It should have been like any other morning for worshipers at the Islamic Center of America here in Dearborn, Mich. Instead, Muslims walked up to their house of worship and found a giant display installed at the front with the words “Trump” and “Make America Great Again.”
It's no secret that hate crimes rose in 2016. It's also no secret that Donald Trump's rhetoric both on the campaign trail and in office have emboldened white supremacists. Incidents like the one that happened at the Islamic Center of America seem to be happening more and more.
It doesn’t matter if President Trump wants his supporters to use his name and slogan this way. The truth is, grassroots Trump supporters are using the words “Trump” and “Make America Great Again” as a dog-whistle to let minority groups know, “We're watching; be afraid.”
Just this Saturday in Detroit, local community members gathered outside a mosque that had recently faced threats from Islamophobes. As they rallied to support the values of inclusion and religious freedom enshrined in the United States constitution, a man on the other side of the street held a blue and white flag with five simple letters on it, “Trump.”
The message was clear. One person who was at the event asked not to be identified, but he said, “I felt the same feeling as if someone were holding a confederate flag.”
The folks at the rally understood what it meant. The person holding the flag knew what it meant. So why, then, do we act like we don't know what these symbols really mean?
Even just a few days after the election, supporters of Trump were using his name as the new cudgel of white supremacy, a reminder to minorities as to who had won and who had lost. A reporter for the Middle East Eye, Ali Harb, described one such incident on his Facebook page.
The history of American oppression and hate is one that starts, often, at the grassroots. The Ku Klux Klan was an organization started by six former confederate soldiers, brooding about the newly elevated position of African Americans in society.
The Klan went on to commit one of longest streaks of terrorism in United States history by lynching thousands of persons, assassinating political leaders who supported racial equality and by creating a broad membership network that acted as a sort of anti-equality militia.
The Klan also pushed their own members to run for office and write the Jim Crow laws that would delay the real enforcement of our 13th, 14th and 15th constitutional amendments for decades. Those who opposed them often found a burning cross on their lawn, an ominous warning that, “We're watching; be afraid.”
As white supremacist groups grow once more and threats against mosques and synagogues become more common, we need to be honest about what the use of the “Trump” brand and the words “Make America Great Again” really mean. By hijacking these symbols white supremacist groups can now display their beliefs in the form of a hat or flag without the backlash that would come from a swastika or klan outfit.
It's time somebody just said it out loud: we know what you’re doing. Let's put all the cards on the table and quit beating around the bush. Likewise, President Trump himself is responsible for his brand, and if he doesn’t agree with such a use, he needs to vigorously fight against it.
There is no more feigning ignorance. People who deny Trump's name and slogan are being used to represent white supremacy are complicit in the hatred they ignore. Whether President Trump likes it or not, his supporters have turned his name into America's new burning cross.