A hate group is essentially a social group that practices hate towards another group, whether the other be an ethnic, social, racial, economic, or religious group. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) defines a hate group as “an organization that--based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities--has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics." The SPLC explains further that a group is made up of people who ascribe to the same beliefs of the group and feel they belong, whether it be through active participation or even annual donations .
The SPLC tracked 1,020 active hate groups in 2018. California had the most activity, with 103 active hate groups. Florida came in at 86. Both of these states demonstrate an unfortunate trend across the United States: an increase in hate group activity.
This marked increase dates back to 2016, with high-profile examples ranging from the 2017 Charlottesville riots to the 2017 Sutherland Springs shooting, the 2019 Tree of Life shooting, and even, very recently, to the “Straight Pride Parade" in Boston during Pride Month.
The range of targets among these examples is no coincidence. There has been increased activity from a wide variety of hate groups, including anti-LGBTQ groups, anti-Muslim groups, anti-black groups, anti-Jewish groups, anti-Latin American groups, and anti-women groups.
There has also been an increase in general hate groups, who do not have a specific target for their hate and hate indiscriminately. One of the most well known general hate groups is called the Proud Boys--a group of mostly men, primarily in their early twenties to mid-thirties, who harass people of all different social groups, often by wearing obscene shirts and saying obscene things. Groups like this are dangerous for an additional reason--because they are more likely to go to any and all hate rallies and try to egg on the other participants.
General hate groups are becoming more widespread as the country becomes more chaotic in regards to social policies, governmental stability, and two separate political parties increased participation in the continued oppression of marginalized groups.
There are many different theories as to the cause of this increase in hate group activity, but the most prominent theory is that President Trump has emboldened hate groups and made them feel more like they can act on their beliefs without consequences.
In particular, many believe that hate groups are on the rise because of the rhetoric that was used in the 2016 election. President Trump depended on obtaining votes from Americans who wanted “less sensitivity" from their country, people who wanted to “make America great again." This is not to say that all Trump supporters are members of hate groups, because many are not. Rather, it is to point out that the type of “no nonsense" and “honest" rhetoric that surrounds the Trump campaign--like “grab her by the p****"--emboldens people to speak to exactly what they are thinking, whether it be hateful or not.
Trump further empowered bigots after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, by referring to those who attacked the counter-protestors as “very fine people," even though one of those “very fine people" drove through a crowd, murdering Heather Heyer and injuring others. By not condemning those actions, Trump made people who participate in hateful activities and hate groups less concerned about consequences and more emboldened to act in accordance with their bigoted ideology.
We can expect hate group activity to continue to increase for at least the next five years because of the residual effects of the presidency and its repercussions. During presidential election next year, it will be important to watch what hate groups do and how President Trump utilizes them in his campaign.
Whoever the next president-elect is, regardless of their party of origin, one of their biggest concerns should be to slow the rise of hate groups. Doing so will be difficult while there is such a distinct schism in the country, but it is vital if we want to heal that schism.