It’s not a matter of if there will be violence as the nation waits for the final resolution of the 2020 presidential election between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, but “how hot” and how sustained it will be, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.
Speaking at the Orange County Human Relations Commission (OCHR) program, “Advancing Human Relations in a Time of Division & Extremism,” on Nov. 10, Levin said typically one could reasonably predict the duration of violence before and after a catalytic event such as an election.
“But once you have something, whether it’s a pandemic or something else that’s sustained, it’s much harder to game-play when this stuff ends,” he said.
Levin and Kevin Grisham, associate director at the center, presented their latest research on some of the extremist and fringe movements impacting the nation and the region at the OC Human Relations virtual gathering watched by more than 50 people. Levin and Grisham shared the latest observations, mostly stemming from the recent election season, as well as insight into extremists movements such as the QAnon conspiracy theory and the Boogaloo Boys.
At the time of the presentation, four days had passed since major news organizations projected Biden the winner of the election, although Trump has declined to concede and instead has challenged some state’s election results along with using Twitter and a Nov. 5 news conference to spread falsehoods about election fraud.
What concerned Levin was the potential reaction by the more extremist Trump supporters. “The folks who believed that white nationalism had some sort of support in the mainstream see that their cord has been cut, they see their political influence as plateauing, and that’s when you get the ‘cornered porcupine,’” he said. “The big thing is how hot will this be, how sustained and how deep will the president’s invective be, and how will that play in the eco-chamber, which includes social media.”
Grisham pointed out the pro-Trump rallies planned in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Nov. 14, and said the concern over violence is increased because included among the participants are adherents to the QAnon conspiracy theory and members of the extremist movement Boogaloo Boys – both of which have been violent in the past “and are likely to use it again.”
But hate and extremism, and what comes with it, are not just topics and events that happen elsewhere. The 2019 Hate Crimes Report by the OC Human Relations Commission showed that Orange County recorded 83 such incidents – but likely had more because hate crimes tend to be underreported – representing a 24 percent increase over 2018, said Seema Shah, a training specialist with OCHR. Blacks were the most frequent target of hate crimes, yet they make up just 2 percent of the county’s residents.
Also, 156 hate incidents – behavior motivated by hate or bias – were reported, down 6 percent from 2018, with people of the Jewish faith being the most targeted.
Levin said that Orange County can be seen as a reflection of the nation, “similar to the rest of the country in that it’s split, places are diversifying both politically and age-wise, ethnically, and it creates issues.”
It matters because now many major corporations are trying to establish cultures that encourage diversity across all segments of society – racial, religious, culturally, sexual orientation. And, Levin said, a company would be reluctant to locate in a community where it believes its workers would not be safe.
The Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism is a nonpartisan research and policy center that examines the ways that bigotry, advocacy of extreme methods, or terrorism, both domestically and internationally deny civil or human rights to people on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or other relevant status characteristics. The center seeks to aid scholars, community activists, government officials, law enforcement, the media and others with objective information to aid them in their examination and implementation of law, education and policy.