If Trump wins re-election—or loses— expect more right-wing violence, experts warn
If Donald Trump is reelected president, expect more violence from white nationalists and far-right extremist groups.
If he is not reelected, expect more violence as well.
That’s the depressing forecast from numerous experts who monitor US-based extremist groups.
“Should he win, they will feel increasingly empowered,” said Ken Stern, director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate at Bard College in New York. “The people on the right see Trump as supporting them.”
But, Stern warned, a Trump loss could also fuel their rage.
Prodded by the president’s own comments that he would lose the election only if it were stolen, right-wing extremist groups, “will feel betrayed and have some motivation to act,” said Stern.
Since Trump was elected president in 2016, the number of killings by white nationalists and far-right extremists in the United States has increased.
From 2016-2019, the number of right-wing terrorist events equaled or surpassed the number in 1995, the year of the Oklahoma City bombing, the second-most deadly terrorist attack in U.S. history, after Sept. 11, 2001.
The 53 right-wing terrorist incidents in 2017 was an all-time high, according to a June report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The report’s conclusion? It will likely get worse.
“Terrorism in the United States will likely increase over the next year in response to several factors,” the Center concluded. “One of the most concerning is the 2020 U.S. presidential election, before and after which extremists may resort to violence, depending on the outcome of the election.”
While the shocking murder of a right-wing protester by a far-left Antifa activist in Portland drew headlines, similar left-wing terror is extremely rare in modern American history. The more immediate threat is terror from the right.
Stern cited the shooting at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August, in which 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse allegedly shot three demonstrators – killing two and seriously injuring the third – as he walked the streets carrying an assault rifle beside other armed white men who said they were all there to protect property from protesters.
Trump declined to condemn the shooting, instead saying Rittenhouse “was trying to get away from them, and he fell, and then, they violently attacked him. I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would have been killed. It’s under investigation.”
Rittenhouse was arrested a day later at his home in Illinois and charged with intentional homicide and reckless homicide.
Such comments, said Stern, are seen “as an overt message of support, and that is a problem.”
Heidi Beirich, the co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, agreed that if Trump loses the election, far-right extremists “will be angry and continue down the path of radical terrorist attacks thinking they have to use a gun to solve political problems. They will feel the end of white supremacy is here and that the only thing left are mass attacks to change the political dynamic.”
Immediately after Trump won in 2016, there were 1,000 hate incidents in 10 days, Beirich pointed out, committed by those who felt that “Trump gave them license to attack their enemies.”
“There is no question there will be more violence,” said Beirich. It’s already ratcheting up. “We’ve already seen militia attempt to attack Black Lives Matter protesters in Las Vegas. And the Boogaloo white supremacist group shot and killed two cops in California in May.”
The August 2017 march by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia was for many a shocking introduction to white supremacism in America’s town squares. Experts say it should not be seen as a one-off event.
“The neo-Confederate armed vigilantes lurk in our parks every night,” said Jalane Schmidt, an activist and religious studies professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
She said armed vigilantes have been showing up in the streets and parks of the city ever since the May killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers ignited worldwide protests.
“What we saw in Charlottesville is a harbinger of the future,” Schmidt said.
A similar view was expressed by Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, who said: “When fringe groups perceive their allies in the mainstream to be losing political clout and their own status eroding, they tend to act more violently.”
But Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said he could foresee a violent reaction from far-right extremists if Trump lost, but if he won, “it would make them jubilant but not necessarily” result in increased hate crimes.
He suggested that should Joe Biden defeat Trump, far-right extremists might “try to use the election to energize their followers and say Biden is going to let in immigrants and Muslims, and so we need to redouble our efforts and reach out and mobilize people in the same way they did after [Barack] Obama was elected.”
Whatever the election results, no expert interviewed for this story believes the problem will go away in November.
Far-right extremists “have more power today than they have had in decades,” said Sophie Ellman-Golan, a leader of Jews Against White Nationalism. “It is not coming just from Trump and the White House but from members of Congress who will still be there after this election and from new members who have links to extremist groups.”
She cited, for example, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl), who brought a Holocaust denier as his guest to Trump’s 2018 State of the Union address.
“I think a bona fide fascist movement exists in this country,” Ellman-Golan said. “The groups have different names, but there is a movement that is well armed and willing to engage in violence.”
Beirich said her “biggest concern” is that white supremacists “have come to see Jews as pushing for nonwhite immigrants to destroy the white country. The Pittsburgh synagogue shooter expressed those views. It’s terrifying. I feel like we are in a car that is going faster and faster and we are headed for a brick wall.”