‘I would never say most of Trump’s voters are bigots’

SPLC president speaks on hate and extremism in America.

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, discussed hate and extremism in America at the July 26 Summer Institute Speaker Series lecture at the Hebrew Center. — Sophia McCarron

Updated 2:40 pm

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, raised himself above calling Trump voters a basket of deplorables.

“I would never say most of Trump’s voters are bigots,” said Cohen to a packed audience at the Hebrew Center. Cohen was speaking on hate and extremism in America as part of the Summer Institute Speaker Series. He tempered his remarks by saying that rather, Trump’s rhetoric has been making it OK for hate groups to come into the public eye.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has been monitoring hate crimes in the U.S. since Trump’s election. “In 10 days we had 1,000 [cases],” Cohen said. Many of the crimes, he recounted, were made in Trump’s name.

There has been public outcry against the surge of hate crimes. However, Americans need to remain realistic. “Because of our blessings, there is a naiveté to our collective conscious,” said Cohen. “We think we are immune to the dark periods of our history.” He warned that the national narrative that progress is inevitable — our “manifest destiny,” as he termed it — is false. As a nation, we can regress to social climates where racism is acceptable.

The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded in 1971. Its work centers in the Deep South, with the motto “Fighting hate, teaching tolerance, seeking justice.” It monitors hate groups and takes them to court. From their observations, Cohen said, typically white supremacists don’t support either party; however, “Mr. Trump played footsie with them.”

This public acceptance of white supremacy and hate is especially damaging to American society. “America has never had an easy time curbing our ethnocentric tendencies,” said Cohen. It is easy to rely on the idealistic narrative that America is a nation of immigrants. However, Cohen cited historical examples of the type of welcome Klan members gave Polish immigrants in the 1920s.

More recently, however, the law center has been tracking a 20-year trend of growing hate groups, which Cohen argued has been spurred by changing demographics and a fear of being replaced. This racial anxiety was a key factor in Trump’s victory; there was also a ‘white-lash’ against eight years of a black president. In the later years of the Obama presidency, it started to not be worth it to expose yourself as a white supremacist, and most of these groups retreated from the public eye to the web. The counts of public hate groups shrunk. Cohen argued, “It may be all too predictable that Trump followed Obama.”

He also cautioned against considering racism an exclusive problem of the U.S. The U.K.’s Brexit, and political situations in Hungary, Italy, and Poland, to name a few, show that this is an endemic issue. Cohen cited a speech made by a former senior advisor to Trump, Steve Bannon, in France where he said, “Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor.” The speech was made to a party congress of the French far right National Front party.

Cohen didn’t end on a happy note, either. “I don’t have a lot of feel-good stuff to leave you with. I’m worried. We’re in for some tough times,” he said. Even though Trump will eventually be out of office, Trumpism will stick around long after the man is gone, he noted. When asked after the talk what the public can do to fight the hate speech that is characteristic of Trumpism, Cohen resorted to advice that can be quoted from almost any liberal speech: Vote, get out of your bubble, and talk to your neighbors.

Updated with more details from Cohen’s speech. -Ed.


  1. Mr. Cohen may not say that Trump voters are bigots, but I would. That’s because most Trump voters are bigots.

  2. Any speech that disagrees with the liberal elite is now considered hate speech. It is such an easy moniker to attach to someone. The SPLC calls the Family Research Council an organization of hate just because the FRC doesnt agree that BLTs have any special rights beyond anyone else.

    • If a person says they oppose bigotry but votes for a known bigot for public office, they indicate they are more than willing to back a bigot in public office. If you now post a list of Dem candidates who are bigots, I’ll observe you are defending bigotry. It’s an easy moniker to attach to someone when they practically beg to be recognized as such.

      • Statement one is tautological. The rest of the post proceeds from unestablished premises. You really didn’t get that non sequitur thingy, did you?

        • Statement one is a common way dishonesty manifests. By arguing this particular statement was tautological, you have placed youself firmly in the camp of those supporting bigotry.

    • Hey Andrew, tell us more about ‘BLTs’ and how they deserve NO rights at all, because that is the FRC’s position.


      • Aron. BLT’s have all the same rights everyone else have and no special rights. I have no special rights for being left handed or a eunuch. I have the same rights everyone else has. Never said NO rights. Read my post carefully. all the same rights everyone else has.

        • Andrew– blt’s have all the same rights as you ?
          Like going into the bathroom of the gender you are ?
          like marrying the person you love ?
          like serving in the military if you choose ?
          It’s only through hard work and “activist judges” that blt’s have any rights at all, and most trump supporters would be happy to beat them up on sight. And just to throw in my opinion, most trump supporters are racist, violent, ignorant, anti-constitutional morons , and a few them are good people I suppose.

    • Andrew– you are wrong again– There are plenty of things people say that the liberal elite disagree with that is not hate speech. But when the “alt right” uses “alt facts” to get people to kill gay people, people of color and people of certain religions or certain cultures, that is hate speech– when the president of the united states says that people seeking asylum are “animals” that is hate speech, and I will call it racist bs every time..

  3. Smooth talker, Cohen – ostensibly saying one thing, but constructively quite the opposite. So transparent.

  4. Most of Trump’s voters are bigots. You can’t vote for a bigot and support bigoted policies and claim to not be a bigot.I would put the number of bigots in this country at well over 32 million.How many white people are in this country? I would say at least 40-50% hold bigoted white supremacist views. Many are unable to see or recognize their own bigotry but, it is quite surely there.

    • You folks dont know the definition of the word in order to throw it out so easily. Disagreement is not bigotry. Bigotry is a prejudice against someone or something on its face regardless of any action by that person or group. It is not bigotry to be intolerant of a murderer or rapist. Is it bigotry to label israel as persecutor of Palestinians. I think it is. Having opposing views is not bigotry. Condemning an entire group of people regardless of what they do is a prejudice or a bigotry. Condemning certain people due to their actions is not. Condemning all conservatives is bigotry. White supremacists who hate other ethnic groups are bigots . Problem is some of you posters lump everyone you dont agree with into one category and call them bigots. Its laziness on your part to not think the issue through. It is not bigotry to want secure borders. It is not bigotry to dislike sanctuary cities. It is not bigotry to prefer heterosexual marriage over homosexual marriage. It is not bigotry to prefer conservative policies over liberal ones.

      • Inasmuch as the snowflakes have now labeled so many millions of Americans as bigots, I think it is safe to say that for practical purposes the word has lost it’s meaning or at the least it’s impact.

      • The gay marriage “debate” is the perfect example of the bigotry of many in this country and their failure to recognize it in themselves. It is not a debate about preference. It is a debate about equal rights and equal status within society.If you believe in equal rights for all you can’t be against gay marriage. Separate but equal is bigoted. If you support a government policy that punishes children of people for the act of asking for asylum (not a crime) you are a bigot.

        • Islanduh what you spew is nonsense. You also are confused. One can support gay marriage laws which are the law of the land and still be against gay marriage. I am against abortion but support the law as it stands. What dont you get? I support people asking for asylum and support getting that asylum if they meet the standards of the law for asylum. Sarah Sanders has a right to go to the RED HEN for dinner but was asked to leave. Can you square that? Gays have equal status in our society with heterosexuals and should be treated equally. Doesnt mean I have to support gay marriage. I cant do anything to stop it and wouldnt do anything to stop it. It would be against the law. Get a grip.

          • Sarah Sanders has no RIGHT to attend a private entity. She has the PRIVELEGE.

            Your statements of not opposing the law of the land do not square with your support of bigoted hate groups.

          • Refresh our memories. What was your opinion/belief regarding the baker who refused to do the cake for a gay couple?

      • I read the GOP’s platform for the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections, both supported white supremacy. The writers did not use double-speak, it was flat-out stated. How should I label people who voted GOP in those elections? “Too lazy to read” is not offered as a choice.

      • Andrew has a point:
        Definition of bigot. : a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (such as a racial, voting group, or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.
        As Yoda says:
        “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” May the force be with you!

        Your fear is leading you to the dark side, not Trump.

  5. Considering that the president has a Jewish Son-in-law, has backed Israel to the fullest extent, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy there, I say Mr Cohen is pushing a losing, liberal agenda. Racial relations weren’t doing so well under the past administration.

    • ‘Some of my best friends are black!’

      That gambit does not work.

      And why is he so close to so many people who hate Jews? To say nothing of his well-documented dislike of just about every other ethnicity.

      (Oh, and the reason race relations were deteriorating under President Obama was entirely your side’s fault. Remember the ‘Tea Party?’)

      • Aron you need a civics class brush up. Under equal protection laws and the 1964 civil rights act, a restaurant can not discriminate or refuse service. It is not a privilege but a right to go to a commercial establishment serving food.

        • There you are Andrew. Wrong again. If you go in to an establishment yelling racial slurs they can most assuredly kick you out or refuse service. If you walk into a restaurant while black/gay/jewish you can not be turned away. You can be turned away for what you do, not who you are.

          • Islanduh –Just to play devils advocate here, one could make a case that IF someone who is a mentally ill socio-pathological liar, who is just following orders from her boss who has dementia, and is not only a mentally ill pathological liar but, also has a messiah complex with megalomaniacal delusions should not be kicked out of a restaurant, because these are all legitimate illnesses. No civilized person would make fun of a handicapped person or ask them to leave a restaurant.

          • Aha Islanduh. Weasel out of logic by inserting ”yelling racial slurs”. Of course that is so but that never happened so why are you adding it to the narrative. Everyone has a right to enter a restaurant and get served. If you want to add all these caveats fine, but that is not what we were talking about. Sanders didnt do anything to get kicked out of the Red Hen.

          • All right. David Duke (boy I hope we can all agree he’s racist) has no “right” to eat anywhere he wants. Just like Ms. Sanders. If Mr. Duke walks in and the owner says get out, that’s it. He’s out. Why? Because of what he does,not how he was born. Got it now? There is no right for everyone to eat anywhere. You can’t discriminate against people for how they were born. You can for their actions.

        • It’s true that the deplorable Ms Sanders should not have been asked to leave a restaurant. It wasn’t right. But oh for the good old days when someone in the kitchen simply spit in the food being served to horrible people.

          • The waitperson was firmly against serving Ms Sanders’ party.

            As a guide for managers how to handle, say to the waitperson “I got this” and tell their assistant they are running the place.

            The manager serves Ms Sander’s table. If the staff is anything like those I’ve had, they will back the manager fully. Once Ms Sanders has gone, respect for the manager will increase because they know she/he will do the job.

    • Jared’s family finances are dirtier than Trump’s. As for Trump’s foreign policy, except for his personal business with China and Russia, it’s just distractions.

  6. There is a black republican running for the senate in Michigan. He supports Trump. Is he also a bigot?

    • ‘My best friend is black.’

      Nope. Doesn’t work.

      Bigotry is not limited to any one particular ethnicity.

      But keep trying!

        • I’ve found bigots are far more likely to spend time looking for hard rules on what is and is not bigoted. I’ll check back to see if you’ve dug your hole any deeper.

      • Really, Aron – the old straw man fallacy? Puerile, Dude – get back to us after you have evolved to Lairon.

    • Hanley– your question about a black person supporting trump shows just how ignorant you are about what bigotry is..

    • Hanley — I would never say most of Clinton’s voters are snowflakes either— we agree again… Nice

      • Yeah, millions of people voted for Clinton because they figured she would get them lots of free stuff – they’re not the stupid ones.

  7. When reading Mr Cohen’s words as reported here, I find actions are louder than words. President Trump has uplifted the country as a whole with more employment and supporting Israel. He is accomplished one the world stage with the use of tariffs to protect American jobs. We now have better law enforcement and the laws that are enforced are ALL of them, not just the few picked as you would from an A La Carte menu as was the custom in the past. The President is doing a fine job and Mr Cohen’s words ring hollow. The world would be a better place if Mr Cohen went back to his ivory tower and resumed his career of persuing genuine hate groups. Yes, I’m deplorable and proud of it.

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