FBI Hate Crime statistics for 2016 were released in November, showing a rise in religiously motivated hate crimes for the third straight year. The rise is particularly notable for crimes against Jews and Muslims. While the number of hate crimes against these two groups are not equal, their current rates and the latest increases may indicate that they are parallel both statistically and sociologically.
Since the FBI began tracking hate crimes, the highest rate of religiously motivated hate crimes has always been against Jews as compared to other religious groups. In 2015, 52 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes were against Jews, increasing to 54 percent in 2016. Hate crimes against Muslims are also increasing. In 2015, 22 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes were against Muslims, increasing to 25 percent in 2016.
The rates of hate crimes against Jews and Muslims have followed different patterns over the years, but they now seem to be following a similar one. As you can see in the graph below, anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked in 2001 after 9/11 and then went back down in 2002. They leveled off at rates higher than before 2001, but remained constant until 2015. Meanwhile, hate crimes against Jews have been slowly decreasing for about a decade until an increase in 2016.
What happened to cause an increase in both rates after years of decrease or stability? These past three years may have simply been qualitatively different than those preceding them, with blatant hate infiltrating the political establishment. After elected, Donald Trump appointed people to his cabinet with anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and white nationalist sympathies. First, as national security adviser, he selected retired Gen. Mike Flynn, who has described Islam as a “malignant cancer.” Then he appointed Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, a far-right media outlet, as chief strategic adviser. White nationalists publicly rejoiced at this appointment. One user of Stormfront, the oldest neo-Nazi message board on the web, said: “Stephen Bannon: racist, anti-homo, anti-immigrant, anti-jewish, anti-establishment…Sounds perfect…Being anti-jewish is not illegal. Nothing you dirty stinking jews can do to keep him out.” Additionally, the President has repeatedly made hateful remarks, even sharing anti-Muslim propaganda videos on Twitter.
Unsurprisingly, the upswing in hate crimes against Muslims that started in 2015 continued its increase through 2016, joined by an uptick in hate crimes against Jews. Whether they will continue to increase is, of course, unknown, but one can only assume they will if this type of language and behavior continues.
However, it is important to put these trends into context, and to do so, another statistical factor may be important to consider – population. According to the Pew Research Center, Jews make up about 2 percent of the population, whereas Muslims make up about 1 percent. Despite the fact that together they account for only 3 percent of the population, hate crimes against Jews and Muslims account for 79 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes. While Jews and Muslims are the biggest minority religious groups in America, and minority worldviews usually bear the brunt of hatred, these numbers are shocking.
Still, perhaps population does have an effect on the overall conclusions we draw about hate crimes and the groups most affected. There are many reasons that the rate of anti-Jewish hate crimes is double the rate of anti-Muslim hate crimes – but one reason could be about the number of people in each of these groups. Meaning, if the populations were equivalent, perhaps the rate of hate crimes against each of these groups would be nearly the same.
The fact that hate crimes against Jews and Muslims are proportional to their relative populations, and the fact that they have both begun to increase at about the same time, suggests that they are now linked at their core. A populist ideology that buoyed the current presidential administration into office may be the common cause. As the Southern Poverty Law Center puts it, the recent populism “pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are depicted as depriving the sovereign people…The ‘dangerous others,’ meanwhile, are immigrants, Muslims, black people, Jews and virtually every other minority.”
Perhaps the simultaneous increase in hate crimes against Jews and Muslims suggests a hateful equating of Jews and Muslims, both in their own ways, as “elites and dangerous others.” Both Jews and Muslims are at times blamed by certain people for what some see as the crumbling of American society – joblessness, violence, rising inequality, etc. Even while they may not always be maligned for the same things, these groups have been equated as “the other” and the recent increase in hate crimes against them is evidence that an ideology that leads to hatred of one religious group can lead to hatred of another.
However, these two groups have also become connected in other ways. As ethnic and religiously motivated hate crimes have frequented national headline news, Jews and Muslims have found common cause in fighting these crimes. Jews and Muslims protested the first immigration ban together, Muslims helped fix vandalized Jewish cemeteries, Jews helped fix a vandalized Mosque, and Jewish and Muslim organizations came together to start the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council. A small ray of light, Jews and Muslims have united to fight the common enemy of American hate crimes. One can hope that this unity continues, and the togetherness leads to a significant and sustained hate crimes decrease.
Read Rachel Schwartz’s article Are Hate Crimes Increasing in America? which reflects on FBI Hate Crime data from 2015.