Forget about losing five pounds or hitting the gym before dawn. This year, we must redouble our resolve to quench hate. We have to stand up, speak up, link up, and act.
History shows that violence generally climbs in election years, and given the media-fueled polarization of Americans just now, 2020 bodes to be especially combustible. Unlike 2001, when hate crimes peaked in the aftermath of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 assaults, this time the threat of violence is largely homegrown.
Since the day Donald Trump was elected president, Far-Right violence has been on the rise in the US. Hate crimes nearly tripled on November 9, 2016. Hate-fueled assaults rose nearly 8 percent in the following year and, according to FBI statistics, jumped by about 12 percent in 2018. The bureau reports that the targets were mostly black, Hispanic, Jewish, and Muslim. Numbers for 2019 aren’t yet in, but the year has been spattered by deadly assaults on racial, ethnic, and religious minorities.
Hate-driven attacks remain a tiny fraction of overall violent crime in the US (5,565 incidents out of 1.2 million violent offenses reported in 2018), but by design they have an outsize impact. Whose design? In some cases, the assailants.
“The Racial World War starts today,” wrote a white supremacist named James Harris Jackson in his manifesto in 2017. “God has ordered us to eliminate the Negro races from the face of the earth for the good of all mankind.” Then he went out and calmly stabbed Timothy Caughman, a middle-aged African-American man, in the back.
In 2018 the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism even reported that “anti-white crimes, of which there are far fewer, had the highest percentage increase.” The center, based at California State University, San Bernardino, says its 2018 survey of thirty major cities found that hate crimes against whites rose 15.5% to ninety-seven incidents.
Igniting a race war has been the declared motive of numerous white supremacist attackers. But they are not alone in fomenting hateful violence. State actors, from the Kremlin to the White House, have also played important roles. And then there are the social media platforms.
Russia, having stolen the Democratic Party’s 2016 election plans and broken into state election software, has gone on maliciously exploiting the internet 24/7, according to various published sources. “This was a well-choreographed military operation with units that not only were set up specifically to hack in to obtain information, but other units … for psychological warfare … weaponizing that,” former FBI cyberwarfare expert Robert Anderson told CBS’ 60 Minutes recently. “They didn’t stop doing what they’re doing.”
President Trump, while occasionally reading prepared statements condemning white supremacist violence, has frequently stoked fears of Muslims and of a Hispanic “invasion.” By a 56 to 29 percent majority, Americans told a Pew survey last March that Trump has done too little to distance himself from white nationalists. Indeed, Patrick Crusius, the man charged with a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, last August, echoed the president’s words about an “invasion” as he targeted Hispanic shoppers.
Against such an array of malign forces, what can we do? We’re just ordinary people. We don’t command media empires, social media squadrons, or massive wealth. All the same, individually we can make ripples, and collectively we can make waves. Here are some suggestions.
• Make a splash. Display a “no hate” sign on your window, lawn, or bumper. Do the same online. If you’re like me, you’ve withdrawn in disgust from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. It’s time to grit our teeth and log on. We can’t let hate become the new normal. One simple thing you can do is to add a “twibbon” to your Twitter profile image. (The campaign, which adds a “No Hate” ribbon to your profile picture is here.) That’s just a start.
• Engage with your elected officials and let them know that hate has no place in our political discourse. Investigative journalist Amanda Ripley recently made an important point: there’s a difference between being angry at political opponents and hating them. “Hatred assumes the enemy is unchangeable,” she writes in a Washington Post op-ed. “The goal of hatred, generally speaking, is not to correct; it’s to annihilate.” That’s no way to run a democracy.
• Hold tech giants accountable. Social media has been a boon to propagandists of all stripes—but no one fares better in that environment than fear-and-hate mongers. Facebook, Twitter, and others have evaded responsibility for years. We need to demand that social media companies use “Captcha” type messages to find and silence the bots that do so much to amplify hateful lies. This is something they have refused to do.
And here’s an idea for the attorneys out there: what about a lawsuit on behalf of Tree of Life Synagogue survivors or other victims, suing Facebook for recklessly operating an inherently addictive and dangerous product?
• Subscribe to more mainstream, editorial-process-bound news publications—more than you can read. Consider those subscriptions charitable contributions. If you don’t want your community to be dominated by rumormongers, be sure to include your local paper.
• Take steps to guard against biased or false online information. Visit snopes.com. Add the Newseum-related “Newstrition” extension to your browser. Above all, when an image or claim makes you see red, be skeptical. Remember, the Russians (and others) aim to enrage us all. Don’t share an item unless you know it’s legit.
• Find opportunities to engage on neutral ground with people whose views may differ from your own. It might be a neighborhood clean-up, a charity bake sale, a school event, or table-top gaming. As former senators Orrin Hatch and the late Ted Kennedy discovered, nothing dissolves hate like collaboration.
After years of caustic tweets and violent outbursts, you may well be weary. If so, you’re not alone. But for the sake of the nation, and for the future of liberal democracy and the institutions on which it depends, we must all find our second wind.
“If the opposite of love isn’t hate but indifference, then the antidote to hate is engagement,” opined former Time editor in chief Nancy Gibbs after the Tree of Life tragedy, adding, “no one is coming to save us. We’ll have to do this ourselves.” The time to start is now.