Christian Picciolini, founder of the group Life After Hate, is a former skinhead combatting a surge in white nationalism across the United States. Credit: Teresa Crawford/Associated Press

In this week’s report: The Trump administration halts funding for efforts combating white supremacist violence, a hate crime hotline triggers an unexpected backlash and a look at what happens when white nationalists march on Washington.

The $400,000 grant the Department of Homeland Security pledged to Life After Hate couldn’t have come at a better time.

In the months since the November election, the group, which works to rehabilitate former neo-Nazis, had received more requests for assistance than it had in the previous five years combined.

The grant was initially awarded in the waning days of the Obama administration. Life After Hate was one of 31 groups splitting a $10 million fund directed to organizations countering violent extremism. The group planned on using the money to launch a project identifying and countering neo-Nazi recruitment online.

Soon after getting into office, however, the Trump administration put a hold on the grants while it reviewed the program. Life After Hate co-founder Angela King told us in May that the delay was causing the organization serious harm. “The impact is that now we have to spend our time trying to raise money, instead of doing the work that we need to be doing,” King said.

As Politico reports, when the list of grantees was finally revealed last week, Life After Hate had been removed completely. The money once promised by the federal government was never coming in.

A team of researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill, which had expected a $900,000 grant to develop a comprehensive program countering online white supremacist propaganda, also lost funding in the shake-up. “We couldn’t get off the ground without the grant,” Cori Dauber told WUNC. “We’re at zero.”

A DHS spokeswoman told the Raleigh News & Observer the Life After Hate and UNC weren’t singled out because of their focus on white supremacists. However, Reuters reported earlier this year that the Trump administration considered reorienting DHS’s anti-violent extremism solely on Islamist extremism at the expense of efforts to counter white supremacist groups.

Those were the only two groups initially approved for grants under President Barack Obama to see their funding evaporate under President Donald Trump, and the only two exclusively focused on white supremacist extremism. Many of the remaining grantees, like the Countering Extremism Project and Peace Catalyst International focus on Islamic extremism. Four Muslim organizations willingly withdrew their applications in protest of Trump’s Islamophobic rhetoric.

As our recent collaboration with the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund found, between 2008 and 2016, far-right and white supremacist terror plots in the United States are twice as common as those hatched by Islamic fundamentalists.  

Minnesota hate crime hotline proves surprisingly controversial

Earlier this month, the city of Minneapolis launched a hotline residents can use to report hate crimes and other forms of discrimination.

“Since the general election, many of us have experienced, witnessed firsthand or heard of actions of: racism, xenophobia, sexism and bigotry directed at people here and in cities across the United States,” Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights Director Velma Korbel wrote in a statement about the hotline. “In no uncertain terms, hate-motivated speech and actions have no place in Minneapolis nor will they be tolerated.”

That seems relatively uncontroversial, right? Welcome to 2017.
Minneapolis’ effort to tamp down on the growing wave of hate incidents affecting the entire state of Minnesota, has attracted fierce criticism from some conservative publications, who viewed the effort to combat hate as an assault on free speech. Some examples:

  • Infowars called it a “Shariah hotline for ‘hate speech’ snitches” and added that a “city official indicated Trump supporters will be targeted.”
  • Suggesting that most hate crime reports are fabrications, Gateway Pundit proclaimed, “First Amendment under fire.”
  • Former Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann told World Net Daily, “Hate speech hotlines operate as government enforcement of fascism.”
  • USA Newsflash said the city is “leading the charge for fascism.”
  • “Liberal officials in Minneapolis have given Muslims the green list to enact Sharia laws against blasphemy of their religion,” wrote Conservative Daily Post.
  • The Washington Feed’s headline exclaimed, “How This SINISTER System Works Is Horrifying.”
  • TruthFeed opined that, “time and money should be going towards bettering the city, not making Muslims feel more ‘comfortable.’ ”

Casper Hill, a spokesman for the city of Minneapolis, told me that since the hotline began operation earlier this month, it has received about a dozen calls regarding potential cases of discrimination. “The hotline continues to be available for residents and its operations has not changed as a result of the negative coverage,” Hill said.

Providence, Rhode Island, launched its own hotline last year, but it’s seen less action. According to a report by WPRI, Providence’s tip line has only received three calls. When a reporter called the line to check it out, nobody answered the phone.

Non-governmental organizations also are launching new ways for people to report hate incidents. The Council on American-Islamic Relations recently launched a smartphone app, dubbed “Making Democracy Work For Everyone,” that has a feature allowing users to report bias incidents to the Muslim advocacy organization. We’re also part of a project called Documenting Hate, led by ProPublica, which allows members of the public to report hate incidents they’ve witnessed or experienced to a consortium of media organizations.  

A report released this week by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that more than half of the hate crimes in the United States go unreported.

If white supremacists hold a rally and no media show up, did it really happen?

On Sunday, a pair of dueling rallies hit the nation’s capital. There was the “Freedom of Speech Rally” at the Lincoln Memorial and the “Rally Against Political Violence” in front of the White House.

The former featured white nationalist Richard Spencer, who first coined the term alt-right and had a fascinating conversation last year with Reveal’s own Al Letson (seriously, listen to it right now, if you haven’t already). The latter was primarily filled with people like right-wing journalist Mike Cernovich and former Trump adviser Roger Stone who created their own rally in response to Spencer’s.

The fracas was framed as the alt-right (avowed white nationalists like Spencer) vs. the alt-lite (internet-savvy Trump supporters like Cernovich who represent newly vocal parts of the Republican coalition, but publicly reject open white supremacy).

Participants in the two rallies unsurprisingly expended considerable energy sniping at each other. Media outlets covered the drama with some bemusement, but the fact that the rallies were covered at all raised some hackles. The combined draw for both rallies was about 200 at most, so what’s the use of pointing cameras at Spencer whenever he starts making noise?

Will Sommer, who covered both rallies for his essential newsletter about the workings of conservative media, Right Richter, broke it down in an email to me.

Sommer argued that the media-savvy and publicity-hungry Spencer attracts more than his fair share of press coverage, which exaggerates his actual influence. But, it’s the “alt-lite” activists of the other rally who have had considerably more success inserting their ideas into the conservative mainstream. Lumping them all together exaggerates the importance of people like Spencer and muddles the ideological differences that split the movement into two competing rallies.

“Still, I certainly wouldn’t dismiss Spencer and his white nationalist allies entirely,” Sommer wrote. “They were able to get 100 or more people, including many young people, to show their faces in public and be affiliated with white nationalism and anti-Semitism (at least the ones who didn’t wear masks), and that’s worrying.”

A murder in Kansas

On Feb. 22, Adam Purinton walked into Austins Bar & Grill in Olanthe, Kansas, and got into an argument with a pair of Indian engineers, at one point asking if their “status was legal.”

Purinton left the restaurant and returned a half hour later with a handgun. He yelled, “Get out of my country,” and started shooting. When the dust cleared, one of the engineers was wounded and the other was dead.

Wired’s Lauren Smiley did a deep dive into the backstory of Srinu Kuchibhotla, the man who never made it out of that restaurant, and his wife, Nani Dumala. The story, which is a heartbreaking read, details how the national political conversation made the immigrant couple profoundly worried in the months leading up to the attack:

Nani began to worry about their safety. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was stirring up anti-­immigrant sentiment, and at dinner parties the couple and their friends discussed a steady stream of indignities against minorities. In an incident in Kentucky, a woman ranted, “Go back to wherever the fuck you come from, lady,” at a Hispanic customer in a shopping mall. Last December, someone in suburban Maryland reported that an Indian American woman (who was just taking a walk) was “suspicious”; the cops who responded asked the woman if she was legal. Nani wondered whether she could still go out in public alone, or “do I always need to be in a group?”

Srinu followed the news closely, tuning in to both CNN and Fox to analyze their wildly different takes. Though he watched Trump rail against immigrants, he was undeterred in his vision of the United States. “As long as we mind our own business and are good to each other, nothing will happen to us,” he told Nani. On the phone, she overheard him telling his anxious father that Johnson County was a safe place. Indeed, between 2012 and 2016, Olathe averaged just one homicide a year. The worst affront to the local Indian community was a rash of home burglaries targeting gold and jewelry.

Nani wanted to believe Srinu’s optimism.

When life gives you swastikas, make butterflies

Earlier this month, Whitewater, Wisconsin, resident Brienne Diebolt-Brown noticed swastikas and racial slurs spray-painted onto a local skatepark. She reached out to city officials asking to get the graffiti painted over, but was told it could take days before government employees could get to it. She decided to take matters into her own hands and apply her own coat of paint before more kids saw the hateful speech.

The Janesville Gazette reports:

Diebolt-Brown called on neighbors, friends and even a UW-Whitewater student who happened to bicycle by the park to help. They covered the swastikas and other graffiti with butterflies and smiley faces.

“We’re really happy we could cover it up with something positive so people knew that other people cared about words and how they affect other people,” said Marjorie Stoneman, who volunteers with the Whitewater Arts Alliance and helped beautify the graffiti.

Normally, the city would wipe all traces of graffiti on city-owned property. But as Whitewater Streets & Parks Superintendent Chuck Nass wrote in a statement, they decided to do something a different this time:

City staff chose to leave the pictures of the butterflies as a hopeful reminder, that we as a community would rather have butterflies then the hurtful words that were projected in the found vandalism.

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Have something to add? Contact Aaron Sankin at asankin@revealnews.org. Follow him on Twitter: @asankin.

Aaron Sankin is a reporter for Reveal covering online extremism, election administration and technology policy. Before joining Reveal, he was a founding editor of The Huffington Post's San Francisco vertical and a senior staff writer on The Daily Dot's politics team. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Salon, Time, The Motley Fool, Mashable, Business Insider, San Francisco magazine and The Onion. A San Francisco Bay Area native, Sankin studied history and sociology at Rice University. His work at The Daily Dot was a finalist in Digiday's 2015 publisher of the year award, and a story he wrote about a Midwestern family being terrorized by a teenage hacker was labeled by The Atlantic as an essential piece of journalism for 2015. Sankin is based in Seattle.