After Pittsburgh, a Reminder: California Remains a Hotbed for White Nationalism

On Oct. 27, a madman walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and gunned down 11 people for one reason: their Jewish faith. The victims include a husband and wife, two brothers, and a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor.

While our eyes are focused on the Squirrel Hill community and the cause of national unity, a number of recent events also remind us that parts of California remain fertile ground for the kind of hateful, extremist ideology that motivated the Pittsburgh shooter.

Less than one month before the massacre, authorities arrested three SoCal residents and another from the Northern California city of Clayton for their role in the violence that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia last year. On Oct. 21, authorities made four more arrests. Robert Rundo, 28, of Huntington Beach, Tyler Laube, 22, of Redondo Beach, and Robert Boman, 25, were charged with inciting or participating in a riot. 38-year-old Aaron Eason of Anza in Riverside County surrendered to authorities on Saturday. They are all members of a Southern California-based white nationalist movement known as Rise Above. And they are all part of a rise in extremist ideology and hate incidents in California, as outlined by a number of recent reports and studies.

What is it that makes a progressive state like California such a hotbed for racism? That’s a question explored last year in an article co-published by Capital and Main and Newsweek. 

“California has been a cornucopia of extremism on all sides of the political spectrum,” Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, was quoted as saying. “It’s the place where you can come from anywhere and define your own American Dream, and everybody’s got a gripe. The fringes are as hot here as they are anywhere.”

California is also a place where white identitarians have cause to feel threatened. As of July 1, 2014, Latinos officially outnumber whites in the increasingly diverse Golden State — a shift demographers had been predicting for years. By the year 2060, Latinos are expected to comprise 49% of California’s population.

State and local politicians have reacted with a mixture of sadness, anger, and incredulity to last weekend’s events. Law enforcement in Southern California has stepped up patrols at houses of worship. A vigil was also held at Los Angeles City Hall Monday evening.