One year after white supremacists attempted an insurrection of the U.S. Capitol to prevent the verification of the 2020 presidential election results, violence caused by systemic white supremacy is still a threat to vulnerable communities. Though terrorist attacks in general are on the decline, the past year saw violent political rhetoric during conservative rallies, Asian Americans suffering from hate crimes spurred by COVID-19, and violent threats by anti-vaxxers against school officials over vaccine mandates and COVID-19 protocols. In 2020 alone, the FBI saw the highest number of reported hate crimes in 12 years. To prevent white supremacist attacks and targeted mass violence, advocates say the country must first address the root causes of racism and issues of inequity in society.
Yasmin Cader, the American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director, says to fight racial injustice and systemic racism, the ACLU has a “systemic equality agenda” that aims to put a stop to the white nationalist movement in the U.S. The agenda was sparked by the 2020 racial reckoning after George Floyd was killed by a police officer, and launched after the Jan. 6 insurrection. The agenda includes four pillars: reconciling the past by calling for reparations, extending empowerment by bringing down barriers to full participation in the democratic process, building prosperity by combating the gaps in wealth between Black and white households, and increasing access to necessities such as high-speed internet and fair housing.
“In order to dismantle white supremacy and get rid of structural racism, it’s so important to have an understanding about how we got here,” Cader said. “If we don’t protect democracy at every level, from education to voting protection to the general protections against unconstitutional redistricting, if we’re not focused on protecting these pillars of democracy, then we are putting our system at risk and that risk can range from violent insurrection to the dismantling of democracy in state houses by lawmakers.”
On his third day in office, just weeks after the attack, President Joe Biden ordered the director of national intelligence to conduct an assessment of the threat from domestic terrorism. By mid-June, his administration published a 32-page plan to combat domestic terrorism, a shift after decades of focus on foreign terrorism while ignoring the country’s growing threat of far-right extremists. The report explicitly cites racism as the main underlying factor to white supremacy.
“[Addressing the sources of the mobilization to violence] means tackling racism in America,” the report reads. “It means protecting Americans from gun violence and mass murders. It means ensuring that we provide early intervention and appropriate care for those who pose a danger to themselves or others. It means ensuring that Americans receive the type of civics education that promotes tolerance and respect for all and investing in policies and programs that foster civic engagement and inspire a shared commitment to American democracy, all the while acknowledging when racism and bigotry have meant that the country fell short of living up to its founding principles.”
The national brief may call for tolerant and equitable civics education, but eight states have banned teaching of how racial injustice is deeply embedded in U.S. history—including the racist and discriminatory roots of the country’s foundation and development—from the classroom in the past year, with more than a dozen more facing potential bans. The objective history curriculum has been intentionally mislabeled “critical race theory” by conservatives who have been protesting it all year in favor of the textbooks that gloss over the country’s history and present of racism. According to Cader and many other racial justice advocates, these bans are a war on history, and fighting these bans is critical to targeting root causes of white supremacy, especially in the regions of the U.S. where the number of hate groups is high. Of the 10 U.S. states with the most hate groups, seven of them have banned or are in the progress of banning critical race theory.
“These are laws that are seeking to erase our history,” Cader said. “There is an attempt to restrict discussions of history in the classroom and censor anything that gives rise to uncomfortable feelings about the reality and context of racism. So these laws potentially erase our history of slavery, our history of lynchings, and our history of voting suppression. They are [saying] that racism [is] being taught as simply a product of prejudice and not part of a system that is structural in nature.”
In addition to teaching accurate history in schools, racial justice advocates say investments in policing need to be shifted to communities instead. In 2019, the U.S. spent $205 billion on law enforcement, $123 billion on policing, and $82 billion on corrections. Last year, a coalition of Black mayors with the African American Mayors Association created the PEACE Pact, a plan that would provide concrete steps to encourage cities to transition to community-centered policing by increasing transparency, reevaluating police policies, advocating for federal policy changes, and creating city budgets that reflect community values. By providing a community-centered public safety approach, Black people, who are 3.23 times more likely to be killed by police and five times more likely to be stopped by a police without just cause, would be more likely to live without fear and intimidation and less likely to be excluded from democratic participation in society by having their voting rights revoked after incarceration.
“We need to rethink our public safety and public order systems,” Cader said. “Right now we spend a mere fraction of that on community-based violence prevention or community-based programs that are meaningful, true investments in people. That is essential to ensuring fair and equitable democratic participation.”
Congress has introduced the national commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack, and as of Dec. 14 737 people had been charged with participating in the insurrection, but white supremacy and hate crimes will continue if they are not dismantled at the foundational level.
“These things often go hand-in-hand, they are inconsistent and contrary to concepts and principles of democracy,” Cader said. “They are an assault on our democratic process.”