Extremist Politicians Fuel Hate Crimes: Study

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Graffiti in Venice. Italy's anti-immigrant Lega Party has been fueld by xenophobic sentiment. Photo by Margaret Killjoy via Flickr

Is there a causal link between the election of far-right, anti-immigrant leaders and an increase in hate crimes?

Alessio Romarri, a PhD student at the University of Barcelona Institute of Economics, has identified such a link in a study of contemporary Italian politics.

“Although the association between extremist parties and the increase in discrimination and violence against minorities is highly debated in newspapers and in politics, there is little research that empirically shows whether this is actually the case,” he wrote.

In a new research paper, Romarri investigated whether a local government official’s political ideology makes it more likely that hate crimes would occur in Italian municipalities.

Romarri focused on local governments because, while Italy’s national laws formally protect citizen’s rights and safety, such protections “are at the discretion of local authorities.”

In an examination of a dataset of local elections from 2008 to 2018 in over 8,000 municipalities, he looked at the local mayors’ political ideologies, focusing on those where a far-right candidate won by a small margin of victory.

That time period coincided with the rise of several right-wing, anti-immigrant parties—in particular the League, an extreme right party that, along with another party (Five Star Movement) was part of a coalition government that led the national parliament in 2018-2019.

During that period, 6,613 hate crimes were reported around the country.

“Anecdotal evidences show that members of anti-immigrant parties, with their xenophobic rhetoric and behaviors, can spread a feeling of hatred towards foreigners,” Romarri concluded.

“Preliminary results show that in municipalities where an extreme-right mayor is in power, the likelihood of a hate crime occurring is significantly higher.”

Depending on the margin of victory, the increase in the yearly occurrence of a hate crime ranged from 4.3 percent to 5.3 percent, Romarri found.

The number of hate crimes was higher in an election year or the year immediately following the victory of a far-right candidate.

He found that more hate crimes occur in local Italian municipalities where “low-educated people live and with a small share of immigrants.”

But he said it wasn’t clear whether the hate crimes occurred because individuals who were likely to commit them interpreted the election of a xenophobic candidate as a “signal” to action, or whether they were directly instigated by the rhetoric itself.

According to Romarri, that there is a connection between “xenophobic rhetoric and behavior.”

Romarri cites research suggesting this may be true in other countries as well, including the U.S.

A 2019 paper by Karsten Müller of Princeton Univeristy and Carlo Schwarz of the University of Warick, entitled From Hashtag to Hate Crime: Twitter and Anti-Minority Sentiment, suggests that President Donald Trump’s tweets about Islam and anti-Muslim related topics are highly correlated with anti-Muslim hate crimes.

Müller and Schwarz concluded, “We find that a one standard deviation increase in Twitter usage is associated with a 38 percent larger increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes since [the start of] Trump’s campaign. ”

Romarri said more research was needed to establish the correlation between hateful or xenophobic rhetoric by politicians and racist acts, including a textual study of social media accounts.

The full paper can be accessed here.

Additional Reading: Anti-Semitic Hate Crimes in Three Cities Hit 18-Year High

This summary was prepared by TCR staff writer Andrea Cipriano.

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