James A. Fields Jr., 21, a sworn neo-Nazi, was sentenced to life in prison by a jury on Tuesday for ramming his car into a group of counter-protesters during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 that killed Heather Heyer and injured 35 others.
He is possibly facing another federal trial over hate crimes that could carry a death sentence. Concluding this dark chapter is welcoming. But it doesn’t put a lid on violent right-wing attacks that have been on the rise in the past couple of years.
President Donald J. Trump is not helping. His infamous accusation that blamed “both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville is not reflective of the general trend in left and ring-wing violence. Only this year, there were 20 fatalities as a result of right-wing violent incidents. There was one death when a left-wing ex-Marine killed a police officer who tried to arrest him over a traffic violation.
Anti-Defamation League reported that there was a 57 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 – the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking such data in 1979. According to FBI data that was gathered from 16,149 law enforcement agencies, there were 15,612 hate crime offenses in the country in 2017, a 17 percent increase.
The U.S. education curricula, from elementary school to higher education, should include instructions, guidance, and training about hate crimes, diversity, and inclusion. Reading history helps immensely. Schools should prioritize teachings that show repercussions of what happens when hateful rhetoric becomes a mainstream political talking point.
We also need to address the elephant in the room. President Trump, particularly with his campaign rhetoric before mid-term elections, whipped up nationalist sentiments by exaggerating the threat posed by a migrant caravan heading towards the U.S. southern border.
The race card in political campaigning has not been used in U.S. electoral campaigns in such alarming proportions since the 1960s. If this type of anti-immigrant rhetoric was successful, other politicians would follow suit. The divisive, anti-immigrant political discourse also enables and encourages right-wing groups across Europe, threatening traditional party politics in the continent and undermining democratic institutions.
Violent right-wing attacks are only the visible part of the iceberg, indicative of a much larger problem in the society. There is no straightforward recipe for the problem. It requires continuous education, considerate political discourse and a prevailing culture that doesn’t allow such hate offenses to breed and flourish.