The invasion of the U.S. Capitol by an unruly mob stirred justified concerns about recent growth of racism and nativism. Does right-wing extremism pose a new and unprecedented threat to the nation's domestic tranquillity?
No. The last four years gave white supremacists greater leeway and motivation, but Trump did not conjure up American racism. It is deeply embedded in the country's historical DNA.
In the broadest sense, the underlying force is xenophobia: the aversion to strangers, or to anyone different. This all-too-human failing is not limited to Americans. But Americans are well practiced in it.
Long before the American Revolution, Dutch Governor Peter Suyvesant of New Amsterdam tried to turn away Jewish refugees, urging "that the deceitful race, - such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ, - be not allowed further to infect and trouble this new colony."
And of course the true Native Americans were primary targets of white nativism. During the American Revolution, a Philadelphia militia executed 96 peaceful Lenape Indians in the Ohio territory (the Gnadenhuten Massacre). And so on from King Phillip's War in 1675-78 to Wounded Knee in 1890
The Know-Nothing movement, founded in 1843, was based on anti-immigrant (often anti-Catholic) fervor, and elected over 100 Congressmen and eight governors, while controlling several state legislatures. In 1856, as the third major party, it ran former President Millard Fillmore as its candidate for the White House.
Furthermore, dating from colonial origins the nation has spent more years with slavery than without it. Four of the first five Presidents were slave-holders, as were eight of the fifteen -- a majority -- before the Civil War. And after the Civil War? The impact of domestic terrorism directed against African Americans, including over 4400 lynchings, is still with us.
Overwhelming public sentiment led to the exclusion of Asian (mainly Chinese) immigrants in the late nineteenth century -- punctuated by a two-day attack on San Francisco's Chinatown in 1877.
Eventually dislike of foreigners led to the restrictive immigration policies of the 1920s -- prevailing until 1965 -- under which immigration quotas were established to preserve the racial and ethnic make-up of the nation against the threatening hordes from southern and eastern Europe.
At its peak, in the 1920’s, the modern Ku Klux Klan had an estimated four to six million members, around four percent of the U.S. population at the time. This is several times the estimated total membership of the 800-plus yahoo gangs currently in operation.
To paraphrase the common saying, white supremacist violence is as American as apple pie. In historical perspective, the last four years were a minor blip. A small comfort: it may be bad, but it's been worse.