.
Perhaps George W. Bush was right after all when he said “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Here’s hoping we prevail.