A new study by three political scientists at the University of North Texas found that there was a massive increase in hate crimes in counties where Trump held campaign rallies in 2016 compared to similar counties where he didn’t. Since he tended to hold rallies in places where his support was strong, this is pretty strong evidence of the impact of his hateful rhetoric.
We examined this question, given that so many politicians and pundits accuse Trump of emboldening white nationalists. White nationalist leaders seem to agree, as leaders including Richard Spencer and David Duke have publicly supported Trump’s candidacy and presidency, even if they still criticize him for not going far enough. The New Zealand shooter even referred to Trump as a “renewed symbol of white identity.”
So, do attitudes like these have real world consequences? Recent research on far-right groups suggests that they do, especially when these attitudes are embraced and encourage by peers. Specifically, the quantity of neo-Nazi and racist skinhead groups active in a state leads to increased reports of hate crimes within that state…
To test this, we aggregated hate-crime incident data and Trump rally data to the county level and then used statistical tools to estimate a rally’s impact. We included controls for factors such as the county’s crime rates, its number of active hate groups, its minority populations, its percentage with college educations, its location in the country and the month when the rallies occurred.We found that counties that had hosted a 2016 Trump campaign rally saw a 226 percent increase in reported hate crimes over comparable counties that did not host such a rally.
Direct causation is notoriously difficult to prove in such areas of research, but combined with other evidence the case is all but undeniable. Trump attacks the media as the enemy of the people and we’ve seen a big increase in threats of violence, and actual violence, toward journalists around the country — specifically by people who have cited Trump’s rhetoric directly. We’ve seen violent attacks on synagogues and mosques by people who have quoted Trump or otherwise supported him. When someone tells you they were inspired by Trump to commit violence, they should be believed. And now we can quantify it.
This is a very dangerous time for America. Every few decades we seem to go through a bout of nativist, xenophobic populism that is strongly anti-immigrant and racist. And every time, we see a big increase in violent attacks on immigrants and minorities. This is just the latest. To pretend that mining these veins of hatred has no effect on the behavior of those who respond to such appeals is hopelessly naive and prevents us from understanding what is truly going on.