Editor’s Note: John Avlon is a CNN senior political analyst. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Twenty-four hours in America: two mass shootings perpetrated by young white men wielding weapons of war and killing 31 people.
At least one of them – the El Paso shooter – may have been motivated by white supremacist ideology. In a manifesto police believe belongs to the shooter, he allegedly warned of a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas. One week ago, the Gilroy shooter reportedly cited a white supremacist tract in his online postings.
We have reached a horrific tipping point where, according to think tank New America, more Americans have been killed by white supremacist terrorists than Islamist terrorists in the 18 years since 9/11.
With hate crimes on the rise, this “American carnage” has only increased since Donald Trump became president – contrary to his inaugural address promise.
Instead of clearly confronting this outbreak of hate, he’s often fanned the flames of fanaticism.
He’s overturned executive orders requiring background checks for the mentally ill, and called for sometimes violent, left-wing Antifa protestors to be designated a domestic terror group – all while denying until his White House speech on Monday that white supremacist violence is a growing problem.
But while he checked the box by mentioning white supremacy once in his speech, his own law enforcement agencies have been warning about the rising tide of violence for a while.
Back in May, CNN’s Evan Perez reported that the FBI had “seen a significant rise in the number of white supremacist domestic terrorism cases in recent months.”
Last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed to Congress that the Bureau has made roughly 100 domestic terror arrests in the past nine months, and that most involve white supremacy – calling it a “persistent, pervasive threat” to the US.
The data backs that up. Hate crimes rose 17% during the first year of Trump’s presidency, according to the FBI.
The Anti-Defamation League found that white supremacist murders in the US “more than doubled in 2017,” with far-right groups and white supremacists “responsible for 59% of all extremist-related fatalities in the US in 2017” – almost triple the percentage from the year before.
And a Washington Post analysis by Ayal Feinberg, Regina Branton and Valerie Martinez-Ebers at the Monkey Cage blog found a stunning 226% increase in hate crimes among counties that hosted a Trump rally in 2016.
None of this happens in a vacuum. And while no person can be directly blamed for another’s actions, there are plenty of signs that Trump’s rhetoric has contributed to this climate of hate.
Remember this rally in the Florida panhandle where the President asked, “How can you stop” the flow of undocumented immigrants? Someone yelled “Shoot them!” The crowd laughed, and Trump smiled.
And, on the day of the New Zealand massacre, Trump not only denied that white supremacist violence was on the rise, he said this about our southern border: “People hate the word invasion, but that’s what it is.”
It’s a riff he’s hit more than a dozen times – at rallies and in tweets (“I am stopping an invasion as the Wall gets built”). This is the strategy: the President’s campaign has pushed similar messages on Facebook that say “It’s CRITICAL that we STOP THE INVASION.”
This rhetoric resonates with white supremacists. We’ve seen the language of “invasion” used at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the New Zealand mosque massacre, the Poway synagogue near San Diego and now likely at a Walmart full of back-to-school shoppers in El Paso.
The victims are Jewish, Muslim and now Hispanic, minorities targeted because these white supremacist terrorists fear what they call “replacement” – the very term neo-Nazis chanted in Charlottesville, Virginia, two years ago.
We’ve also seen too many of these terrorists express approval of the President’s policies – including the armed loser who unleashed his hate in El Paso after allegedly writing that he was “defending” his country from the results of an “invasion.”
There is a feedback loop with hate and extremism, cascading copy-cat violence and a pattern of white supremacists citing each other – and the President – in online forums like 8chan, where hate and conspiracy theories proliferate. It’s no wonder that just last week we saw an FBI field office warn that conspiracy theories could constitute a new domestic terror threat.
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As of Monday morning, 8chan had been taken offline, and Trump specifically called out plans to crack down on the recesses of the internet, blaming it, video games and mental health for the epidemic of gun violence. He declared a determination to institute the death penalty for mass murder hate crimes. But gun reforms – even universal background checks – were absent from his text, as was any assumption of responsibility for his rhetoric.
Countries around the world have mental health challenges, video games and access to the dark web. But ours is the only one with this persistent problem of gun violence – combined with the growing threat of white nationalist terror.
It’s uncomfortable to confront the idea that the American President has contributed to this climate of hate. But his words and actions make that case. Trump has a credibility chasm when it comes to combating white nationalism. Whatever your politics, it’s hard to argue with Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan’s take: “White nationalists think he’s a white nationalist and that’s the crux of the problem.”