Nearly doubling since 1999, the long-growing number of hate groups active within the United States has remained nearly static since the election of President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the number of hate crimes is rising, and at first glance the two concurrent trends might seem contradictory.
On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked to Washington University sociologist David Cunningham to help make sense of the data.
Cunningham, who uses information from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to research hate crimes and hate groups, said that the motivation for hate groups to form has “largely eroded” under the Trump administration while those involved in such groups, at the same time, “feel a new license to act.”
“The whole idea of ‘Make America Great Again’ is really consistent with this idea of recapturing a country that is backward-looking,” Cunningham said, “and speaks to the kind of world that some of these people would have seen as under siege under the Obama administration and prior.”
That perceived threat – having an African-American president – is one of two factors the professor identified as driving the rapid growth in the number of hate groups up until 2016. The other? The U.S. Census taken in 2000.
“There was a lot of attention given to the fact, around the census, that self-identified white residents were going to be a numerical minority by around 2040, around 2043,” Cunningham said. “And that is one thing that really stoked a lot of the sense of threat among people who felt like whites were always a majority and should always be a majority.”
He added that, in the current climate, people involved in existing hate groups “feel like there’s an opportunity to publicly express their views in ways that would have been more pronouncedly demonized prior to 2016.”
“Certainly the rhetoric that’s espoused around a Muslim ban,” Cunningham said, “around building a wall, being anti-immigrant as a matter of policy has certainly, again, enabled people who may have expressed these views more privately to really come out and feel like they could publicly target these people.”
According to the SPLC, there are 24 active hate groups in Missouri – a handful of them in St. Louis. Cunningham noted that among the nearly 1,000 such groups nationwide, there’s more diversity in terms of economic standing and geography than many people might think.
“You see a broad spread in terms of the location of these groups, and you see people of different ages and generations,” he said. “There used to be a stereotype that white nationalist adherents tended to be older, and that’s no longer true. There’s been a big push among youth, and the internet has really facilitated that.”
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.