“There is a great ambiguity about what makes something a hate crime.”
Writing in an analysis piece published Friday by The Washington Post, three academics in the political science field claimed that President Donald Trump’s “rhetoric may encourage hate crimes” and suggested that counties that hosted Trump rallies in the run-up to the 2016 election saw a rise in hate crimes because of said rhetoric.
In attempting to answer whether Trump’s rhetoric has a “measurable link to reported hate crime and extremist activity,” political science professors Regina Branton and Valerie Martinez-Breyers, as well as PhD candidate Ayal Feinberg, said their research led them to conclude that “counties that had hosted a 2016 Trump campaign rally saw a 226 percent increase in reported hate crimes over comparable counties that did not host such a rally.”
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The trio highlighted a recent interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” in which Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine accused Trump of emboldening white nationalists in the wake of deadly mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Kaine, they argued, was on to something.
Relying on the Anti-Defamation League’s Hate, Extremism, Anti-Terrorism (HEAT) map, the scholars “examined whether there was a correlation between the counties that hosted one of Trump’s 275 presidential campaign rallies in 2016 and increased incidents of hate crimes in subsequent months.”
Aggregating “hate-crime incident data and Trump rally data to the county level” and using “statistical tools to estimate a rally’s impact” led the group to the conclusion that hate crimes rose in counties that had hosted a 2016 Trump campaign rally.
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“Of course, our analysis cannot be certain it was Trump’s campaign rally rhetoric that caused people to commit more hate crimes in the host county,” they wrote, but dismissed the phenomena of hate crime hoaxes as a possible explanation for the increase, claiming such a charge is “frequently used as a political tool to dismiss concerns about hate crimes.”
The group also cited data from the FBI’s Universal Crime Report in 2017, which showed “hate crimes increased 17 percent over 2016.”
But some skeptics urge against reading too deeply into conclusions drawn from hate crime data given the reporting methodology used to collect such information.
Reason’s Robby Soave argued in November that anyone talking about “hate crime increases” should keep one “critical detail” in mind: “The overall number of law enforcement agencies reporting hate crime data also increased greatly—approximately 1,000 additional agencies contributed figures in 2017 than in 2016.”
According to Soave, this means that “it’s not obviously the case that hate crimes are more prevalent in 2017.”
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“Maybe the government just did a better job of counting them,” Soave wrote. He also noted that if “every agency reporting data for the first time in 2017 reported just one hate crime, this would account for the entire 17 percent increase.”
Meanwhile, libertarian political commentator Kmele Foster took issue with how hate crimes are classified during an appearance on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” last month. “When we talk about hate crimes, we talk about there being 15 percent increases in these things–a hate crime is not the sort of thing that we can simply look at and say ‘It is absolutely a hate crime.’ There’s some supposition about that,” Foster said.
“There is a great ambiguity about what makes something a hate crime. There are subjective determinations there,” the “Freethink” media producer added.