Recently, white supremacists clashed with counter-protestors at a “Unite the Right” rally organised to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate icon, General Robert E Lee. The night before, angry men descended on the campus of University of Virginia, bearing torches and yelling “white lives matter” and “blood and soil” (imitating the Nazi slogan: Blut und Boden).
The situation took a turn for the worse the following day, when someone rammed a speeding car into anti-fascist protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, and injuring dozens more. The driver has since been charged with second-degree murder.
What transpired seems bizarre, and straight out of a history textbook, but it is in fact a stark reminder that white supremacy is more prevalent than we think. More importantly, experts theorise that it’s more prevalent than Americans themselves think. In an interview with CBS, Heidi Beirich said, “We’ve never seen [hate group] ideas penetrating the mainstream the way they are. I would say most Americans don’t realise how much of this there is.” Beirich serves as director of Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which monitors hate group activity online.
Donald Trump’s response to the calamity, was as late as it was ambiguous. Sure, he said he condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists (ostensibly reluctantly), but he also expressed his opposition to removing Confederate monuments, and also blamed both sides equally for the violence. It’s this reluctance to denounce the hate mongers and racists in the aftermath that may lead them to believe that they have Trump’s support, even if he can’t explicitly say so.
Nevertheless, Trump has shown time and again, that he, like the neo-Nazis and white supremacists, is one of them as well. In 1989, he personally paid for $85,000 worth of full-page newspaper ads calling for the execution of the black and Latino teens arrested in an infamous jogger attack.
Even when the men were exonerated by DNA evidence, Trump stood by his views. Last year, he shamelessly referred to Mexicans as rapists, and promised to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Is it any wonder that hate groups in America have become emboldened since the country’s last presidential elections?
Beirich has said that the number of active hate groups in America has doubled over the last 20 years, and this increase follows the impact of a number of factors, including political elections.
If further proof of Trump’s direct impact on these hate groups is needed, consider the words of Matt Heimbach, one of the main organisers of the “Unite the Right” rally. “Well, we have energy, I think, because Donald Trump’s election showed that the majority of white America’s social, working class America believes in sovereignty.” This individual has also spoken about his denial that the Holocaust ever happened, and his intent to create an all-white nation, without African Americans, Jews and homosexuals.
In his statement after the events in Charlottesville, Trump remarked, “No matter the colour of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag”. I was astounded when I read that in the release by the White House. I’m not entirely sure if Trump was watching something else on the TV, but the neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching that weekend did not bear the Stars and Stripes. On the contrary, they brazenly flew Confederate flags and displayed Nazi insignia.
While we watch these events unfold from the safety of our nation, we cannot ignore the fact that something similar might happen in Singapore. Flip through the history books, and you’ll find multiple incidences of racial unrest, including the Maria Hertogh incident and the 1964 race riots between the Malays and Chinese, which resulted in 36 deaths and hundreds of other casualties. These happened a long time ago, but Singapore remains a melting pot of races, just like the US, and as such, racial unrest is just one bad decision away. Being tolerant of other races and their practices is not good enough. We need acceptance and understanding if we are to truly achieve racial harmony. I have faith.
This article was first published in the September ’17 issue of AUGUSTMAN.