House Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee criticized President Donald Trump on Tuesday of using rhetoric that has encouraged the spread of white nationalism and hate crimes.
“As the New Zealand attack showed, some hateful ideological rhetoric that originates in the United States is now used to inspire terror worldwide,” Chairman Jerrold Nadler said at a hearing on the rise of hate crimes and white nationalism in the U.S. in recent years.
“Unfortunately, in a time when leadership is needed, the president’s rhetoric fans the flames with language that, whether intentional or not, may motivate or embolden white supremacist movements,” the New York Democrat said in his opening remarks.
Nadler pointed to recent examples of white terrorists invoking the president as a figurehead they look up to.
For instance, the shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, who killed 50 people at two mosques earlier this year wrote in a manifesto he left at the scene that he supports Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
House lawmakers grilled a panel of experts — and a pro-Trump conservative activist — that included Google and Facebook executives as well as black, Jewish, and Muslim civil rights group leaders.
After the midterm elections last year, Nadler, who was then ranking member, promised to hold hearings in the new Congress on the rise of racially and religiously motivated violence and whether President Donald Trump’s “coddling of white supremacists” had contributed to that rise.
Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee, condemned white nationalism but defended Republicans against what he saw as a thinly veiled partisan attack of racist claims against the GOP by the Democratic majority.
“I worry that the majority’s true motivation for this hearing is to suggest Republicans are hateful, dishonest and somehow connected to those characters who truly spew hatred and act on it in the public square,” Collins said in his opening remarks.
“Nothing white supremacists claim resonates with any of us here today,” the Georgia Republican said.
Nadler, who is Jewish, called out the president over the weekend for referring to Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu as “your prime minister” in front of a group of American Jews.
“[Trump] wades right into the anti-Semitic dual-loyalty lie,” Nadler tweeted along with an article about Trump’s address to the group. “I will continue to condemn anti-Semitism from the Right and Left,” the New York Democrat added.
The number of incidents involving hate crimes increased for a third straight year in 2017, according to FBI data released in November. Hate crime incidents rose by 17 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. From 2015 to 2016, the FBI reported a 5 percent increase.
Most of the 7,175 cases in 2017 involved race-based bias, though there were at least 1,564 cases that involved bias against certain religions. People were targeted for their sexual orientation in 1,130 cases.
The FBI’s findings were released less than a month after a gunman killed 11 people celebrating Shabbat at a synagogue in Pittsburgh — the most deadly slaying of Jews in U.S. history.
Democrats blamed nefarious online forces and inaction by social media companies to stem hateful rhetoric on their platforms for the uptick in deadly hate crimes.
“White nationalism and its proliferation online have real consequences. Americans have died because of it,” Nadler said.
Nadler blasted the Republican majority of the last Congress for declining to hold hearings on white nationalism and hate crimes. The Judiciary Committee never held a hearing, Nadler said, on the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a woman was killed after the rally broke out into a full-fledged confrontation between protesters and counter-protesters.
The chairman fired a shot across the bow of Collins for inviting Turning Point USA communications director Candace Owens, a pro-Trump public speaker and conservative activist, to testify at the hearing.
“Now we see witnesses invited by the minority who openly associate with purveyors of hate,” Nadler said of Owens, who was seated less than 20 yards from the chairman.
Owens qualified her presence at the hearing in her opening remarks where she said she was the victim of a hate crime when she was in high school.