In the days after Donald Trump’s presidential victory, the words played out in online articles and social media, prompting droves of Internet users to look up their definitions: fascism, bigot, xenophobe, racism, misogyny. The terms were among the top-eight searches on Merriam-Webster on Sunday, less than five days after the election, the online dictionary tweeted.
Americans perhaps were trying to make sense of a wave of postelection acts of hate, including the robbery of a Muslim student at San Diego State University who wore traditional religious clothing, a black church in Mississippi set on fire and spray-painted with “Vote Trump” on the wall, and another church in Indiana vandalized with a swastika and the words “Heil Trump.”
Although it’s unclear which groups and individuals are responsible for the acts, at least three organizations have tracked a notable spike in such incidents since the election.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crimes, had counted 201 incidents of election-related harassment and intimidation nationwide as of Friday. Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., told USA Today, “The white supremacists out there are celebrating his victory and many are feeling their oats.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations also reported an increase in complaints made to its offices since the election. And the Anti-Defamation League noticed a spike in reports of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti and vandalism in the first two days after the election.
In his first extensive televised interview since being elected, Trump told CBS’ Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes” that he was saddened to hear Latinos and Muslims have been facing harassment. “And I say, ‘Stop it,'” Trump said. “If it — if it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: ‘Stop it.’”
He also criticized the outburst of protests in response to his election win in cities across the country, which produced in Portland, Ore., a level of violence sufficiently intense to be called a “riot” by police.
But on the same day Trump said “Stop it,” the decision was announced that Stephen Bannon would become White House chief strategist. As The Washington Post’s Jose A. DelReal reported, Bannon is the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, a voice of the “alt-right,” a conservative movement that was once considered “fringe” and that is saturated with racially insensitive rhetoric and elements of outright white nationalism.
The incidents have caused many to wonder — are they a triumphal postelection outburst, or are they a sign of what’s to come during Trump’s administration? Is the open expression of hate the new reality?
“Only the willfully blind can fail to see that President-elect Trump has made racism culturally permissible,” wrote Paula Young Lee in Slate, “given that attackers often explicitly connect their hateful acts to his leadership.”
She went on to describe accusations that two white men drove a pickup across the campus of Wellesley College, in Massachusetts, flying a Trump flag, laughing and screaming and harassing “women of color and openly queer women, calling one student a ‘dyke.’ They then reportedly ‘parked in front of the house for students of African descent and jeered at them, screaming ‘Trump’ and ‘Make America Great Again.’”
Campus and local police are investigating the incident, according to a statement from nearby Babson College, which the two men reportedly attend.
Indeed, some have called for a more blunt definition of the white-nationalist rhetoric playing out in towns, colleges and even middle schools across the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the “alt-right” as a set of far-right ideologies and groups whose core belief is that white identity is under attack. Scores of people took to Twitter to encourage writers and political leaders to replace the term “alt-right” with adjectives such as white supremacist, neo-Nazi or fascist.
As Americans grappled with how to define and understand this surge in anti-immigrant, pro-white rhetoric, they did not have to look far to find examples of it. Colleges, and particularly elementary, middle and high schools across the country, have proved to be hotbeds for incidents targeting Muslim, black and Jewish students.
Though some claim Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail has triggered white supremacy groups into action, not all of the incidents have directly referenced the president-elect. But they have come in the immediate aftermath of the Nov. 8 election, including on Friday at the University of Michigan, where police said a man threatened to set a female student on fire with a lighter if she did not remove her hijab. The university’s Division of Public Safety and Security told The Post it considered the threat a hate crime.
In one of several cases involving graffiti of Nazi imagery, police are investigating swastikas scrawled in four dorm rooms at the New School in Manhattan, according to the New School Free Press. The all-female rooms house Jewish students, LGBTQ students and women of color, the Free Press reported. New School President David Van Zandt condemned what he called actions “intended to threaten and express hatred toward some of our students because of their identities,” and promised to “investigate swiftly and take appropriate action to ensure the security and safety of our students.”
One of the men apparently involved in the Wellesley College incident, a student at Babson College, later apologized on Facebook, the Boston Globe reported.
“I’m not a racist. I’m not a bigot. I’m not homophobic,” wrote Edward Tomasso, who by then said he was getting death threats. “For anyone part of the LGBTQ, African American, Muslim, immigrants, sexual assault victims . . . and other community or individuals impacted by my actions: I can never understand what you are going through right now. I have perpetuated the fear that exists throughout the world today. That was not my intention and I am deeply sorry that this has happened.”
On Friday, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) ordered an investigation into an alleged hate crime at State University of New York at Geneseo, where a resident assistant found a swastika and the word “Trump” scrawled in a common area of a residence hall, according to the Livingston County News.
Breitbart News responded to the reported surge in such incidents by referring to them as “fake” and calling out “real” hate crimes against Trump supporters. “Some of the protests have resulted in violent attacks on police, and dozens of arrests,” according to the website. “And there have been real hate crimes against Trump supporters.” It made reference to a man who was viciously beaten Wednesday in Chicago by a group of men and women, who threw the man to the ground and repeatedly kicked him while screaming anti-Trump taunts.
A widely circulated photo of a sign spelling out “Rape Melania” Trump from a rally outside the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, made the rounds on social media, at one point trending on Twitter.
An article on Reason.com also questioned the plausibility of the apparent wave of hate crimes, focusing on the case of a Muslim student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette who admitted to police that she fabricated a story about two white men attacking her and physically removing her hijab, The Post reported.
Although the article acknowledged racist acts were occurring with greater frequency in the days around the election, it played down the severity of the incidents, claiming that they are “a world apart from the ‘hate crimes’ and violent attacks that many are conjuring up right now.”
Echoing a common refrain from Trump’s rallies, students at Royal Oak Middle School in Michigan were captured in a video chanting, “Build that wall!” during their lunch period Thursday. A since-deleted video of the incident also circulated on Facebook, receiving more than 8 million views at one point, according to Time.
On Wednesday morning, Muslim students at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering awoke to find “Trump!” written in black erasable ink on the door of their prayer room, DNA Info reported. The following day, the students organized a “Rise Above Hate” rally, with an event on Facebook that listed 750 attendees.
A pair of racially charged incidents in western New York have also drawn national attention. Canisius College, in Buffalo, suspended two students for hanging a black doll by a noose in an elevator, WBFO-FM reported.
In a letter sent to faculty, staff and students and later published by the Buffalo News, Canisius President John Hurley called the incident “extremely troubling on several levels” but encouraged people to “keep perspective and not paint the entire campus community with a broad brush over the stupid act of one or a few individuals.”
In nearby Wellsville, a softball dugout was vandalized with a black swastika symbol and the words “Make America White Again.” The response was swift: Citizens painted over the graffiti by midafternoon, according to the Wellsville Daily Reporter, and Cuomo put out a statement ordering state police and the New York State Division of Human Rights to investigate the incident.
And at the University of Pennsylvania, Black freshman students were added Friday to GroupMe chats that were used to harass the students with racial slurs and a calendar invite for a “daily lynching,” Time reported. In a joint statement, President Amy Gutmann, Provost Vincent Price and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli called the GroupMe chat “vile material.”
“The account itself is totally repugnant: it contains violent, racist and thoroughly disgusting images and messages,” the statement read. “This is simply deplorable.”
Three people from Oklahoma — including a University of Oklahoma student who has been temporarily suspended — were found responsible for the messages sent to the University of Pennsylvania freshmen, school officials said Sunday.
Clarification: An original version of this story incorrectly said two men were displaying Confederate regalia from a pickup truck at Wellesley College. Authorities are still investigating the allegations.
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