On the first day of November, a Milwaukee man was the victim of a racist verbal and physical attack in which acid was thrown directly on his face and neck in Lincoln Village, a neighborhood on Milwaukee’s south side. A suspect has been arrested, but the city is still reeling from the violent attack.  Unfortunately, this is not the only public display of hate in Milwaukee this year. At the beginning of August, stickers featuring support for white supremacy were found in downtown Milwaukee. The stickers had sayings like “Reject White Guilt” and “IMPORT the third world BECOME the third world,” and were found on or near frequently visited buildings.  These stickers came from an anonymously run group called the Hundred Handers, which is a new alt-right white supremacist group that primarily operates online. Hundred Handers sends out stickers to its “Hands,” i.e., its members, who then post them in public spaces. In this case, the stickers were immediately removed after being found; however, they are a powerful reminder that racism and white supremacy is alive and well – and is on the rise.
Though racism, white supremacy, and white nationalism can appear similar, each term has a unique definition and using the terms interchangeably can actually normalize abominable behavior and ideology. While the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines racism as “the belief that race is the primary determent of human traits … and that racial difference produces an inherent superiority of a particular race,” it defines white supremacy as “a belief that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines white nationalism as “a group of militant whites espouse white supremacy and advocate enforced racial segregation.”  Though the terms appear to be similar, or at least each term seems to employ similar belief systems, each must be seen and fought on their own terms.
In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center released their annual report on hate groups. Their study showed a 30 percent increase in hate groups across the country following the campaign and subsequent election of Donald Trump.  Moreover, a separate study was conducted to analyze the effect of Trump’s rhetoric in regard to the rise in hate crimes, and the conclusions were as expected – Trump’s campaign and election could have had an influence on the increase in hate crimes across the United States.  In addition, it was reported by The Washington Post that counties that hosted political rallies headlined by Trump saw a 226 percent increase in reported hate crimes. . This phenomenon was later deemed the “Trump Effect” by certain members of the media. 
The trend of increased reports of hate crimes since the election of Donald Trump has not missed Wisconsin. In 2017, religiously motivated hate crimes more than doubled in Wisconsin ; hate crimes motivated by religious bigotry made up 37 percent of all hate crimes and hate crimes against a racial group made up 33 percent. In addition, a 21 percent increase of anti-Semitic incidents were recorded by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation in 2017.  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Wisconsin currently has over a dozen hate groups operating statewide, with over half identifying as neo-Nazi or white nationalist groups .
An alarming example of white supremacist activity in Wisconsin happened at Baraboo High School in December of 2018. An image posted from an anonymous Twitter account showed nearly three dozen Baraboo High School students and alumni doing a Nazi salute in a pre-prom photo. Additionally, a student in the front of the picture was making an OK sign with his forefinger and thumb, which is a relatively new hand gesture used by some white nationalists. Although students in the photo stated that the Nazi salute was not intentional, one student at the photo shoot (who did not participate) came forward stating otherwise. The students in the photo were not punished, and the school district explained the lack of discipline by citing the students’ First Amendment right to “freedom of speech.”  The image quickly went viral on social media, prompting news outlets, activists, politicians, and even celebrities to weigh in on racism in America, and more specifically, Wisconsin.
The recent acid attack in Milwaukee is another example of the rise in racism, white supremacy and hate crimes in Wisconsin. Mahud Villalaz was allegedly attacked by a white man after being told that he “came to invade” and to “go back to [his] country.”  Community leaders in Milwaukee were quick to denounce the attack. However, Darryl Morin, president of the advocacy group Forward Latino, says that this attack falls in line with patterns seen nationwide. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Bartlett pointed to President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric as a contributing factor in the rise in hatred and hate crimes, though he noted that he was not drawing a direct causal link between the acid attack and the president’s rhetoric.  Charges have yet to be filed against the man arrested in connection with the attack.
The persistence and escalation of white nationalist attacks, visibility, and bigotry in the United States shows that we must firmly reject hate, bigotry, and xenophobia in our communities. It is up to us to stand against all forms of racism with purpose and intent. It’s clear that even the most progressive communities aren’t strangers to bigotry and white supremacy, and Milwaukee is no exception. With the increase in hate crimes across the country it is up to us to be anti-racist, vigilant, and intentional about how we resist racism, bigotry, and domestic terrorism.