Hate speech spikes in wake of Trump victory


Civil rights groups have reported a surge in hate speech incidents across the US since the presidential election on 8th November, after a campaign marked by the xenophobic and divisive rhetoric of President-Elect Donald Trump. Particularly controversial was Mr. Trump's campaign promise that he would create a compulsory registration system for Muslim immigrants entering the US. In the aftermath of his election, scores of swastikas have been spray-painted on schools, houses of worship and private residences, along with messages like 'Go home' along with references to Donald Trump.

President-Elect Trump himself has been widely criticised for an alleged lack of commitment to freedom of expression. After reports of US flag burning on college campuses, on 29th November Mr. Trump tweeted that flag-burners should face “perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”. According to a 1989 Supreme Court ruling (Texas v. Johnson), an individual's right to burn the flag is protected under the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Journalists and media outlets have also felt threatened by Mr. Trump's strident criticism and the harassment from his supporters during the election campaign. As a victorious Mr. Trump blamed the media for the protests against him, CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour warned that journalism will face an "existential crisis" during the Trump era:

"I never in a million years thought I would be up here on stage appealing for the freedom and safety of American journalists at home. [...] I was chilled when the first [Trump] tweet after the election was about 'professional protesters incited by the media.' [...] As all the international journalists we honor in this room tonight and every year know only too well: First the media is accused of inciting, then sympathizing, then associating -- until they suddenly find themselves accused of being full-fledged terrorists and subversives. Then they end up in handcuffs, in cages, in kangaroo courts, in prison -- and then who knows?"

President-elect Trump, however, appeard to extend an olive branch to the media when visiting The New York Times headquarters on 22nd November.

In separate developments, recent arrests of journalists at Standing Rock have raised concerns over the protection of the freedom of expression. Media outlet Unicorn Riot recorded three arrests of their reporters in North Dakota and twice while covering Dakota Access pipeline protests in Iowa. At least seven journalists have been arrested while covering the clashes in North Dakota, and at least one was injured by police or security forces. On 20th November, Denver-based journalist Pat Boyle reported that he had been hit by a rubber bullet in the abdomen.


The divisive rhetoric of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the increase in hate speech and personal attacks on Muslims, women, members of the LGBTQ community and people of color in the aftermath of the election has created fear among marginalised groups and the organisations that serve or defend them. As a result, there have been an unprecedented number of donations and registrations to civil society organisations following the election. Planned Parenthood for instance has received over 250,000 donations since 8th November, and the American Civil Liberties Union noted a 7,000% increase in donations, amounting to “roughly 120,000 donations totaling more than $7.2 million.”

Peaceful Assembly

Protests against the $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, which have lasted for the best part of a year, resulted in hundreds of arrests in November. The United Nations’ Permanent forum on Indigenous Rights is now investigating allegations of human rights abuses by North Dakota law enforcement against Native American protesters. Leaders have testified about “acts of war” they observed during mass arrests. According to numerous reports, police have aggressively responded to activists’ demonstrations with pepper spray, riot gear and army tanks.

Tara Houska, national campaigns director for the Native environmental group Honor the Earth, and Thane Maxwell, an organizer with Honor the Earth, have described the abuses as follows:

"Elders and children have been bitten by DAPL private security attack dogs, pepper-sprayed, shot with rubber bullets, and beaten by police. Often elders are in ceremonial dress and actively praying when arrested—drumming, singing, burning sage. One member of the International Indigenous Youth Council suffered a broken wrist from a strike with a police baton, and just a few days later an officer saw the cast and intentionally twisted her wrist to reinjure her."

On 26th November the Army Corps of Engineers made the decision to close access to the Standing Rock campsites, allegedly to “protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protesters and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area.”

While the majority of nationwide protests against the presidential election results remained peaceful, riots did break out in Portland, Oregon, on 10th November. Police arrested 29 people while contending with what they described as an “aggressive” crowd of about 4,000 protesters. There were also widespread reports of vandalism, fires and broken windows. Portland's Independent Police Review has since pledged to investigate claims of rough arrests.