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.
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.