All the Details on the Post Election Surge in Hate

Motives, Connection to Trump, and How it Differs from Previous Surges

A swastika and white power message painted on a softball dugout in park in Wellsville, New York represent the surge in hate crimes that occurred after the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
In Wellsville, a softball dugout at Island Park was vandalized after the election of Donald Trump, November 9, 2016. Brian Quinn/Twitter

Many across the United States have been victims of or witness to election-related hate crimes or hateful incidents since Donald Trump became the apparent president-elect on November 8, 2016. Numerous media outlets reported incidents in which perpetrators invoked Trump's name or referenced policy positions and stances of his, as they verbally or physically assaulted victims targeted for their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, religion, or presumed national origin. Simultaneously, social media has been awash in first-hand accounts of such events.

Hardly isolated or rare, these events are evidence of a significant surge in hate crimes and hate-related incidents, according to Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a legal research and activist organization. In a report published on November 29, SPLC reported that it had documented 867 hate incidents that occurred in the 10 days following the election. However, it's likely that figure could be much higher since the majority of hate crimes go unreported.

In its most recent report on hate crimes drawn from the biannual National Crime Victimization Survey, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that 60 percent of hate crimes that occurred in 2012 were never reported to police. If that same rate of reporting holds true for election-related incidents, then the number that occurred in the 10 days after the election could be as high as 1,387. Whether this post-election surge represents an increase of 87 or 137 incidents per day over the normal daily average, it is significant, measuring anywhere from a 10 to 16 percent rise. (The estimated normal daily number of hate crimes for 2016, 830, was calculated using current national population data and the most recently published annual rate of hate crimes, based on BJS figures for 2012.)

Understanding Hate Crimes

The Hate Crime Statistics Act, signed into law in 1990, defines a hate crime as one that "manifest[s] evidence of prejudice based on race, gender or gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” According to the law, types of crimes categorized as motivated by hate may include "crimes of murder, non-negligent manslaughter; forcible rape; aggravated assault, simple assault, intimidation; arson; and destruction, damage or vandalism of property."

The SPLC report includes both hate crimes and hateful incidents that appear to be related to the election but do not rise to the level of criminality, like verbal insults rather than threats.

Post-Election Hate Crimes and Incidents and Where They Occurred

According to SPLC, nearly 900 documented hate incidents occurred in the 10 days following the presidential election of 2016. The incidents were most common the day after the election, and declined in number over the following days. They occurred across the country in nearly every state, and in a variety of locations, including churches and other places of worship, public spaces, at homes and residences of victims, and in workplace and retail settings. The targets of these acts were diverse, with seemingly all but heterosexual white men targeted.

Many victims noted, and SPLC points out in their report, that these post-election incidents have a different nature and tone than the hate crimes and incidents that happen otherwise. Victims reported that many aggressors acted out in public and in "unashamed" ways. Some stated that they have been at the receiving end of subtle forms of bias and hate throughout their lives, but had never before seen or experienced the level of vitriolic, aggressive, and public hate that followed the election.

Quite troublingly, the most common sites of post-election hate crimes and incidents have been the nation's schools, including K-12 and colleges and universities. Thirty-seven percent of reported incidents occurred in educational settings, where "The Trump Effect" has led to increased hate-based bullying, harassment, and physical violence. In turn, it has also lead to increased levels of fear and anxiety among students who are members of targeted populations. (The incidents compiled in the report by SPLC include only those that happened in-person or to physical property; they do not include online harassment.)

After schools, places where strangers cross each other's paths were the most common environments where incidents occurred, like on the street or in retail or restaurant environments. Just under a third of documented incidents occurred in public spaces, and nearly 19 percent occurred in workplace or retail settings.

Though private spaces like homes and residences are among the least common places where incidents occurred—just 12 percent of the 867—they were no doubt among the most chilling for victims. People across the country reported receiving threatening messages on their lawns and porches, slid under their doors, and taped to their car windshields.

Motives and Targets for Post-Election Hate

Given Trump's repeated emphasis on immigrants as economic problems, security threats, and a general danger to citizens, it's not surprising that the most commonly reported type of hate crime and incident in the immediate aftermath of the election was anti-immigrant in nature. Nearly a third of all reported incidents were characterized this way by victims.

Black people were the second most victimized group, with more than 22 percent of incidents invoking anti-black bias. The remaining breakdown of incidents is as follows:

  • 11% anti-semitic
  • 11% anti-LGBTQ
  • 6% anti-Muslim
  • 5% Trump general (invoked his name but did not make intentions clear)
  • 5% anti-woman
  • 4% white nationalist
  • 3% anti-Trump
  • 2% other (against Asian Americans, Native Americans, the disabled, and others)

The Connection Between Trump's Rhetoric and Post-Election Hate

It's worth noting that while some incidents of anti-Trump hate occurred in the 10 days after the election, they comprise just three percent of the nearly 900 events. On the flip side, the vast majority of those documented by SPLC appear to be inspired by support for Trump, signaling an embrace of his rhetoric and his exclusionary and discriminatory policy plans.

Likely connected to Trump's promise to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, Hispanic and Latino Americans and immigrants reported being threatened with deportation in the days after the election. Asian Americans and Asian immigrants, Blacks, and African immigrants reported the same kind of harassment.

Echoing Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric, promises to exclude Muslims from immigration into the U.S., and to create a registry of all Muslims currently living in the country, Muslim Americans reported that they were accused of being terrorists. Additionally, Muslim women reported threats to remove their hijab and physical attacks in which the hijab was forcibly ripped from their heads. In one case, such an attack caused the victim to choke and fall. In some cases, women who are not Muslim but who wore a form of headscarf or wrap experienced the same kinds of threats and violence.

In keeping with Trump's hard-line stance against same-sex marriage and opposition to enforcing the civil rights for LGBTQ people, members of this population reported physical violence and threats of violence in the days following the election. Some aggressors threatened that the victim's legal marriage would be rescinded, and some justified their actions and words, saying that "the president says it's okay" to behave this way.

Emboldened by Trump's now infamous description of how he interacts with women, men and boys around the country have threatened women and girls with sexual assault, using versions of the phrase "grab her by the p*ssy." Women across the country reported an increased frequency of street harassment and change of its tone, threatening sexual assault and rape as women and girls pass by on the street.

Reflecting the general sense of racial hostility that Trump stoked during the campaign, Black people around the country reported verbal and written harassment using the N-word and references to lynching. Interracial couples reported being harassed and attacked, and white people were threatened and warned against bringing Black family members and acquaintances into their neighborhoods. Others reported hateful sentiments that denigrated the Black Lives Matter movement.

Also reported in the days after the election were publicly stated sentiments of white power and white supremacy that some who supported Trump seem to embrace. People reported swastikas and anti-semitic remarks, threats to remove Jews from the country, and KKK and white nationalist flyers and public displays around the country.

How the Post-Election Surge Differs from Everyday Hate

Comparing the breakdown by motives of post-election hate crimes and incidents to FBI data for 2015 gives us a sense of how Trump's rhetoric and behavior influenced who was targeted by the election-related hate documented by SPLC.

Anti-semitic hate crimes and incidents constituted the same proportion of events as they normally do. Anti-Black incidents and those motivated by anti-LGBTQ biases each comprised lesser proportions as compared with their normal share. However, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-woman incidents accounted for much greater shares of election-related hate crimes and incidents than they normally do.

While anti-Muslim hate crimes typically represent four percent of total annual incidents, they constituted six percent of incidents documented by SPLC. While this two point increase may at first glance seem small, it actually represents a 50 percent increase of the typical proportion. In other words, it's a rather large increase in share of total events.

An even greater increase in total share was documented with anti-immigrant incidents. During 2015, the FBI reported that crimes motivated by biases of ethnicity or national origin represented 11 percent of total reported hate crimes. However, they represent nearly a third of all incidents documented by SPLC as part of the surge. That's an increase of 21 percentage points, or about a three-fold increase in share of events. In other words, a massive increase.

Unsurprising given Trump's comments about women, coupled with the obvious gender politics of the 2016 campaign, anti-woman incidents were those that represented the most significant increase in total share. Though anti-woman hate crimes comprised less than one percent (0.3) of total hate crimes in 2015, according to the FBI, they amounted to five percent of all incidents documented by SPLC. That means that the share of anti-woman hate crimes and incidents was more than 16 times greater than it typically is. That is both a startling figure and a terrifying consequence of an election if there is indeed causation. 

Other Notable Spikes in Hate Crimes: 9/11 and the Elections of President Obama

The FBI began collecting data on hate crimes following the passage of the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990. The organization published its first report on national hate crimes in 1996, and since that time, there have been three other events that triggered notable spikes in the rate of hate crimes. The first was the terrorist attacks of September 1, 2001, the second was the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, and the third was the re-election of President Obama in 2012.

Prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the average annual rate of hate crimes (per 100,000 people) was 2.94. For 2001, the rate jumped to 3.41, for a nearly 20 percent increase. FBI data shows that this significant jump was fueled by a 24 percent surge in religiously-motivated hate crimes, and a massive 130 percent increase in those fueled by ethnic and anti-immigrant biases.

Muslims, Arab Americans, and those perceived to be so, bore the brunt of this increase in hate. In 2000 there were just 28 incidents of anti-Muslim hate crimes, but in 2001 that figure jumped to 481, increasing by more than 17 times. At the same time, hate crimes motivated by ethnicity and/or perceived national origin (excepting Hispanics) jumped from 354 to 1,501, for a more than four-fold increase. Bearing in mind that BJS data show that at that point in time nearly 2-in-3 hate crimes went unreported, the real figures during this surge were likely far higher.

The overall surge, however, was short-lived, and the total annual rate fell to a below-2000 level during 2002. Yet, the rate of anti-Islam hate crimes never recovered. From 2002 through 2014 it held steady at about 150 per year, about five times higher than the pre-9/11 rate. In 2015, it jumped another 67 percent, climbing to 257 incidents, according to the most recent FBI data. Leading scholars of race and hate crimes believe that the increase was fueled by terrorist attacks in the U.S. and Europe, but also by the campaign rhetoric of Donald Trump.

FBI data shows that in 2008 the number of anti-Black hate crimes increased by about 200 incidents, largely attributed to a surge in anti-Black hate following the November election of President Barack Obama. And though the FBI data, which is based on crimes reported to police, do not show an overall annual increase following the first and second elections of President Barack Obama, the BJS's National Crime Victimization Survey data, which includes crimes not reported, show significant surges.

According to the BJS, the average annual rate of hate crimes from 2003-2008, per 100,000 people, was 84.43. In 2009, which began with the inauguration of President Obama, the rate climbed to 92.77—a ten percent increase. The rate then returned to the 2008 level in ​2010, and dropped considerably lower in 2011. But, in 2012, the year that marked the re-election of President Obama, the rate grew again by more than a third, from about 70 to 93 per 100,000 people.

Surges in hate crimes related to political events are not unique to the United States. Police in the United Kingdom documented a similar situation in the two weeks following the Brexit vote, in which Brits voted that the U.K. should leave the European Union. The U.K. National Police Chief's Council reported that hate crimes increased by 42 percent during the last two weeks of June 2016, relative to the same period during 2015. Most of the hate crimes reported during this time were anti-immigrant in nature, in keeping with the strong anti-immigration rhetoric that was the backbone of the campaign to leave the EU.

What Makes the 2016 Post-Election Surge in Hate Different from Others

The 2016 post-election surge in hate crimes is hardly the first surge the nation has seen, but there are elements of it that mark it as unique from previous events. The surges that followed 9/11 and the elections of President Obama can be seen as racist and xenophobic backlash against populations that were perceived by perpetrators as belonging to a group in which some members of the group have done something wrong. The post-9/11 surge was composed of attacks against Muslims, Arab Americans and Arab immigrants, and those perceived to be members of those groups because members of these groups carried out the attacks. This surge in hate crimes was retributive in nature.

Similarly, the surges in hate crimes that followed the election and re-election of President Obama targeted Blacks and African immigrants, likely because perpetrators felt that it was wrong that a Black man should be president of the United States. These too, were retributive in nature, meant to reassert the racial hierarchy and white privilege that has held steady through the nation's history.

But the 2016 post-election surge is not retributive in nature; it is celebratory. It does not reflect an attempt at paying back a perceived wrong of some kind. Instead, it reflects a triumph of white, male, nationalist privilege and superiority that Trump's campaign played to and fueled. It reflects much of what Trump's election represents: a mandate for racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and heterosexism.

This is a new kind of surge in hate crimes, and one that citizens, law enforcement, and politicians will have to keep a close eye on. Data from the U.K. show that the post-Brexit surge continued for months, and it is likely that the surge will continue in the U.S. as well, further fueled by views and positions of the cabinet members that Trump has selected.