WASHINGTON - U.S. hate crime incidents increased 2.7% last year, rising to their highest level in more than a decade, the FBI says in a new report.
There were 7,314 hate crime incidents last year, up from 7,120 in 2018 — the highest number since 2008, according to the report released on Monday.
Despite a slight decline in 2018, hate crimes surged nearly 21% during the first three years of President Donald Trump’s administration, a period marked by the rise of an increasingly violent far-right movement.
While Trump has denounced white supremacists, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism notes that hate crimes have spiked against groups vilified by the president. Anti-Latino hate crime, for example, rose 53% during Trump’s first three years in office to its highest level in a decade, FBI data show.
"The latest rise in hate crime signals a new brutal landscape, where targeted attacks against rotating victim groups not only result in spikes, but increases are also being driven by a more widely dispersed rise in the most violent offenses,” said Brian Levin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.
The FBI defines hate crimes as criminal acts motivated by race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender and gender identity.
The annual hate crime report is based on voluntary submissions by enforcement agencies. This has led the FBI to consistently undercount hate crime, civil rights activists say.
“This underreported FBI data only reflects a slice of the lived experiences of Sikhs and other minorities throughout the United States, but it still paints a damning picture,” said Nikki Singh, Sikh Coalition policy and advocacy manager, in a statement, noting a decline in anti-Sikh incidents.
Although most hate crimes are non-violent, the latest FBI report showed an increase in violent offenses such as assault and murder.
Hate-motivated homicides more than doubled to a record 51, driven by attacks carried out by white supremacists, including an August 2019 massacre at an El Paso supermarket which left 23 people dead.
Last year marked the third consecutive increase in hate-motivated homicides. According to data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, homicides committed by white supremacists and other far-right extremists also rose for the third straight year last year.
“These racist killers dominated the overall category of “extremist motivated” homicides with a total higher than that of all extremist killings combined for 2018,” the center said in a report.
The number of hate-driven aggravated assaults rose for the sixth consecutive year to its highest level since 2001, according to the FBI report. There were 866 aggravated assaults last year, up from 818 the previous year.
As in previous years, race was the primary driver, followed by religion and sexual orientation. Of the 8,552 victims last year, 58% were targeted because of their race and ethnicity, 21% because of their religion and 17% due to their sexual orientation.
“Each of these incidents represents the targeting of an individual or community for violence or vandalism because of their identity or personal characteristics,” said Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal advocacy group.
Anti-Semitic hate crimes jumped 14% to 953, the highest level since 2008. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, “2019 was one of only two years in the last decade with over 900 anti-Semitic hate crimes.”
In January, Attorney General William Bar said he was “extremely distressed” by the spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes.
The FBI report said anti-Latino hate crime increased nearly 9% to 527 in 2019, the highest total since 2010, while anti-Arab attacks surged 16% to 95.
Meanwhile, anti-Muslim hate crime fell for the third straight year last year, from 188 to 176, after peaking at 308 in 2016.