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SPLC to Congress: Myth of ‘white genocide’ driving white nationalist terror attacks

The SPLC’s Lecia Brooks testified today before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (Committee on Oversight and Reform) about the need for federal action to confront the deadly white nationalist movement. Brooks delivered the following oral remarks to the subcommittee chaired by U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, in addition to written testimony.

Good afternoon.

Thank you, Rep. Raskin, for inviting the Southern Poverty Law Center to participate in today’s hearing.

In our country today, there is without question an escalating crisis of hate-related violence. There are no longer isolated incidents. There are no lone wolves. We are well past the point of cautionary tales. Each senseless act after senseless act is intertwined and connected by bigotry’s sinew, woven by a callous disregard for human life.

A 19-year-old nursing student in San Diego murdered Lori Kaye inside Chabad of Poway on the last day of Passover, while injuring three others. In a manifesto posted online, easily located by anyone with a passing familiarity with the internet, the killer cited as his role models Adolf Hitler and two other men – one in Pittsburgh and one in Christchurch, New Zealand.

In March, two mosques in Christchurch were attacked by one of these men, killing 51 people with another 50 injured. One of the worshipers, Naeem Rashid, was killed as he charged at his assailant. 

Five months prior to Poway, the other man, in Pittsburgh, murdered 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue, including brothers David and Cecil Rosenthal. The city’s top FBI official called it the most horrific crime scene he’d seen in 22 years on the job.

It is not a coincidence that these atrocities are carried out in houses of worship. This is deliberate. In June of 2015, a 21-year-old white supremacist who posed in pictures with handguns and the Confederate flag murdered nine worshipers at the historic “Mother Emanuel” African Methodist Episcopal Church during their prayer group. The killers want to attack people when they are at their most vulnerable – practicing their religion, laying their burdens before their God. 

These killings are not happening in a vacuum. White supremacy and white nationalism are allowed to grow unchecked. They remain underestimated by law enforcement and unnamed in the media because we as a society are not able to properly identify them or are just too scared to say them aloud. 

The falsehood of “white genocide” is pervasive. The people behind these murders share a common fear of the end of a white majority in U.S. And this dangerous myth is seeping into the mainstream, just as easily heard on the evening cable news as it is seen on flyers defacing college campuses. 

This radical and racist idea is now the animating principle of many of our elected leadership and the guiding light of the current administration. We’ve seen this idea become mainstreamed for three reasons:

One, in the mid-1980s, 77 percent of the U.S. population was white. Today, it’s roughly 60 percent. In 30 years, it will be under 50 percent. This kind of change creates existential anxiety that, after being fed a steady media diet of xenophobia and fear, metastasizes into hate.

Two, the internet is a highly effective tool for spreading propaganda and indoctrination. It would be impossible to overstate the sheer volume of misinformation that foments extremism available to all of us on our smartphones.  

Three, the president of the United States is actively stoking these anxieties, demonizing immigrants, spreading conspiracy theories and lying everyday about the cause of society’s challenges. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center offers the following recommendations:

Support for a bill called the Domestic Terrorism Data Act. This bill would help to determine what resources are actually being applied to this threat and would improve interagency coordination on domestic terrorism.

Support for The Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer Hate Crime Reporting Act, which would help to improve the reporting of hate crimes and data collection. 

Congress must also compel tech and social media companies to more adequately address hate on their platforms. To date, they have demonstrated an insufficient and irresponsible lack of understanding of the vast scope of the problem. Their inaction suggests they are either not up to the task or lack the will to do so.

Finally, in order to help communities deal with the impact of hate-inspired violence, we urge Congress to fully fund the Community Relations Service within the Justice Department.  The administration’s proposed 2020 budget recommends that the program be eliminated.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. The Southern Poverty Law Center remains ready and willing to work with you to address white nationalism and white supremacy in our country.