Right after last month’s Pittsburgh synagogue murders, I wrote a post that used FBI hate crimes data to cast doubt on President Trump’s direct or indirect culpability – but closed by noting that the Bureau would soon be issuing numbers that bring the story up to 2017.
“Soon” arrived this week, and the new statistics do provide evidence for a “Trump effect” on hate crimes overall, and on the incidence of anti-semitic hate crimes in particular. At the same time (and I know Never Trump-ers won’t want to see this), much of the evidence is considerably mixed, especially when it comes to the charge that, as presidential candidate and chief executive, Mr. Trump has “activated” violent anti-Semites and other bigots – i.e., he’s emboldened all of them to turn their hatred into attacks on their target groups.
To base my analysis on more data than used in that previous post, I’ve gone back to each of the 2000-2005 years, and continued examining the numbers for each year through 2017. I’ve also looked at two different categories of data that logically shed the most light on these issues – the number of total known incidents for each of these years, and the number of total known offenders. (I also counted up the numbers of victims, but believe that, even though they track well with the other two data sets, they tell us a good deal less about the activation charge. So for brevity’s sake, I’ve left them out.)
The annual figures on total hate crimes incidents typify most of the patterns. The strongest evidence for the Trump effect consists of the changes in the number of incidents and offenders for 2015-2016, and 2016-2017. Recall the Mr. Trump declared his candidacy for president in June, 2015.
Between 2015 and 2016, the incidents figure rose by 4.63 percent, and then jumped by 17.22 percent the following year. The 2016-17 increase was the biggest in percentage terms since that between 2000 and 2001 (a 20.67 percent surge that partly consisted of reactions to the September 11 terror attacks in 2001).
Here, however, is where the activation narrative starts to lose some force. Principally, the 2015-2016 increase was much smaller than that recorded between 2005 and 2006 (7.80 percent). Was then-President George W. Bush unwittingly or not encouraging extremists? Were they becoming activated in opposition to some of his policies, like the Iraq War? The overall hate crimes numbers don’t yield any obvious answers, but clearly among some groups, national tempers were flaring back then.
Another complication: The absolute 2017 number of hate crimes – like the 2016 number – was the biggest in several years. Indeed, 2017’s 7,175 total hate crimes was the highest figure since 2008’s 7,783. But think about that for a moment. It means that the 2008 number was (significantly) higher. So were its counterparts for each year since 2000. Were those years of greater Presidential activation?
It’s tempting to blame a “September 11” effect during those years. Yet the figure for 2000 – the year before the terror strikes – was much higher (8,063) than 2017’s as well.
The offender numbers are even more puzzling from the activation standpoint – since presumably they’re the individuals being activated. They did rise by 14.46 percent between 2014 and 2015 – which covers the first six months of the Trump presidential campaign. But between 2015 and 2016 – when he was running all year and clearly was much more prominent in the national consciousness – the number of offenders actually declined by 2.91 percent.
The following year, Mr. Trump’s first in the Oval Office, offender numbers shot up again – by 10.40 percent. That increase, however, wasn’t that much larger in percentage terms than the rise during the Barack Obama year 2012-2013 (9.06 percent).
Further, looking at the makeup of these numbers (in terms of the target groups) produces even bigger mysteries. Specifically, that big 17.22 percent increase in the total number of hate crimes between 2016 and 2017 was keyed largely by a 37.13 percent jump in incidents targeting Jews. Consequently, the 2017 total reached 938 – the highest figure since, again, 2008 (another George W. Bush year). But as with overall incidents, this means that the 2008 figure (1,013) topped that for 2017 by an impressive margin. In addition, the 2017 total was exceeded no less than six times in all between 2000 and 2008.
More puzzles emerge from the offenders figures. The number targeting Jews increased 8.79 percent between 2015 and 2016, and by 24.23 percent between 2016 and 2017. The absolute numbers for those years (421 and 523, respectively) are also the two highest during the 2000-2017 period. So these figures also seem to bear out the accusation that President Trump has coddled neo-Nazi/”white nationalist” types in various ways and bears some responsibility for their crimes.
But leave aside the objections that Mr. Trump has welcomed Jews into his family, has worked with them in numerous ways during his business career, and has been a staunch supporter of Israel (all of which has enraged some of those neo-Nazis). Why did the numbers of anti-semitic perps skyrocket by 69.40 percent between 2012 and 2013?
Something else that doesn’t dovetail with the activation charges: Although candidate and President Trump have been accused of stoking racism and xenophobia along with anti-Semitism, the data indicate that any Trump effect in regard to African-Americans and Muslims has been much more muted.
The number of incidents figures show that reported hate crimes targeting Muslims nearly doubled between 2014 and 2015 (from 154 to 294), and then climbed by another 21.77 percent the following year. Maybe candidate Trump’s calls for a ban on Muslim immigration into the United States and for registering Muslims in a national data base deserve lots of blame? Possibly. But then why would anti-Muslim hate crimes have dropped by 7.54 percent in the President’s first year in office – when the Muslim ban effort was a top priority, and front-page news, for months.
Moreover, despite the belief that Mr. Trump’s support of “birther” claims against former President Obama, and a 7.65 percent increase in hate crimes against blacks between 2014 and 2015, these numbers have stayed virtually flat over the course of the President’s main campaigning year and his first year in office.
Evidence for Trump-ian activation that’s more compelling comes from the data on anti-Hispanic hate crimes. The numbers of incidents and offenders both rose strongly – by a record 42.73 percent for the former and by 29.21 percent for the latter between 2016 and 2017, when the President kept immigration issues front and center. As with so many of the other statistics, however, the latest absolute Trump Era numbers for both categories remains way below many pre-Trump annual levels.
That’s why it seems reasonably clear to me that the main driver of the hate crimes data isn’t presidential activation, and that it may not be a major influence at all. What are some possible alternative causes? In many cases, real world events. Two examples: First, the numbers of anti-Muslim hate crimes and violent haters arguably rose so robustly from 2014 on because that period has been marked by a shocking number of fatal terrorism strikes launched by Islamic extremists in both the United States and in Europe.
Second, the anti-Hispanic counterparts of these figures were so much higher during the previous decade than they are today because those years featured mounting efforts by the Open Borders lobby – including an unprecedented wage of protest and other forms of activism by illegal immigrants themselves – to demand more rights and government benefits for this illicit population.
This explanation doesn’t seem to apply to the levels and growth rates of anti-semitic hate crimes. But then again, this form of bigotry isn’t often called “the oldest hatred” for nothing. (Racism of course has been an historical constant as well in America and elsewhere.)
It should go without saying (but maybe not in these highly charged and polarized times) that none of the events and developments cited immediately above can ever justify hate crimes or similar bigoted actions and beliefs. Nor does it signal a belief that the President has handled these incidents on his watch acceptably. As I’ve written repeatedly, he hasn’t. But what should be clear is that anyone seeking to understand anti-semitic and other hate crimes needs to look far beyond the White House.