Last November, Donald Trump used a caravan of refugees that arrived on the shared US-Mexico border from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador as a political pawn.
He and his administration claimed that Middle Eastern terrorists were likely to be among the group—who fled from systemic poverty and violence—because it was ‘inconceivable’ that a terrorist wouldn’t be present in a group that size.
Along with the ‘terrorists’, Trump said the caravan was comprised of “rough, rough people” and hardened violent criminals, but an article by the Washington Post discredits these claims.
Amass a group of white, American Trump supporters and it’s unlikely he would draw the same conclusions.
Two weeks ago, two white, American-born men were the perpetrators of mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, and another 31 innocent civilians paid with their lives for the government’s inaction on gun control.
In this year alone, there have been more mass shootings in the US than there have been days.
The El Paso shooting, in which 22 people died and 26 were injured, was committed by Patrick Crusius, a 21-year old who drove over 1000 kilometres to target Latinos in a city where they comprise 83 percent of the population.
The shooter has since been connected to a manifesto decrying the ‘Hispanic invasion’ of the US that was published shortly before the attack, although authorities are yet to confirm whether he is the author.
With Trump’s personal prejudice towards racial minorities well documented (including his attempt to demonise Latino refugees as terrorists and criminals), a correlation between his divisive anti-immigrant rhetoric and a groundswell of white supremacist incidents is starting to emerge.
While he publicly condemned white supremacy in the wake of the shooting, his political rhetoric up to this point has endorsed – and encouraged – racially vilifying people, most commonly Muslims, Latinos and African Americans.
Trump has spent much of his presidency targeting these groups, from passing an executive order travel ban on seven majority Muslim countries to joking with a supporter at a rally in Florida who suggested migrants crossing the US border should be shot.
It is for these reasons that Democratic presidential candidates, including front runners Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, claim that President Trump has ‘amplified’ and ‘emboldened’ white supremacists’ ideological standpoint.
The trend is undeniable.
During the midterm elections last year, there was a surge in hate crimes in 30 ‘large cities’ throughout the US, including traditionally liberal ones like New York and Chicago, as Trump whipped up hysteria around immigration and border control.
As journalist Jelani Cobb writes, however, Trump alone is not responsible for inciting Crusius, or other white supremacists, to commit these attacks; he is merely capitalising on the ‘racial zeitgeist’ of xenophobia and deep racial tensions already entrenched in US culture.
In an article published one day before the Christchurch shooting, journalist Adam Serwer traces the history of America’s deep-rooted racism. In it, he cites a quote from Hitler who expressed admiration for what he perceived as the real American dream in the 1930’s:
“It was America that taught us a nation should not open its doors equally to all nations.”
The fact that Trump so freely promulgates racist views is arguably causing radical white supremacist ideology to re-enter the mainstream.
Indeed, his 2016 presidential ascendency was characterised as ‘a wave of Islamophobia’ coupled with a promise to build a wall to keep out refugees attempting to cross the shared US-Mexico border.
Nationalist and protectionist politics, however, are not just limited to the US.
Brexit was the ‘manifestation’ of a leave campaign which fed misinformation to the public about immigration, jobs and money paid to the EU, feeding fear and suspicion of ‘the other’.
The results of the EU elections earlier this year also demonstrated a preference towards nationalism, particularly in France where polarising far-right politician Marine Le Pen outpolled President Macaron’s party to win the elections in France.
Le Pen, an outspoken critic of immigration, favours protectionist economic policies and in the past expressed support for Syrian dictator, Bashar Al-Assad, as well as Vladimir Putin.
The far-right throughout the EU were the beneficiaries of growing nationalist sentiment, with an increase in the number of far-right representatives elected.
As a result, xenophobia is seemingly on the rise. And it’s increasingly leading to violence:
In the past four years, there’s been white supremacist attacks in a historic black church in Charleston; mosques in Christchurch, Finsbury Park and Quebec; synagogues in California and Pittsburgh; an anti-Nazi protest in Charlottesville and now a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.