While the tide of hate feels overwhelming, we at ADL know that if we ignore bigotry, it will only fester and grow stronger.
One year ago, the nation was gripped by the shocking scene of hundreds of white supremacists taking to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, bellowing racist, anti-Semitic chants. While some wore polo shirts and others sported Nazi tattoos, their message was clear: nonwhites and minorities have no place in today’s America. For many of us unfamiliar with America’s dark underbelly, the rally was a moment of awakening to the hatred that many of us assumed was a relic of our past.
In our beloved Emerald City, it would be easy to view the events of Charlottesville as an outlier, led by people who don’t exist in progressive towns like ours. We know that this conclusion is not only naive but dangerous. By looking the other way, we tacitly endorse hate and allow it to grow.
In today’s political climate, white supremacist groups are more emboldened than ever, spreading their vitriol online, on college campuses and in our communities. The data reflects this new reality: A recent Anti-Defamation League report shows incidents of white supremacist propaganda on college campuses in Washington state more than tripling in the 2017-2018 school year from the previous academic year. ADL also documents a nationwide increase in incidents of anti-Semitism, including vandalism and assaults, which are up by 60 percent in 2017.
While the events of Charlottesville feel distant, white supremacists are still very active in our backyard, barraging our communities with hateful messages and inspiring acts of violence. On the Eastside, we have received recent reports from community members detailing fliers with vitriolic, anti-immigrant messages distributed by the white supremacist group Patriot Front on doorsteps, in mailboxes, on telephone poles and near schools in three Bellevue neighborhoods. We also have received recent reports of Identity Evropa, another white supremacist group dedicated to promoting white European identity, spreading propaganda on local college campuses such as the University of Washington’s Seattle campus, in Seattle’s Central District, and hanging large anti-immigrant banners over highway overpasses.
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By promoting this climate of bigotry, individuals are more emboldened to act. This July, Burien’s first Latino mayor, Jimmy Matta, was physically assaulted by an individual upset over the city’s sanctuary city policy, and the perpetrator is being charged with a hate crime.
Groups like Patriot Front and Identity Evropa are not only active in the Seattle area, but the Pacific Northwest and nationwide. The Proud Boys’ recent march in Portland, Oregon, caused the community consternation as the group threatened to make the march the next Charlottesville. A number of white-supremacist groups also plan to celebrate last year’s rally by marching in Washington, D.C., glorifying their perceived prominence.
While the tide of hate feels overwhelming, we at ADL know that if we ignore bigotry, it will only fester and grow stronger. As an organization fighting hate and discrimination for more than 100 years, we know that just as hate is learned, it also can be unlearned.
By starting young, schools can play a seminal role in stamping out hate. ADL’s No Place for Hate initiative provides a powerful framework for schools from elementary to high school to combat bullying and bias and teach acceptance at no cost to schools. Parents also have an essential role to play by discussing societal issues with their kids, teaching them how to approach hot button topics such as immigration and everyday bias in age appropriate ways through free ADL “Table Talks.”
As members of the Seattle community, we all have a role to play in a climate where hate is on full display. Spot a white supremacist flier? Witness an act of bias or discrimination? Report the incident to ADL, contact law enforcement, and share the experience with friends and family.
Elected officials must also take responsibility for countering a toxic political climate — urge them to speak up and speak out. Finally, we can make progress by passing new laws and policies, but it’s hard to legislate understanding. Make an effort to speak to someone different from yourself, on a regular basis, and keep up this small but important practice.
We must draw on the powerful moment that was Charlottesville to make our community a place that models respect, celebrates diversity and rejects intolerance. While the totality of today’s climate feels overwhelming, we each have a role to play in fighting hate.