WASHINGTON

The US was built by immigrants but it still has not the healed wounds of racial segregation.

More than a 100 years after the abolition of slavery, groups that defend and promote white supremacy and racism still exist.

In 2020, these groups, related to the Ku Klux Klan, evolved and began to emerge from the shadows.

They show up armed at demonstrations against racism to maintain order and protect business.

According to official data, these groups or civilian militias appeared in demonstrations in at least 33 states in the last four months.

Since 2015, authorities and civil organizations dedicated to the study of the behavior of groups made up of white Caucasians promoting racism, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy, have been concerned about the increase in their activities.

“In 2019, the efforts of these groups to remain relevant creating new websites and putting out talk shows or brochures, have proven effective in maintaining their numbers,” said a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights legal advocacy group.

Demonstrations by white supremacists in the past three months have raised alarms for authorities, activists and opposition groups because they appear publicly armed to show discontent against measures during the coronavirus pandemic by Democratic governors or to show disagreement with protests by the Black Lives Matter movement.

For many Americans, US President Donald Trump’s rhetoric since his 2016 presidential campaign has been the spark in the tinderbox that made white supremacists feel empowered to take action and flood to the streets.

Trump has shared messages and videos on Twitter promoting “white power.” In his first presidential debate against Joe Biden earlier his month, he refused to condemn violence attributed to these groups. In speeches, he condemns only vandalism of protesters and refuses to talk about the cases of Blacks killed by white police officers.

Last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Congress about these groups, which are already viewed as a domestic terrorism threat. Information from the bureau indicates in recent years there have been 1,000 incidents by racist groups registered each year and are considered acts of domestic terrorism.

A report of The Global Terrorism Database indicates 35% of domestic terrorism registered in the US in the last seven years are related to people or armed groups of the extreme right and white supremacy.

In August, amid protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after Jacob Blake, a black man, was shot by a white police officer, a 17-year-old teen killed two people and wounded two more with a AR-15 rifle. The teen, a member of a white supremacist militia group, left the crime scene without arrest or being questioned by police. Kyle Rittenhouse surrendered to police in his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, a day after.

African Americans also arm themselves

Reactions to these groups and to Trump’s rhetoric go beyond criticism or discontent. For months, Black groups have also been arming and preparing for what they believe could soon happen: armed clashes in protests, sparked by white supremacists, as neither side is willing to give up without a fight. 

“This has been usual in the United States. This is how the country has operated throughout history. This started with violence when they wanted to control the slave population, with oppression. We are armed almost everywhere we go and probably the Panthers are going to start showing themselves in public with their weapons too,” Yahacanon Denn Yah, national chairman of the New Black Panthers Party, told Anadolu Agency.

Yah said that Black community groups warned that there are white paramilitary groups participating in anti-racism protests to intimidate protestors and urged those white groups to get out of the protests.

“It is likely that we will see a confrontation shortly. The Constitution gives all citizens, regardless of their color, the right to have weapons. But we live in two different US. When the whites do it, they talk about being in their right, but when the blacks do it then they are criminals, they are threats or they put other people in danger and this is the way in which the propaganda pushes against us,” he said.

Activist groups and human rights organizations point out that racism or racist acts are on the rise. Some are even coming forward to warn that if Trump remains in power, the problem will exacerbate, in part because of his stance in support of white supremacist groups.

“If he remains in power, surely there is going to be more racist violence and fighting in the streets. There is no difference between the Ku Klux Klan of before and the groups of today. They are just different names and different clothes. Many of its members are protected by the police. Many whites believe that if they don’t like black people they have a license to kill them and they will enjoy impunity,” said Yah.

“When we see someone like Trump come to power we have a greater sense of protection because the threats are greater. It is something that we had not seen before, that we had not experienced in a long time. Trump has sent a message that allows violence and we are sure that if he continues to be president, this violence will increase,” he added.

Trump is encouraging violence

The president has encouraged and endorsed white supremacist groups as no other president has done.

Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and even George W. Bush condemned violent racist acts.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, a member of one of these groups drove a car into a crowd of protesters, killing one. Trump refused to condemn the killing and preferred to divert attention by saying that there are also violent groups on the left. Then the groups related to the KKK thanked Trump on social networks for his position.

“President Trump’s speech is encouraging violence. Telling white supremacist groups to ‘back off and wait’ is extremely dangerous. Clearly, he has encouraged them to come out and we see that they are coming out without fear; we saw them shooting people in Kenosha. Trump’s words reflect the danger of more violence breaking out in the country,” said Vicky Ross, the head of the Western New York Peace Center, a social justice group.

This is Trump’s stance regarding the possibility of losing the elections.

The president has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transition if he loses, increasing concern regarding violent acts by white supremacist groups exploding in November.

“We have the elections around the corner and it is also dangerous that the president is not committed to accepting the election results. At this time and in the face of it, these groups represent a real threat to the country. I have to say that something will happen if he loses and doesn’t accept the results. We are in very dangerous times and this has all increased since 2016,” said Ross.

*Maria Paula Triviño contributed to this story.

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