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White Supremacy And Trump

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

If you saw scenes from President Trump's 2020 campaign kickoff rally in Florida last week, you saw thousands of people wearing red MAGA hats and waving flags. But sprinkled among the crowd was another kind of Trump supporter - far-right extremists known for hate speech and conspiracy theories openly flashing white-power signs. To talk about their presence there and what it means, we have NPR's Hannah Allam. She covers domestic extremism.

Hi, Hannah.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So who were these guys? - because they were predominantly guys. And what were they doing at the president's rally?

ALLAM: Several reporters who were covering the rally posted photos showing at least a semi-organized presence of at least two groups, so one was the Proud Boys. This is a group known for racist, misogynistic statements. And they were marching outside. At one point, the police stopped them from confronting a group of anti-Trump protesters at the rally. And then from inside the rally, there were photos of men wearing Q T-shirts. And this is an apparent reference to QAnon. This is this vast, deep-state conspiracy theory. And then there were also just individuals wearing openly bigoted or racist slogans taking aim at Muslims and immigrants primarily.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why are white nationalists and conspiracy theorists there? What appeals to them about the Trump campaign specifically?

ALLAM: Well, presumably, they're there because they like Trump. And they like some of his hardline stances. But I do think there's a popular misconception that all far-right, racist groups are fans of Trump. Some see him as not sufficiently supportive of their causes. And some make the anti-Semitic argument, oh, that his daughter Ivanka married a Jew and converted. And so this somehow has discredited him in the eyes of some white supremacists. Art Jipson is a professor at the University of Dayton, who studied white racial extremists for nearly 30 years. And this is how he describes their relationship with Trump.

ART JIPSON: I don't think they perceive Trump as their spokesperson or their guy, their politician. However, many of his policies are consistent with their ideas about immigration, migration.

ALLAM: So even if they're not crazy about Trump himself, they do see him, generally, as a means to an end and especially when it comes to raising their public profile. Here's what Jipson had to say about that.

JIPSON: They see themselves as resurgent, that they have a historic opportunity to advance themselves and their movement that maybe they haven't had before. The rhetoric that's used is in what we would have to call today mainstream political circles is not that far from the rhetoric the Klan used in the '80s.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So they see Trump as moving them into the mainstream.

ALLAM: They do, yes. I mean, he's certainly accelerated it. But, you know, it's important to remember this has been building. After President Obama's election, there was a racist backlash that resulted in the formation or the resurgence of some of these types of groups. And so they've been trying to kind of creep into the mainstream for a while. And, of course, hate groups aren't new to this country. And I talked about that with Michael Jensen. He researches domestic extremism at the University of Maryland's START center. And here's what he had to say.

MICHAEL JENSEN: Far-right violence - that's not a new thing. That's been around forever in American history. It may not even be greater now than it was two decades ago, but what has absolutely changed is the extent to which these viewpoints have become more mainstream.

ALLAM: And I've heard that same assessment from around a dozen other researchers who study the far right. So, I mean, it's fair to say this is a concern for them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What has been the reaction from the White House?

ALLAM: I think it's safe to say it's not top priority if you look at the actions. Trump has dismissed white nationalists as, quote, "a small group of people." He's retweeted white nationalists. And a lot of the words, the fiery rhetoric he uses to describe immigrants and Muslims - there's not much daylight between that and the talking points of the far right. So, no, there hasn't been that full-throated disavowal that his critics would like to hear. And authorities say right-wing violence is the deadliest, the most active form of domestic extremism. And there's pressure for the president to acknowledge that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was NPR's Hannah Allam.

Thank you so much.

ALLAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hannah Allam is a Washington-based national security correspondent for NPR, focusing on homegrown extremism. Before joining NPR, she was a national correspondent at BuzzFeed News, covering U.S. Muslims and other issues of race, religion and culture. Allam previously reported for McClatchy, spending a decade overseas as bureau chief in Baghdad during the Iraq war and in Cairo during the Arab Spring rebellions. She moved to Washington in 2012 to cover foreign policy, then in 2015 began a yearlong series documenting rising hostility toward Islam in America. Her coverage of Islam in the United States won three national religion reporting awards in 2018 and 2019. Allam was part of McClatchy teams that won an Overseas Press Club award for exposing death squads in Iraq and a Polk Award for reporting on the Syrian conflict. She was a 2009 Nieman fellow at Harvard and currently serves on the board of the International Women's Media Foundation.