Towson attack — isolated case or pattern of hate?

It should not be difficult to be aghast by the recent attack on two Towson University students that appears to have been motivated by nothing more than the fact they were Jewish. It doesn’t take a sociology major to recognize a hate crime: Their alleged assailants, also Towson students, reportedly yelled “F- the Jews” as well as an anti-Semitic slur and punched at least one in the face outside off-campus housing where members of the Jewish fraternity live. It was shortly after 2 a.m. on Sunday, and the attackers appeared to have been intoxicated, according to the police report.

The whole thing may well have been an isolated incident. Towson University is home to more than 22,000 students, so there are bound to be bad seeds, or at least foolish ones, among them. The school has relatively few such episodes, a 2016 campus security report having detailed just three bias-related crimes on campus the previous two years. But then Towson was also home to its own little corner of the white nationalist movement in the form of the White Student Union, an organization never recognized by the school but nonetheless listed as a hate group by both the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League. It is not too much of a leap to worry that the influence of Matthew Heimbach, the union’s founder, lives on.

Certainly, this is not a problem unique to Towson or to higher education. Hate groups are on the rise. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates they’ve grown 20 percent since 2014 with chapters in every state of the country. The fastest growing of all? Neo-Nazis, according to the SPLC report, which detailed 99 such groups in 2016 and 121 by 2017. The ADL estimates anti-Semitic hate crimes rose nearly 60 percent last year to the second highest level since 1979. In Maryland, the murder of an African-American Bowie State University student at the University of Maryland College Park one year ago by a 22-year-old white Severna Park student with social media ties to the contemptible Alt-Reich: Nation provided ample demonstration of the seriousness of the hate group threat.

And it’s also no stretch to question whether President Donald Trump and his brazen appeals to white nationalism aren’t doing wonders for hate group recruitment and emboldening their members’ behavior. And please, Trump defenders, don’t even start with your excuses. As recently as last Saturday, Mr. Trump was addressing a rally in Washington, Mich., when he boldly asked, “Are there any Hispanics in the room?” The loyalist crowd, sensing a cue, booed loudly. The president’s response? Well, it wasn’t to chide them for booing Hispanics. Here’s what he said verbatim: “Not so many? That's OK ... and in fairness, Kanye West gets it!” Another day, just another attack on all Spanish-speaking people while blithely describing them as ingrates.

Must we list all the others? President Trump’s obsession with dark-skinned immigrants (seen one, seen an MS-13 member, is the president’s philosophy in a nutshell) is well known by now. His willingness to excuse the behavior of white supremacists in Charlottesville last August (“very fine people”) was a watershed moment in his presidency. At various times, he’s suggested Haitians all have AIDS, Mexicans are rapists, Barack Obama was a Muslim born outside the country, inner cities are all hellscapes and Africa is full of “s---hole” countries. The list goes on and on. The current occupant of the White House is the best recruiter hate groups have had since, well, forever. His callous attacks on the caravan of Central American immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. — which is perfectly legal for those who can prove persecution — have been despicable.

Towson University appears to be taking the recent attack seriously. A spokesman says it’s under investigation, and the students, whether they are charged by police in the incident or not, may potentially face expulsion or suspension as part of an internal disciplinary process. That’s appropriate as was the statement issued Tuesday by Towson President Kim Schatzel condemning the behavior and describing hateful conduct as “inexcusable” and offering support and counseling. But there is also a need for a broader campus dialogue about hate crimes and perhaps a more active demonstration that Towson values diversity and inclusiveness. Considering what happened in College Park, where authorities have also found swastikas scrawled on campus buildings and a noose in a fraternity house, that would seem prudent. It’s not just a school’s reputation but the physical safety of its students at stake.

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