Donald Trump has a white supremacist problem. The only question is whether he will ignore it, deny it or do something about it.
Trump has changed a lot of the rules in the campaign game, but one law he hasn’t broken is this: When you say divisive, nasty things, you empower divisive, nasty people.
Organizations that track hate crimes against Jews and others have been following what we can call the Trump Effect for the past year, and have compelling evidence that it is real.
White nationalist leaders including Jared Taylor and former Klansman David Duke have endorsed Trump. On Vanguard News Network, the largest white supremacist website, Trump is regularly referred to as “Glorious Leader.” Bloggers compare him to Hitler, treating him like the Second Coming of the Third Reich. In January, William Johnson, leader of the white supremacist American Freedom Party, paid for a series of robocalls in Iowa in support of Trump. Johnson convened a 2015 white power political event in Bakersfield at which Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Youth Network gave a speech blaming Jews for destroying the white race.
“Donald Trump’s demonizing statements about Latinos and Muslims have electrified the radical right,” Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote in his group’s 2015 report.
Instead of distancing himself from such supporters, Trump has retweeted their hate posts — then denied knowing he did so. He has used neo-Nazi statistics on black-on-white hate crime as his own, and has cited bogus polls by anti-Muslim hate groups, like ACT for America, claiming that a quarter of American Muslims support violent jihadists.
Jonathan Greenblatt, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, put it to me as judiciously as possible.
“It’s very worrisome to see the convergence of that crowd and a mainstream candidate,” he said.
Yes, of course, Trump’s popularity extends far beyond the fringe. He has support among great numbers of fairly mainstream Tea Party types — something that is no less frightening. And there are plenty of people who disagree with his hateful statements but love his non-P.C. approach, or just find him entertaining. They don’t care whether Trump has the answers, they just care that he has the attitude.
All that is scary enough, but understandable in the context of an electorate on both the left and right that is fed up with politics as usual.
But what’s beyond the pale are the truly sick, dangerous forces Trump has unleashed, the poison he has uncorked.
“His platform’s great and just the right mix, this is the will of the majority,” wrote a frequent blogger on Vanguard News Network who goes by the name Joe Smith. “And that’s why ALL the Jews are boycotting him (Univision, Comcast/NBC, Macy’s, all owned by Jews). Jews’ attack dogs are also getting into the fray making their masters happy.”
There have always been right-wing voices that veer toward outright racism and feed the anti-Semitic fantasies of sad, white men. The ’80s brought us Pat Buchanan, for instance.
But two things set Trump far apart from his predecessors: the rise of talk radio and social media, which provide an unlimited echo chamber for hate, and Trump himself, who with his money and marketing genius, has now all but run away with the nomination.
Meanwhile, the revitalized network of white supremacists, anti-Semites and neo-Nazis that Trump inspires poses as big if not bigger threa to the average American than ISIS. Over the past two decades, these hate groups have planned and/or perpetrated dozens of attacks, killings and plots against the Jewish community, among others. According to a report in The New York Times, Islam-inspired terror attacks accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 1/2 years. Meanwhile, right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, with 254 fatalities. While some sources dispute how these numbers are tallied, a survey of 372 police and sheriff's departments nationwide found that 74 percent of the law officers view antigovernment violence as the greatest source of violent extremism, while 39 percent listed “Al Qaeda-inspired” violence.
Nearly all media outlets have given Trump a pass for helping to stoke these fires. Not one debate moderator has confronted Trump about it.
So, who will hold Trump accountable?
It won’t be the Republican establishment, which for seven fat years was more than happy to let Trump build his political brand and undermine the Democrats by stoking racist theories about President Barack Obama’s nationality. It won’t be Jewish Republican donors, now moving on from Jeb Bush. Most of those won’t have anything to do with Trump, and in any case, he doesn’t need anyone’s money or advice. And it won’t be the Democrats, whose worries will just be dismissed as partisan.
That leaves only one possible source of hope.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism before marrying real estate scion Jared Kushner in 2009, so she and her two children, Arabella, who is 4, and Joseph, who is 2, are Jewish.
Does Trump understand he is inspiring the very people who want to see his grandchildren dead? Does he remember the 2014 attack on a Jewish Community Center in Kansas that left three people dead, perpetrated by a devoted contributor to the Vanguard News Network, the same network that refers to Trump as its “Glorious Leader”? Why is Trump not publicly rejecting them? Why is he not backtracking on the divisive racial comments he’s made, the ones that bring these lowlifes and rejects firmly into his camp?
Call me naive, but I still believe in the power of a grandchild to melt a grandparent’s heart. I believe that one day soon, Trump will look into Arabella’s and Joseph’s eyes and see what a dangerous path he’s on. We’re counting on you, kids. Good luck.
What 5 Questions Should reporters ask Donald Trump? Click here.
Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at [email protected]. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.
This entry was edited on Feb 26, 2016 to reflect the fact that experts dispute the exact numbers of right- and left-wing versus Islamic extremist-inspired violence in the United States.