In a report released today the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced officially what has repeatedly been made plain to anyone who listens to the demagogic crop of Republican presidential candidates: the GOP has become the nation’s leading advocate for right-wing hate, and their rhetoric is fueling a dangerous rise in hate groups. The SPLC’s annual report on domestic extremism released today found that right-wing hate and anti-government organizations grew by 14% last year to some 1,900 individual groups.
And, crucially, the SPLC identifies the divisive hate-fueled rhetoric of the Republicans as a key source of increasing right-wing extremism; while the ranks of right-wing groups grew significantly after president Obama’s election, their numbers had been on the decline in recent years until demagogic fear-mongering racists like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz seized the mainstream stage to exhort the Republican base to turn on such convenient scapegoats as Muslims and Mexicans. As SPLC President Mark Potok put it, “We have real enablers in the political mainstream who are helping the ideas of the radical right grow. We are living in an era of incredible political irresponsibility.”
The examples of Republican presidential candidates giving a voice to extremist right-wing hate are legion, from Donald Trump re-tweeting a neo-Nazi claim that African-Americans were responsible for 80% of murders committed against whites to his endorsement of a cartoon showing Jewish candidate Berne Sanders being gassed to proposals for religious tests for admission to the United States. The later proposal was put forward by Jeb Bush, who, alarmingly, is a moderate in the race in that he only wants to ban Muslims rather than, say, round them up in internment camps.
Indeed the current Republican nomination contest has prominence to “voices that at any other time would’ve been considered incredibly extreme,” as Potok said. And it’s not just Donald Trump. Fear-mongering Islamophobia is pervasive amongst the candidates, as is a general xenophobic intolerance of immigrants and a blatant disregard for the lives of humans who aren’t like the candidates themselves.
The relationship between the Republican Party and right-wing hate groups is certainly a two-way street, so that just as the candidates encourage the rise of right-wing terror groups, the rhetoric of the extreme right is increasingly adopted by the mainstream GOP and thereby normalized, usually under the insidious banner of “fighting political correctness.” Prominent Republicans have thus come to advocate such ridiculous right-wing conspiracy theories as vaccines causing autism, global warming being a Chinese plot, Common Core being a plot of socialist indoctrination, the US Army planning to invade Texas, NAFTA being a guise for the merging of the United States with Canada and Mexico, President Obama being a foreign Muslim, sustainable development being a plot to eliminate golf courses, the UN planning to take over American territory, and Planned Parenthood being a cartel that harvests and sells baby’s organs.
The list literally goes on and on and on, and as loony as these right-wing conspiracies are it is little surprise that they have been eagerly adopted by a Republican Party for whom truth seems no longer to exist for any practical purpose. And if that is the case, why not pander to the very lowest and basest of human emotions: fear and hatred.
And, far from a theoretical danger, the rise of right-wing extremist groups that Republicans are facilitating is in fact a grave threat to Americans. 2015 was the deadliest year for domestic terrorism since the Oklahoma City bombing, with at least 52 Americans falling victim. Though you wouldn’t know it from the media and politicians’ incessant fear-mongering focus on radical Islam, 86% of Americans killed by terrorists since 9/11 were the victims of right-wing terror. Right-wing terrorists have killed over 350 Americans since 9/11, while Islamic terrorists have killed 89.
The SPLC also warns that the threat of right-wing extremism is even greater than the numbers suggest, with many radical rightists – like Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof – finding inspiration on the internet in the manner of homegrown Islamic jihadis. Indeed such would-be terrorists may not even need to look to the internet, but merely to the racist bile that spews out of the mouths of Republicans at every debate and campaign rally. As Potok delicately put it, “an enormous number of real radical hatred has been absorbed into the political mainstream.” And that is a tremendous and largely under-appreciated threat to America’s people and ideals.
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.