In California, feelings run hot between 'the forgotten' and 'groups under threat'

A Bay Area teacher was put on leave for comparing President-elect Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. A woman speaking Assyrian on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train was accosted by another passenger who told her, “Trump might deport you.”

Some Latino students in Northern California were given mock “deportation letters” by a classmate. And a high school student in San Mateo County was given a bloody nose after voicing support for Trump on Instagram.

In the days since Trump was elected president of the United States, one thing has been certain in this divided country: Tensions are high.

The outpouring of anger has little recent historic parallel, said John J. Pitney, a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College and a former Republican policy aide. Pitney said the closest comparison was with the election of 1800 in which Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams in a bitterly waged campaign that included the candidates trading insults.

For many people, this year’s election was less a choice between two candidates than about whether voters felt they would have a place in America, he said.

“A lot of people didn’t just see this election as a matter of political choice but a matter of identity,” Pitney said. “On the one hand, many of the people who voted for Trump see themselves as forgotten and disrespected, and many of the people who are against Trump see themselves as groups under threat. Feelings are going to run very hot.” 

Demonstrators across the country have blocked streets in protest of the president-elect. On Saturday, some 8,000 people marched from MacArthur Park to downtown Los Angeles, shouting “Not my president!” as they formed one of the nation’s largest demonstrations so far. Hundreds more peacefully rallied in Hollywood on Sunday.

In other instances, demonstrating has turned ugly. Los Angeles police arrested hundreds of protesters who marched in downtown L.A. in recent days, saying they vandalized property, blocked roads, hurled bottles and refused to disperse. Taggers scrawled anti-Trump messages and profanity on downtown buildings, tunnels, sidewalks — even on a television news van and a police cruiser.

Anxiety has been so high that calls to anti-suicide and crisis hotlines have spiked since the votes were counted.

Steve Mendelsohn, deputy executive director of The Trevor Project, a West Hollywood-based organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ people, said his organization has seen a dramatic increase in calls and messages this week. 

“Over 95% of those who called mentioned Donald Trump,” Mendelsohn said. “The general theme was anxiety and fear.”

They worried about potential bullying, their healthcare and whether gay marriage would be reversed, he said. On Wednesday and Thursday, the organization received 688 calls and messages. On the same days last year, they got 307 such contacts, he said. 

Fernando Guerra, a political scientist and director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, said the surprise outcome of the election, which many polls had predicted would be won by Democrat Hillary Clinton, is a major factor in the intense reactions.

“So many groups were told this wasn’t going to happen, both Trump and Clinton supporters,” Guerra said. “Both are shocked.”

Guerra said that while he thinks the protests are “a great outlet for a lot of people feeling threatened and emotionally displaced,” the large demonstrations will  last only a few weeks (and possibly re-emerge around Trump’s January inauguration) because it is difficult to organize and sustain ongoing protests. 

He also believes the uptick in racially charged incidents is temporary because American public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to racism — especially if Trump and his supporters condemn racist acts. 

“This is where leadership counts,” Guerra said.

The president-elect tweeted this week that he thought “professional protesters” who were “incited by the media” were behind the anti-Trump demonstrations. Hours later, he tweeted that he loved that “small groups of protesters … have passion for our great country.”

In a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday night, Trump said he was “very surprised” to hear of an increase in racial slurs and threats against minorities since his election.

“I am so saddened to hear that,” he said. “And I say, ‘Stop it.’ … I will say right to the cameras: ‘Stop it.’” 

The Southern Poverty Law Center said Friday evening that it had counted 201 incidents of “election-related harassment and intimidation” across the country — with the most commonly reported locations being K-12 schools. California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on Thursday sent a bulletin to state law enforcement agencies detailing hate crime laws. In recent weeks, she said, there had been an uptick in threats of hate crimes and extremist violence in California.

Last week, a Muslim student at San Diego State was robbed by two men who made comments about Trump and Muslims before grabbing her purse and backpack and stealing her car, university police said.  

In Redding, a Shasta High School student handed out “deportation letters” to Latino classmates, and a video of the incident was posted on Twitter, said Shasta Union High School District Supt. Jim Cloney, who said he believed the episode was related to Trump’s election.

In the town of Woodside on the San Francisco Peninsula, a high school sophomore who wrote on Instagram that she hoped Trump would win the election was beat up by classmates who told her: “You support Trump. You hate Mexicans,” ABC News reported

Still, with the rhetoric so high, there are other instances in which people question whether reactions to Trump are overblown — or even tied to the president-elect at all.

On Thursday, a history teacher at Mountain View High School in the Bay Area was placed on paid administrative leave after comparing Trump to Hitler. Frank Navarro, who has taught at the school for 40 years, was asked to leave after the administration received an email from a parent concerned about statements he made in class, the Mercury News reported.

Navarro is an expert on the Holocaust, a Mandel Fellow for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum who studied at the International Center for the Study of the Holocaust in Jerusalem. He told the Mercury News his lesson plan was based on historical fact and that Hitler’s persecution of Jews and rise to power has “remarkable parallels” to Trump’s statements about Latinos, Muslims and African Americans during his bid for the presidency.

School administrators said Navarro could return to the classroom as early as Monday. The same day Navarro was suspended, a high school principal in the nearby city of Milpitas was placed on leave for saying an anti-Trump expletive during a student walkout. 

On Friday, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) tweeted pictures of three young men hoisting Confederate flags at the Veterans Day parade in the Northern California city of Petaluma. Huffman said in interviews that some of the men were wearing Trump T-shirts and that he thought the Trump campaign had “legitimized … some shadow groups” and points of view. 

In a lengthy Facebook post Saturday night, he shared a response from one of the men displaying the flag, who said they were actually protesting against Huffman, who pushed the Department of Veterans Affairs this year to prohibit the flying of the Confederate flag on permanent flag poles at national cemeteries. Huffman did not return calls for comment.

Steven Kemmerle, who has organized the Veterans Day parade in Petaluma for the last 12 years, told The Times on Sunday that the young men “didn’t say anything to anybody; they just stood there.”

Kemmerle, a 72-year-old Republican, said he didn’t think the flags had anything to do with Trump. 

“The United States Constitution allows you freedom of speech,” he said. “But it does not allow you to deface buildings, roll cars or attack people.”

haily.branson@latimes.com

ruben.vives@latimes.com

For more Southern California news, follow us on Twitter: @haileybranson and @latvives.

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