Although our country is politically divided on many issues in recent times, there are shared principles that both parties can unify around. Most importantly, we are all united against racial, religious and xenophobic hate.
Why am I stating the obvious? Because hate groups are becoming more active in our midst. As hate boils over into violence and crime, we need to call it out now before these fringe groups continue to fester in the shadows.
Last year’s election was a high water mark for carping and divisiveness in our nation’s politics. In our county of Fresno, we have residents who supported Donald Trump, and we have residents who didn’t. But what we can all agree on is we don’t support organizations, or their message, that are promoting anti-immigrant hostility or xenophobia.
We are troubled by reports of rising incidents of hate violence, hate speech and other crimes against immigrants, Muslims, Latinos and other Americans. Although extremist groups are politically marginalized in California, their frustrated efforts to inject anti-immigrant or nativist policies into our political process can often spill over into violence.
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For example, a May 2017 report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations found reported hate crimes against Muslims in the United States rose dramatically in 2016 and 2015.
Much of this violence can be tied to misleading research and information that is doctored and disseminated to foment fear and discrimination. But many of the organizations that are fueling this hate among extremists are also working to influence mainstream politics – in Washington, D.C., and state capitols around the country.
Even in California, nativist groups like American Children First or Californians for Population Stabilization are shrouding their anti-immigrant agenda in the veil of legitimate policy goals, such as protecting our children or even preserving the environment. This tactic allows hate groups to access legitimate politics while at the same time catering to fringe extremists.
Their veneer of legitimacy also obscures the disturbing origins which the leadership of some such groups have in racist extremism. In fact, Californians for Population Stabilization, a group that absurdly claims to care about California’s drought and air pollution as justification for deporting immigrants, was staffed by a senior writer who founded a neo-Confederate group called League of the South, and hired a spokesperson who was editor of a white nationalist website.
And the California-based group American Children First, which says it exists to protect public education, was founded by an anti-immigrant activist who defended white separatism in online forums that draw thousands of white nationalists from around the country.
These are only two of many examples documented by a recent report by the Center for New Community, whose research exposes dozens of disturbing ties between white supremacist, eugenicist and other racist groups and funders, and California-based and national organizations purporting to advocate reasonable policies.
Due to the largely pro-immigrant electorate of California, which governs both political parties, these groups have great difficulty actually achieving legislative policy goals at the state level. But to the extent that their leadership is viewed as legitimate, they are able to gain traction in gathering members, raising money, and otherwise developing organizationally as a mainstream group would.
As Americans, we have a responsibility to call attention to these groups and their dangerous ideologies. Both parties will continue to fight in the contest of real ideas deciding the future of our country. But, in the heat of that contest, we must not confuse legitimate disagreement with the actual threats to safety and equality also lurking in our midst.
To do so would actually empower these dangerous racist groups by mistaking them as part of the mainstream debate. As Americans, it’s our duty to draw the line at hate groups and call them out for what they are.