STUDY: Political Rhetoric Inspires Islamophobic Hate Crimes

By Sameer Rao Sep 23, 2016

A new study adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests that politicians’ Islamophobic dogwhistles—particularly those from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump—inspire hate crimes against Muslims.

Published by California State University, San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, the report uses data from 2015 and before to examine rates of hate crimes against various marginalized groups in 20 states. While other groups remained largely consistent, researchers noted the largest uptick in anti-Muslim attacks since 2001:

Among the most significant new findings in our 2015 compilation is a sharp increase of 78 percent in hate crimes directed against Muslims for the 20 states surveyed. Anti-Muslim hate crimes for only those 20 states soared to 196, a level 29 percent higher than 2014’s anti-Muslim total of 154 for the entire nation as tabulated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), for a new post-2001 record.​

Even if the 2015 percentage increases are only partially sustained across the country, it is nonetheless likely to be the second sharpest rise in anti-Muslim attacks since federal data collection started in the early 1990s and the worst since 2001. In that year, there was a record 481 anti-Muslim hate crimes, far outpacing the 2000 total of 28.

The report also contrasts the hate crime rates following two speeches from Republican leaders: one from President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks and another from Trump after the 2015 shooting in the center’s home city. Researchers noted a sharp decline in anti-Muslim crimes in the week following Bush’s speech, which described Islam as a peaceful religion, and an increase following Trump’s call to ban Muslims.

"There’s very compelling evidence that political rhetoric may well play a role in directing behavior in the aftermath of a terrorist attack," report author and center leader Brian Levin told The Atlantic. "I don’t think we can dismiss contentions that rhetoric is one of the significant variables that can contribute to hate crimes."