NEW YORK – In the days since Donald Trump won the American election, as many 250 reports of hate crimes were filed with the Southern Poverty Law Center, it says — roughly the amount they receive in a typical five or six month period.
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As soon as staffers returned to the SPLC office after the election, “we started having reports pour in of things that look like hate crimes,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project for the organization, which tracks hate groups. Trump "has emboldened people who have very demeaning ideas about a lot of segments of our population. By being xenophobic, and racist, he has vindicated people who hold those beliefs. A lot of these incidents are pro-Trump people telling people of color,’ you don’t belong here, get out.’"
By his own racist, sexist and anti-Semitic remarks, tropes, tweets and allusions, Trump ripped the cover off racism that had apparently swirled underneath the surface of American culture, in the process fomenting it, and making it suddenly “acceptable” to express. Reports of such behavior began to pour forth almost as soon as his victory was announced. For example, vandals spray-painted swastikas and “Sieg Heil 2016” on the window of a shuttered store in Philadelphia within hours of the polls closing last Tuesday.
In Wellsville, New York, a massive swastika was scrawled on a park wall with the legend, “Make America White Again.”
At the University of Vermont, a Donald Trump campaign sign three doors down from the campus Hillel was augmented with a swastika.
And in upstate New York, a dugout was marked with a large swastika and the words “Make America White Again.”
The threats are appearing in cyberspace, in schools, college dormitories and in the street. While the haters are primarily targeting members of minority religious and ethnic groups, or those perceived as Latino, Arab or Muslim, Trump’s victory and earlier “dog whistles” of anti-Semitism have also unleashed specifically anti-Jewish invective.
A 16-year-old member of Chaim Levin’s Orthodox family was taking a Lyft car back to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, with a friend two nights after the election. “The driver told them that he ‘understands where Hitler is coming from’ and ‘Donald Trump is the new Hitler so you Jews better leave quickly.' I refuse to live in this America and I can assure you that people like myself will not stay silent, we will fight back and we won’t stop," Levin told Haaretz. His relative did not want to speak with the press.
‘A shekel’s worth of free advice: game’s changed’
DeDe Jacobs Komisar, a fundraiser for a local theater company who lives in Sharon, Massachusetts, with her husband and children, tweeted in solidarity with a Muslim woman who expressed fear on the social media platform some hours after Trump was declared the winner of the presidential race. Komisar was quickly slammed with anti-Semitic invective. “You’re a senior JAP, nice Communist name there,” Ein Modische Frau [German for “A Fashionable Woman”], whose Twitter bio is in Serbian, tweeted at her. “A shekel’s worth of free advice: game’s changed. We control things now. Think.” Rt_ex95 tweeted: “You deserve to be gassed.”
“I know that’s a fraction of a fraction of what other people are experiencing, but it brought the danger home to me in a real way,” Komisar said. “I’ve never felt less white.”
She does not actually fear that she or her family will be physically assaulted, given their diverse community. Still, she wants to be more active in opposing the forces Trump has unleashed, she told Haaretz: She wants to move her activism from online into the real world.
“A lot of Jews in America feel that it won’t get bad for us,” said Komisar. But Trump “is not denouncing the people coming after us either. We can’t be naive.”
Through its 27 regional office and national headquarters, the Anti-Defamation League is also collecting reports of attacks and threats. They haven’t yet tallied the total, as they are first trying to verify the accounts, said Oren Segal, director of the organization’s Center on Extremism. The ADL was one of the first organizations in the country to call out Trump for using biased language and threats against minorities during his campaign.
While the volume of reports is unusual it is not unprecedented, said Segal. “After the Paris and San Bernadino attacks we were getting a lot more reports of anti-Muslim bigotry and violence,” he said. The ADL collects data on all hate crimes, not just those aimed at Jews. “We see more [hate crimes] after major events that create fear and anxiety, and this presidential campaign has been one long event creating it,” he said.
A range of swastikas
Asked if there was anything distinguishing the current wave from previous spikes in such behavior, Segal answers that he does not recall seeing “such a range of swastikas and racism and anti-Muslim bigotry” in America’s political reality.
“We’ve said for a long time now that the language used in the presidential campaign emboldened the haters in this country, the alt-right, militias, white supremacists,” said Segal. “The massive volumes of hate we see are definitely linked to the public discussion going on in the campaign. The Trump campaign in particular is being cited by hate groups as emboldening them.”
Maxine Gross, a 19-year-old sophomore at the State University of New York’s New Paltz college, woke up the morning after the election to the sight of hateful graffiti in a dormitory bathroom. “ISIS is calling – Muslims can leave!” it said, and “Fuck stupid Latino immigrants” and “Fuck nigger,” alongside hearts written by the word Trump. “It makes me feel horrified and heartbroken,” Gross told Haaretz from campus in the village 90 minutes north of New York City. The college’s president quickly sent a letter to the entire college community with reassurance that the incident is being investigated by campus police.
The graffiti has led people to “feel less safe for sure. Specifically in places where they’re living. You want to feel at home in your space,” she said. Trump’s election “has normalized hate,” said Gross. “He’s normalizing racism and sexual assault. We are very afraid.”
While a handful of public figures have called for unity since Trump’s election, noted the ADL’s Segal, the president-elect has not yet disavowed the violence happening in his name. “Trump,” he said, “should make a statement.”
The resentments appear to cut both ways. An elderly uncle of Rabbi Moshe Bleich’s was attacked by two or three young women Thursday evening as he walked near his home in Manhattan’s East Village, Bleich told Haaretz. The 80-year-old uncle was wearing a red baseball cap. The young women apparently mistook it for a Trump hat, though it was actually a Yankee cap, said Bleich, who with his wife is the Chabad emissary at Wellesley College.
Ironically, perhaps, Wellesley is Hillary Clinton’s alma mater. And Bleich’s elderly uncle is not a Trump supporter. The attackers ran off when some passersby began screaming at them. He was hurt in the incident, but not seriously injured, and refused to report it to the police, said his nephew.