7.9.19

Strong Support For trump Linked To Violent Thoughts Against Immigrants

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In the years since Donald Trump took office as President of the United States, he has often used incendiary language when discussing immigrants, Muslims and various other groups. Hate crimes have been on the rise in the US since 2015, and a recent review by ABC News found Trump has been invoked in at least 36 criminal cases of violent acts, threats or allegations of assault.

But it has been difficult to quantify the extent to which his language has really inspired or triggered such crimes. Now a study has found that people who strongly identify with Trump say they are more willing to commit violence against immigrants.


When you identify with a person’s values and views, you usually still consider these as separate from yourself, says Jonas Kunst at the University of Oslo in Norway. “But when you experience what we call fusion, the boundaries overlap like a Venn diagram, and you can lose your sense of self a bit.”

Fusion is a visceral feeling of oneness. Kunst and his colleagues found that this type of identification may play into hate crimes. They ran seven studies among white Americans, each with hundreds of respondents.

Kunst says the team chose this group to study because white Americans commit about half of all hate crimes annually in the US. To find people who strongly identify with Trump, they specifically studied white people affiliated with the Republican party, who account for the majority of Trump’s supporters, he says. Four independent researchers told New Scientist the study is robust enough to trust the findings.

The team first asked people how much they identified with Trump, using a common psychological measure for identity fusion. Then they asked questions about which behaviours these people would be willing to engage in.

In one scenario, respondents were told to imagine that a law had been passed outlawing Islamic cultural organisations, and then asked how likely they would be to report members of such organisations to the police, support the use of physical force to find them, and even personally use physical force to track down and detain them.

People whose identities were more fused with Trump were more likely to say they were willing to commit violence in these scenarios

In similarly designed surveys, Kunst and his team found that those fused with Trump were also more willing to persecute Iranians and immigrants. This fusion was measured by asking people to rank how strongly they agreed with several statements, including “I am one with Donald Trump”.

By studying surveys from before the 2016 election, and from after Trump’s ban on Muslims entering the US from seven Middle East countries was put in place in 2017, Kunst and his colleagues found that it was possible to predict whose identity was most likely to become fused with that of Trump after he was elected: those who were more willing to persecute immigrants before the election.

“The authors have provided compelling evidence of what many have suspected for some time: for Trump supporters, antipathy toward some of the favourite targets of his antipathy – immigrants, Muslims and Iranians – is deeply personal,” says Bill Swann at the University of Texas at Austin. “That is, those whose personal selves were deeply aligned or ‘fused’ with Trump felt emboldened to assault members of groups that Trump has vilified.”

“It’s important to be clear that it is not identification per se which produces anti-social behaviour,” says Stephen Reicher at the University of St Andrews in the UK. “For instance, identification with the civil rights movement in the 1960s led to remarkably pacific responses even in the face of extreme provocation.”

The effect of this fusion is not, therefore, to become more or less rational, or more or less moral, Reicher says. It’s a shift in the nature of the self and the reasoning a person bases their actions upon. In this case, those who have fused with Trump seem to be emboldened to persecute others based on ideals they held before Trump was elected.

Fusion with political leaders can happen across the political spectrum, though the outcomes may differ. “During the times of Obama, I’d say we may have found similar degrees of fusion, maybe higher because it’s more normative to be fused to Obama than Trump,” says Kunst.

Becoming one with a leader means implementing his or her perspectives or values and being willing to enforce them. “That’s where Trump and Obama are different. I would expect that someone more fused with Obama would engage with the more prosocial goals that he identified.”

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