Events of the past week, from the attempted murder with pipe bombs of well-known politicians, advocates, and journalists, to the killing of two African Americans in a Kentucky mall, to the anti-Semitic massacre of 11 people in a Jewish synagogue, are the latest and very visible manifestations of the impact of hate speech—of deliberately demonizing others and spreading fear and falsehoods. Our hearts are with the families of the victims of these heinous acts. Hate speech, especially from figures of authority, is dangerous and must be denounced and stopped. If it persists, the consequences range from subtle discrimination to violence and death.
The alleged pipe bomber posted vitriolic messages online and attended one of President Trump’s rallies, campaign events during which the president has characteristically labeled Mexicans and other immigrants as criminals and even rapists. One of the last statements made by the alleged synagogue attacker prior to the massacre included an online vilification of a longstanding refugee resettlement agency, HIAS, whose mission includes protecting the most vulnerable refugees, helping them build new lives, and reuniting them with their families in safety and freedom. There is a connection between the terrible events this past week and the president’s disdain for refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom are young children.
A caravan of Central American migrants fleeing violence and hardship continues its journey north. Many participants are women with children, which is reflective of the growing number of children and families who are coming to the U.S. border to present a petition for asylum—a process that is a basic human right guaranteed to all human beings. Instead of hearing their cases, which is what due process calls for, the administration will meet these vulnerable migrants and children with the U.S. military. Sending the military to receive asylum-seeking families sends the same message as hateful, anti-immigrant rhetoric—it communicates that migrants are an enemy and therefore a fair target.
Political leaders like the president cannot control all that transpires in a hate-filled chat group, but they can control their own speech. At a moment when hate crimes are on the rise, politicians need to understand that words matter. When the president calls the migrant caravan an “invasion” filled with “many gang members and some very bad people,” such inaccurate, dehumanizing, anti-immigrant discourse sends powerful signals to hateful fringe groups. These rhetorical attacks pave the way for shameful policies, like when this administration separated children from their parents, or the attempts to incarcerate asylum-seeking families indefinitely, or today’s proposal to end birthright citizenship. These are not only threats: these are serious attacks against people’s rights and the values on which this country was founded, and they negate immigrants’ contributions to the United States.
Sadly, we have come to expect hateful and discriminatory language from the president and many of his followers. Such speech is neither normal nor acceptable, and must stop. Leaders from all political persuasions must denounce hate speech immediately when it occurs. We should not need to experience horrific hate crimes and violence to understand the potential harm of hate speech, especially when coming from the leader of a nation that purports to hold itself to a high moral standard.
All of us have a part to play in denouncing hate speech and opposing the policies that it then produces. Let’s resist this violence in all of its forms. We at WOLA commit to you to doing this every day.