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East Lansing — The head of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission criticized President Donald Trump on Wednesday for extending “an invitation to hate impulses” following the killing last month of a protester in Charlottesville, Virginia.

U.S. Civil Rights Commission Chairwoman Catherine Lhamon, appointed last year by then-President Barack Obama, made the comment at a civil rights forum on hate crimes here hosted by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights following a 23 percent hike in state hate crimes during the past year.

Trump has been attacked by both Republicans and Democrats in the weeks following a neo-Nazi and white supremacist rally in Charlottesville that left Heather Heyer dead and others injured after a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters.

On Wednesday, Lhamon criticized Trump and later the U.S. Department of Justice for vowing only to investigate that one incident. The former U.S. assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education warned those conference participants that the Trump administration will likely not be as aggressive in combating hate crimes as past administrations.

“In my view, what is ominous now is the too-regular celebration of the negative and an invitation to hate impulses, sometimes from our president himself, and insufficient federal leadership to promote a change and to reject hate and discrimination,” she said.

“That is dangerous. That is dangerous in ways we have seen very, very recently.”

The Michigan, State Police recorded 490 hate crimes in 2016 -- a 23 percent increase from 399 in 2015. The bulk of those or 239 instance were considered “anti-black” crimes.

The same state report showed 102 “anti-white” crimes last year, 17 “anti-Arab” crimes and 17 “anti-Hispanic or Latino” crimes.

Police recorded 37 “anti-Islamic” and 18 “anti-Jewish” hate crimes in a separate category for religion -- the two highest totals among 10 religious categories.

Lhamon suggested that inaction could have emboldened white nationalists who now feel comfortable enough to march in public without concealing their identity.

She later told The Detroit News that there were other incidents in Charlottesville that Attorney General Jeff Sessions could have decided to investigate but didn’t.

“I question why the Department of Justice is not open to investigating the full range of hate incidents that were visible in that event,” Lhamon said.

Michigan Civil Rights Department Director Agustin Arbulu also called it “troublesome” that Trump seemed to “almost dismiss” white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville. Arbulu said he was sharing his personal view – not the department’s official stance.

Trump has faced heavy criticism for equating violence by neo-Nazi marchers with incidents blamed on a group of anti-racist, anarchist counter-protesters known as “antifa.”

Trump has said the ‘Unite the Right’ marchers “didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis.”

“You had some very bad people in that group,” Trump said during a press conference after the rally. “You also had some very fine people on both sides.”

mgerstein@detroitnews.com

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