Biden’s Challenge: Can He Curb Rising Tide of Hate Crimes?

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Anti-Hate Crime March at the University of Delaware, Photo by Xander Opiyo via Flickr.

When Joe Biden formally announced his entry into the presidential race in 2019, he said he was moved to do so while watching President Donald Trump talk about a white nationalist rally that turned violent in Charlottesville, Va..

A woman protesting racist demonstrators had been killed, but rather than condemning the white nationalists, Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides.” Biden said, “At that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”

As Biden enters the White House, he must address that threat himself, as hate crimes are on the rise and analysts say white supremacists and other extremists have been emboldened by Trump, reports the Washington Post.

Analysts say a change in presidential rhetoric will help, and the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have tried to tamp down on domestic extremism, sometimes in spite of Trump. Biden will face pressure to do even more.

Hate-crime killings set a record in 2019, says the FBI.

At the same time, think tanks like the Center for Strategic  &  International Studies have warned the convergence of hate groups with violent extremists poses a serious threat to domestic security.

Judge Merrick Garland, Biden’s attorney general choice, has a background in prosecuting domestic terrorism. He oversaw the 1995 prosecution of the  federal building bombing in Oklahoma City that killed 168 and the prosecution of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who eluded authorities while mailing bombs to people.

Kristen Clarke, Biden’s nominee to head the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said before she was chosen for the job that she would like to see that unit intensify its efforts to prosecute hate crimes and crack down on white supremacy.

Some advocates have pushed for a law that would give officials the ability to designate domestic terrorist organizations the same way they do international organizations and charge those who support them. Such legislation  would probably run into significant First Amendment and civil liberties challenges.

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