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America must halt the frightening rise of white nationalism

Donald Trump answers questions from reporters after

Donald Trump answers questions from reporters after an Aug. 29, 2015, speech in Nashville, Tenn. Dan Janison suggests Trump's love-hate relationship with the media is a ploy to avoid answering difficult questions. Credit: AP / Mark Humphrey

The images, the words and the tone are frightening — and familiar.

“Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!”

The words came from Richard Spencer during a day-long conference of his National Policy Institute on Saturday in Washington. Some attendees responded with arms outstretched in a Nazi salute.

This is a part of our country that had stayed in basements and behind closed doors, mostly hidden from view, dismissed as a fringe movement with few backers and no power. On Saturday, it was loud and out in the open in the federal office building named for Ronald Reagan, about a mile from the White House, for all to see and hear.

Whether you call it white nationalism, white supremacy or the alt-right doesn’t matter. This is a movement of hate, of horrifying racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism, of ugly rhetoric that has morphed into destructive behavior. It has emerged from the shadows, emboldened by the election of Donald Trump. With that comes an unleashed strength we must meet head-on, before it becomes a force more difficult to stop.

Just read Spencer’s words, captured on video by The Atlantic.

“America was, until this past generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Spencer, a leader of the alt-right, told a crowd of hundreds. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance and it belongs to us.”

Spencer said white Americans have a choice to “conquer or die.”

Read that again.

Then, consider what has happened across the country. In Brooklyn, swastikas and “Go Trump” messages were painted on a playground. In Queens, a man caught on video went on a racist rant against a cabdriver from Morocco, saying, “Trump is president . . . you can kiss your . . . visa goodbye.” At the University of Pennsylvania, Trump’s alma mater, black students were added to a racist group-texting account, started by a student in Oklahoma, that featured a “daily lynching” calendar event and references to the president-elect.

It’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.

Trump isn’t a member of the alt-right, nor are many of his supporters. But his coarse campaign fanned the flames of hatred, allowing these groups to flourish and proudly go public. None of it will end with Trump saying “Stop it!” to a “60 Minutes” camera, nor with his brief statement Monday that he has denounced racism and “will be a leader for every American.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s concrete response should be a national model. He drew a line against hatred and said New York will not stand for it. On Sunday, he announced plans to create a task force to investigate hate crimes, to allow the state’s human rights division to investigate bullying and harassment in public schools, and to develop a legal-defense fund for immigrants who can’t afford their own attorneys.

But we have a responsibility, too, to watch out for one another, to act against bigotry and hatred, to teach tolerance and to encourage our children to do the same.

There are no two sides to this issue. There is nothing to debate. Religious bigotry and racism cannot be tolerated. Spencer and his alt-right supporters might think this country belongs to them. Show them they are wrong. It belongs to all of us. — The editorial board


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