The Ku Klux Klan is using Donald Trump as a talking point in its outreach efforts. Stormfront, the most prominent American white supremacist website, is upgrading its servers in part to cope with a Trump traffic spike. And former Louisiana Rep. David Duke reports that the businessman has given more Americans cover to speak out loud about white nationalism than at any time since his own political campaigns in the 1990s.
As hate group monitors at the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League warn that Trump’s rhetoric is conducive to anti-Muslim violence, white nationalist leaders are capitalizing on his candidacy to invigorate and expand their movement.
“Demoralization has been the biggest enemy and Trump is changing all that,” said Stormfront founder Don Black, who reports additional listeners and call volume to his phone-in radio show, in addition to the site’s traffic bump. Black predicts that the white nationalist forces set in motion by Trump will be a legacy that outlives the businessman’s political career.
“He’s certainly creating a movement that will continue independently of him even if he does fold at some point.”
Trump does not belong to or endorse white supremacist groups. He has said that he does not need or want Duke’s endorsement and his campaign has fired two staffers over racist posts on social media. A man displaying a Confederate flag was ejected from a Trump rally in Virginia earlier this month.
But its leaders consistently say that Trump's rhetoric about minority groups has successfully tapped into simmering racial resentments long ignored by mainstream politicians and that he has brought more attention to their agenda than any American political figure in years. It is a development many of them see as a golden opportunity.
Meanwhile, analysts from the two leading organizations that track violence against minority groups say Trump is energizing hate groups and creating an atmosphere likely to lead to more violence against American Muslims.
According to experts at the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center who monitor hate groups and anti-Muslim sentiment, Trump’s call on Monday to halt the entrance of Muslims to the United States is driving online chatter among white supremacists and is likely to inspire violence against Muslims.
“When well-known public figures make these kind of statements in the public square, they are taken as a permission-giving by criminal elements who go out and act on their words.” said Mark Potok of the SPLC. “Is it energizing the groups? Yeah. They’re thrilled.”
Marilyn Mayo, co-director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, said Trump’s proposal this week to halt the entrance of Muslims into the United States is only the latest statement to inject vigor into the racist fringe of American politics. “Since the beginning of Donald Trump’s candidacy, we’ve definitely seen that a segment of the white supremacist movement, from racist intellectuals to neo-Nazis have been energized,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
His rhetoric on minority groups has been condemned as racist by political observers on both the left and right and by the protesters who regularly interrupt his rallies. In his announcement speech in June, Trump said of undocumented Mexican immigrants, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” After terror attacks killed 130 in Paris last month, he entertained the creation of a national database of all Muslims. On Monday, after Muslim extremists shot 14 dead in California earlier this month, Trump called for a halt on the entrance of Muslims into the United States.
The white racist fringe of American politics is a fragmented one, where attitudes toward Trump range from full-fledged embrace to cautious optimism to skepticism.
Black of Stormfront said Trump's rhetoric has been a boon to white nationalists. “He has sparked an insurgency and I don’t think it’s going to go away,” he told POLITICO of Trump.
Black, who said his site receives a million unique visitors a month, said Trump has helped drive a steady increase in traffic in recent months – including 30-40 percent spikes when the businessman makes news on immigration or Muslims – that is compelling him to upgrade his servers.
Rachel Pendergraft, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas-based Knights Party, which considers itself the national standard-bearer for the KKK, said the group encourages its members to engage with their communities through apolitical volunteer work and, at the right moment, steer conversation toward race and “white genocide.”
Trump, she said, has offered KKK members a prime opportunity to feel out potential recruits on their racial attitudes. “Right now he is a major talking point. He is in the news a lot.”
Duke, a former grand wizard of the KKK and perhaps the most notorious racist intellectual in the United States, said Trump, a successful businessman and the subject of nonstop media coverage, has given Americans license to more openly voice their racial animus.
“He’s made it ok to talk about these incredible concerns of European Americans today, because I think European Americans know they are the only group that can’t defend their own essential interests and their point of view,” Duke said. “He’s meant a lot for the human rights of European Americans.”
Even those white supremacists who remain unconvinced that Trump is one of them welcome his entrance to the political arena. “As long as he’s causing chaos and havoc with the citizens, he’s fine with me,” said former KKK leader Tom Metzger, founder of the racial separatist group White Aryan Resistance. “I love it.”
But like other white nationalist leaders, Metzger – who served jail time for unlawful assembly for taking part in a cross burning in California – said he was skeptical that Trump would actually follow through on many of the proposals that appeal to them most. That includes the businessman’s latest call to halt the entrance of Muslims into the country. “It’s going to get people excited and it could get out of hand … He’d have to employ the military to do it, and I don’t think they’re going to do that.”
Brad Griffin, publisher of the white nationalist blog Occidental Dissent, is among Trump’s skeptics. “Do we honestly believe that he’s going to block all the Muslims and deport all the illegals?” he said. “I think he’s doing a lot of this just to signal to people that he’s on their side.”
Griffin said that he was most enthusiastic about Trump’s candidacy this summer, but that his fervor has cooled since seeing details of the businessman’s tax and trade policies, which hew more closely to mainstream Republican positions than he had hoped.
Griffin said his white nationalist circles remain divided.
“There are people who are really excited about Trump and are true believers and there are people who believe Trump is just a politician. He’s brought attention to a lot of our issues, but those were our issues 20 years ago.”