Report: Hate groups approach record high, expert blames Trump

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer


Donald Trump has “electrified” the radical right, contributing to an alarming spike in the number of hate groups operating in the United States, particularly anti-Muslim groups.

That’s the prominent finding in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, released on Feb. 15. SPLC has monitored hate and extremist groups in the United States for 30 years. The report is based on an annual census of groups that perpetuate hate against people due to largely immutable characteristics, including race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

This year’s report documented explosive growth in the “hate sector” over the two-year period from 2014, when it identified 784 hate groups, to 2016, when it counted 917 groups. The latter number is close to the record high of 1,018 active hate organizations tallied in 2011.

“One of the most important findings was the really dramatic expansion in the anti-Muslim sector of the radical right,” report editor Mark Potok, a senior fellow at SPLC, told reporters during a conference call announcing the report’s findings. Those groups proliferated during the period, growing nearly 200 percent from 2014 to 2015 alone.

Anti-Semitic groups accounted for the second highest rate of growth — at 9 percent. That’s a departure from previous years, when anti-Semitic groups steadily declined.

The new year was not included in the report, but 2017 has already seen the burning of two mosques in the U.S. and bomb threats phoned in to 63 Jewish Community Centers.

Potok said Trump’s presidential election played a major role in encouraging such attacks. “Trump has ripped the lid off Pandora’s box, and all these hatreds have escaped,” he said. “The rash of hate crimes following Trump’s election targeted all groups, including women.”

Hard numbers are hard to get

The actual number of hate groups is likely much higher than those SPLC uncovers, Potok said: Many small groups and individuals who traffic in hate lurk in the shadowy anonymity of what is sometimes referred to as the “hate web.” They have no real-world presence.

That was the case with Dylann Roof, who shot nine African Americans attending a prayer service in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. He was a closeted racist unaffiliated with any white-supremacist organizations. But police later discovered that he owned a website promoting neo-Nazi views.

Haters such as Roof, who has been sentenced to death, are “invisible and not interacting with hate groups; but they’re still forming a large part of the radical right,” Potok said.

Meanwhile the more established groups are staging fewer rallies and public displays. Potok believes that’s because Trump has effectively co-opted their movement.

“I think that what is really happening is that Trump is so revered by so many people in these groups that they’ve chosen to stand back and let him enact their agenda,” he speculated.

Emergence from the shadows

At the same time, however, Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as his chief White House strategist has encouraged at least one website — The Daily Stormer — to emerge from the shadows and develop brick-and-mortar physical chapters. Potok said there are now 29 of them.

Bannon is the former executive chair of Breitbart News, a fringe-right website that he’s described as “the platform for the alt-right.”

“The alt-right is simply a Machiavellian rebranding of what is really white supremacy,” Potok said. “For public relations reasons, it’s dressed up in suits and ties instead of clan robes and swastikas. The alt-right is a very youth-oriented branch. It’s very internet savvy.”

Both the alt-right and Identitarian movements promote the view that countries created by and for white people should remain predominantly, if not exclusively, white and Protestant — or should return to that paradigm.

The Trump phenomenon has emboldened the alt-right to hope that the increasing ethno-racial diversity and social progressivism that the U.S. has experienced over the past few decades can be turned around.

A parallel movement of white nationalism is unfolding in Europe. Potok said white nationalism was behind the Brexit vote and the increasing popularity of right-wing political parties and leaders in countries ranging from Finland to Hungary to Greece.

Potok said the world’s changing demographics and the globalization of industry are undercurrents driving the hate movement forward in the Western world. In 2015, the U.S. was only 62 percent white; that’s down 26 percent since 1970, when the white majority stood at nearly 88 percent.

European countries are seeing a similar demographic trajectory, and it’s awakening fear and resentment there, too.

Globalization has also played a role has been weakening the nation-state, as have huge flows of migrant workers.

“While this is not Germany in the 30s, there are some real parallels,” Potok warned. “The radical right has more chance to affect policy at this moment in time that at any point over the past 50 years.”

The year in hate

  • In its annual census of hate groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center found:
  • Anti-Muslim hate groups increased by 197 percent from 2014 to 2015.
  • Anti-government or “patriot” groups numbered 663 last year.
  • One hundred and thirty Ku Klux Klan groups operated in the U.S. during 2016.
  • One hundred and three black separatist groups were documented in 2015.