A photograph taken during a Donald Trump rally last October shows a sea of white faces seated in a stadium in Loveland, Colo. Among them, a portly, bearded man sits between a woman and a boy, presumably his wife and his son, with an affectionate arm draped around the boy’s shoulder. On quick glance, it’s an image of a loving family. But on closer inspection, the image is chilling: the father’s T-shirt reads, “Black guns matter.”
Donald Trump rode to victory on a wave of hatred and, last month, became the 45th president of the United States.
The relationship between Trump’s abhorrent campaign rhetoric and actual hate-driven violence — against women, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, African Americans and others — is well documented. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks 892 currently active hate groups in the United States, publishes news in a section on its website called “Hatewatch.” Last October, Trump featured in 22 of 47 stories, often for inspiring — albeit indirectly — acts of hate. In November, it was 30 out of 54.
But not all incidents make headlines. In the 10 days following the election, the centre documented 867 hate incidents, “a barrage of hate,” according to the centre’s president. In early December, the New York City Police reported a 115 percent increase in hate incidents. The same day, Michigan state officials reported there had been 65 hate incidents in the state since the election — up from an average of less than one a month. Even the American Libraries Association expressed concern about copies of the Qur’an and other books about Islam being defaced by racist symbols or slogans.
In the same period in Canada, a Montreal bakery was defaced with a swastika, racist flyers or posters were distributed in Vancouver and Toronto, and several places of worship in Ottawa — including a synagogue, a mosque and a United Church building where the congregation is led by a black minister — were vandalized with racist slogans and symbols.
Why do we hate? How was Trump able to channel hatred so successfully — and could his approach work in Canada? What part does religion play? As people of faith, how can we help to reduce the amount of hate in the world?
Hate crimes target people because of who they are, not because of anything they’ve done. Often, individuals are targeted because of something they can’t change, such as the colour of their skin, their gender or their ethnic origin. In this way, hate crimes attack not only the individuals, but the entire group to which they belong. It’s the group dimension that makes a hate crime different from other crimes.
Hatred directed toward First Nations deserves special attention in Canada. Although the rate of hate crimes targeting Indigenous persons and reported by police is relatively low, how often was hate a factor in the murder or disappearance of thousands of Indigenous women? The current national inquiry may shed some light: its mandate is to examine “all underlying causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls including systemic issues.”
In North America, Muslims are especially vulnerable. South of the border, hate crimes against Muslims are at their highest level since 2001, according to a 2016 multi-state study. In Canada, hate crimes against Muslims more than doubled between 2012 and 2014, from 45 to 99 police-reported incidents. Muslims are still much less likely to be targeted than Jews, but the crimes are twice as likely to be violent.
Working with youth is critical. In Canada, as elsewhere, research shows that people who commit hate crimes and those who suffer from them are disproportionately young. According to Statistics Canada, people under age 25 make up less than a quarter of the population, but they account for 31 percent of victims and 48 percent of offenders.
Stephane Pressault and Rizwan Mohammed staff a Canadian Council of Muslim Women project aimed at promoting civic engagement and breaking down barriers. Working with Muslim and non-Muslim youth, they try to foster open discussions in an intimidation-free environment. After a decade, they say they’re still learning. “There’s a back and forth to it,” says Mohammed, describing a pattern where hate is projected onto people trying to make their own lives safer and society more equitable. “Any time a space becomes safe for one group, another starts to feel unsafe,” he continues — white people may accuse black consciousness movements of hating whites; so-called men’s rights organizations see feminism as hatred of men.
“The desire for violent change is caused by a feeling of powerlessness,” says Pressault, “so our work with youth puts a lot of emphasis on increasing civic engagement.” Mohammed adds, “If you have no meaningful employment and no engagement with diversity, you’re much more susceptible to hate.” And this doesn’t only apply to youth. As Pressault notes, “You see Trump exploiting the pain of lower- and middle-classed white men in this election. They have a strong sense of losing something.”