Though the far right has a long history in the United States, the presidential campaign and then election of Donald Trump brought the movement out of the shadows. This article will analyze the rise in White supremacist activity in the United States—from well-publicized mass actions like the White supremacist march in Charlottesville in August 2017 to individual acts of violence happening since November 2016. This article focuses on contextualizing such incidents within this contemporary period and argues that overt expressions of racism and racist violence are nothing new. The article closes with a call to strengthen the current legal remedies used to address bias-motivated violence.
The eight-year period between 2008 and 2016 has been a fascinating time for assessments of the state of race relations in America. After the election of Barack Obama, America's first Black president, commentators described the country as "post-racial." In a dramatic turn of events for a country that had transcended race just eight years later in 2016, Donald Trump's election as president was followed by a dramatic increase in the number of documented race-based hate crimes—crime motivated by bias on the basis of the target race.
The increase in reported hate crimes continued well into the Trump Administration's first year. What was most compelling about the new hate activity was the rise of a new, open presence of extremists—those ideologically committed to White supremacy. For decades, racial extremists—members of organized hate groups and others ideologically attached to the tenants of White supremacy—had lived in the shadows. After Trump's election, racial extremists stepped into the light.
This article grapples with the rise of racial extremist behavior—both by ideologues who are part of hate groups and those who commit hate crimes seemingly randomly—in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. In this article, I explore the roots of bias-motivated activity that many found surprising in the election. I demonstrate how bias-motivated behavior has been part and parcel of recent American history. The article addresses not only the origins of such activity but also resistance to it and the capacity of American institutions created to address bias-motivated behavior. In the end, I argue that to effectively address extremist behavior, we must examine the seriousness of our societal commitment to racial separation.