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Far-right is empowered under Trump

Why US president's penchant for minimising 
the threat of white nationalist movement is dangerous

In the wake of the bloody havoc in Charlottesville last weekend and with more white nationalist protests planned for other cities, US President Donald Trump is being lambasted for equivocating about who is responsible for the violence.

But his penchant for minimising the threat of domestic far-right and white supremacist militants is not new. Like other conservatives, Mr Trump has avoided confronting this threat, or even acknowledging its reality.

And he is turning denial into policy.

The far-right danger was no secret. After former president Barack Obama's election in 2008, experts on radical movements warned that membership in neo-Nazi groups was growing greatly.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, the number of extreme right-wing groups in the US grew by 40 per cent in 2008 and 2009 and by 22 per cent in 2010.

The Ku Klux Klan experienced some of that growth.

But there was also a new generation of white nationalists whose goal was to go mainstream. They wore preppy clothes and claimed they were simply trying to save "European culture" from an ascendant multi-cultural left.

They adopted some of the rhetoric of the civil rights movement, insisting that "white lives matter".

And they have expressly targeted young people for recruitment.

Mr Trump, his party, and major conservative media figures minimised the threat of these home-grown radicals.

According to a US Government Accountability Office report to Congress, the US Extremist Crime Database recorded a total of 62 fatal "far-right extremist motivated attacks" between Sept 12, 2001 and Dec 31, 2016.

There were 23 fatal assaults by Islamist militants over the same period.

'MANY SIDES'

Long before Mr Trump blamed the violence in Charlottesville on "many sides", he had established a clear pattern of condemning Islamist militants - including an attack that never happened - while ignoring violence by white supremacists.

And he enshrined this myopia in policy.

In February, Reuters reported that under Mr Trump, a government programme to counter violent extremism would focus only on Muslims and "no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States".

On Saturday, hours before James Alex Fields Jr, 20, allegedly killed a local Charlottesville activist and wounded 19 others, he marched with a white supremacist group called American Vanguard.

We can expect more attacks like these in the future.

Mr Todd Blodgett spent two years working undercover in the white supremacist movement for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Asked by the Washington Post what kind of person is attracted to these groups, he said: "As a general rule, losers. It is often a kid - usually a male - who cannot make it in school.

"He blames all of his problems on someone else, and when they log onto a website like this or they go to a meeting like this or they pop in American Resistance records and it blames other people they already do not like for their problems.

"They think, 'There you go. That is why I am a dropout. That is why I am smoking crystal meth… That is why I can't get a job and hold it. It is all because of black people'."

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FBI have continued to warn of the danger these extremists pose.

In June, Mr Trump's Department of Homeland Security rescinded a grant for a group called Life After Hate that is "dedicated to deradicalising neo-Nazis and stopping white extremism", according to Politico, an American political journalism company.

The grant was yanked despite the fact that "the group has seen a 20-fold increase in requests for help" disengaging from extremist groups "since Election Day".

And alt-right activists have openly celebrated the fact that law enforcement has largely "given them space" since the election.

The white nationalist movement is feeling energised and empowered. There will be more violence. More disaffected children will be seduced into these violent ideologies.

And so long as Republicans refuse to see the threat clearly, the government is going to do too little to counter their radicalisation. - REUTERS


The writer is the host of 
Politics and Reality Radio.

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