Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton tell very different stories about who belongs in America and who doesn’t. Trump describes a country under siege from refugees and immigrants, Mexicans, and Muslims. Clinton talks about a nation made stronger by diversity. The narrative each campaign creates matters. It may even influence the way Americans treat their fellow citizens.
A new report from California State University-San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism suggests that political rhetoric may play a role in mitigating or fueling hate crimes. The report shows that anti-Muslim hate crimes in the U.S. rose sharply in 2015 to the highest levels since the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. It also suggests that Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric could have contributed to this backlash against American Muslims.
“There’s very compelling evidence that political rhetoric may well play a role in directing behavior in the aftermath of a terrorist attack,” Brian Levin, the author of the report said in an interview. “I don’t think we can dismiss contentions that rhetoric is one of the significant variables that can contribute to hate crimes.”
The report from the non-partisan center examined the incidence of hate crimes in the aftermath of two reactions to terrorism from political leaders. First, George W. Bush’s speech following the 9/11 attacks declaring: “Islam is peace” and “the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam,” and the second, Trump calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. after the San Bernardino terror attack. The report found a steep rise in hate crimes following Trump’s remarks and a significant drop in hate crimes after Bush’s speech, relative to the number of hate crimes immediately following the initial terror attacks.