The Southern Poverty Law Center: Report on hate and extremism

March 25, 2015

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The Southern Poverty Law Center: Report on hate and extremism

Mark Potok
The Southern Poverty Law Center

The Southern Poverty Law Center Hate Groups

The traditional, organized American radical right, which was swollen enormously by Barack Obama’s 2008 election and the near-simultaneous collapse of the economy, shrank significantly in 2014 for the second year in a row. The rapidly falling numbers of both hate and antigovernment “Patriot” groups seem to have been driven by a strengthening economy, continuing crackdowns by law enforcement, and an accelerated movement of radicals out of groups and into the anonymity, safety and far-reaching communicative power of the Internet.

The decline of the organized radical right came against a background of increasing losses for extremists. On the one hand, the advance of same-sex marriage, racial and religious diversity, and intolerance toward those with openly racist views has made life more difficult for those on the extreme right. On the other, the highly successful infiltration into the political mainstream of many radical-right ideas about Muslims, immigrants, black people and others have stolen much of the fire of the extremists, as more prominent figures co-opt these parts of their program.

Specifically, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual count found that hate groups declined by 17% between 2013 and 2014, from 939 to 784 groups, bringing that number to its lowest level since 2005.

Patriot groups, which are animated by a series of conspiracy theories about the alleged evils of the federal government, fell even faster, to 874 groups from a 2012 peak of 1,360 groups. In just the last year, the number of Patriot groups declined by 20%, from 1,096 groups to 874.

But those numbers may be somewhat deceiving. More than half of the decline in hate groups was of Ku Klux Klan chapters, and many of those have apparently gone underground, ending public communications, rather than disbanding.

Violence and the Fear of Exposure

The latest decrease in radical-right domestic groups does not seem to have dampened the level of criminal extremism in America. A new Southern Poverty Law Center study of terrorism suggests that political violence over the last six years has been about the same as during the 1990s. Not including the 168 victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the SPLC study finds that people were being killed by domestic terrorists at about the same average annual rate as in the 1990s. That is meaningful, because the 1990s are remembered as a time of great violence from militias, even without including the Oklahoma massacre.

The study also found that 90% of domestic terror attacks of all kinds (antigovernment, jihadist or related to other kinds of hatred) since 2009 were carried out by just one or two people. Of the 63 incidents examined during that period, just one – the 2011 murder of two people by a revolutionary Georgia antigovernment group called Forever Enduring, Always Ready (FEAR) – was actually planned and carried out by a named organization. The days when such attacks were planned in groups, which commonly happened during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, are largely over. Major conspiracies are just too easy to infiltrate and disrupt, and so terrorists are increasingly acting alone.

A large part of the reason for the decline of groups seems to be the fear of exposure of their members or those who otherwise associate with them, including in many cases politicians and other relatively prominent people. In recent years, the SPLC has repeatedly exposed people, sometimes people whose family members and colleagues had no idea of their activities, as neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the like. Many others have done the same, including a variety of anti-fascist groups, the Anonymous hacking collective, and a large number of media reporters.

And today, such exposure typically carries an enormous cost. A good example of that was the scandal created when a Louisiana blogger in December revealed that U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) had spoken in 2002 to a group headed by neo-Nazi and longtime Klan leader David Duke. The revelation was national news for days, and although it did not ultimately cost Scalise his job as the No. 3 man in the House leadership, it came fairly close. Ten to 15 years earlier, similar revelations about then-House Majority Leader Trent Lott and many other leading politicians led to some handwringing, but did not approach being a fatal blow to their careers.

The same phenomenon is seen in the fact that the Council of Conservative Citizens, the reincarnation of the White Citizens Councils that resisted desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s, no longer publishes the names of politicians who speak to its various chapters – something it did proudly for decades. Now, having one’s name printed in the council’s tabloid publication can be ruinous for politicians.

And last summer in Fruitland Park, Fla., the news that an FBI informer had fingered two men in the police department as having been involved with a Klan group resulted almost immediately in the resignation of one and the firing of the other. The incident quickly sparked a review by prosecutors of literally hundreds of cases handled by the two men for any evidence of racially biased policing.
All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.

This list was compiled using hate group publications and websites, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports.

Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing. Websites appearing to be merely the work of a single individual, rather than the publication of a group, are not included in this list. Listing here does not imply a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity.

The Southern Poverty Law Center Hate Groups

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