Most Virginians, like most Americans, were aghast at how our state became the venue earlier this month for a repellent display of racism and violence. But the tragedy of Charlottesville didn’t happen in a vacuum.
Across the nation, we have seen a rising incidence of hate crimes. As our political debate becomes more coarse and contemptuous—a dynamic both encouraged and exploited by President Trump—too many of his partisans feel emboldened to take their extremist ideology to the streets, to arm themselves in public settings, and to carry out acts of violence.
The white supremacist ideology on display in Charlottesville is by its nature a violent one, rightly abhorred by most Virginians. But the events in Charlottesville did not happen in a vacuum.
Hateful ideologues feel newly emboldened to parade, armed, and to carry out acts of violence. The incidence of hate crimes has risen sharply in the past year.
The response from the Trump Administration was completely inadequate but not surprising from an administration built on President Trump’s divisive and xenophobic beliefs. This year, President Trump’s proposed budget would cut funding for grants to fight domestic terrorism. His Department of Homeland Security has cut back on the resources it allocates to fighting white supremacy. And the Trump White House continues to employ controversial figures with white nationalist ties.
In the wake of Charlottesville, misunderstanding the threat of bigotry was also reflected in President Trump’s words. He first blamed “many sides” for the violence committed by racist groups, and then took days to issue a follow-up statement directly condemning white supremacy. Then he contradicted that statement, saying that there had been “many fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville.
Hate groups pose real threats, and must be taken seriously. President Trump should speak out against racism promptly, fully fund the fight against white supremacists, and dismiss Administration officials with white nationalist ties.
Congress should hold hearings on the rise of hate crimes and white supremacist agitation, and take the lead in mapping out a strategy to combat it. One key action Congress could take would be passing my bill, the NO HATE Act, to significantly improve tools for law enforcement in the fight against hate crimes.
We should also take action on policies which combat racial inequity, including passing criminal justice reform, ending the assault on voting rights, and enacting comprehensive immigration reform which reflects the dignity and humanity of all people who love our country.
Elected officials at all levels and community leaders must forcefully, explicitly and unequivocally reject Nazis, the KKK, white nationalism, white supremacist ideologies, racism, intimidation and violence.
As Heather Heyer wrote just before she went to demonstrate against white supremacy, “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”