In a nation in which racism is endemic and yet there is widespread denial over its existence, hate groups are on the rise in America. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual report of hate groups and extremist organizations, the number of extremist groups increased in 2015, a year marked by extremist violence as well as hate-filled rhetoric emanating from mainstream politicians.
The Montgomery, Alabama, based civil rights organization reported in its annual census, Intelligence Report, that the number of hate groups jumped 14 percent last year — from 784 in 2014 to 892 in 2015 — as did the number of anti-government “Patriot” groups — from 874 to 998 — which includes armed militias and other groups motivated by conspiracy-theories.
“While the number of extremist groups grew in 2015 after several years of declines, the real story was the deadly violence committed by extremists in city after city,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the SPLC and editor of the Intelligence Report. “Whether it was Charleston, San Bernardino or Colorado Springs, 2015 was clearly a year of deadly action for extremists.”
Moreover, 2015 was a year of deadly terror attacks perpetrated by extremists, including the Charleston, South Carolina massacre, in which a white supremacist gunned down nine Black people at the Emanuel AME Church. Further, in December, an anti-abortion extremist killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, and Islamic radicals killed 14 people in San Bernadino, California.
“After seeing the bloodshed that defined 2015, our politicians should have worked to defuse this anger and bring us together as a nation,” Potok said. “Unfortunately, the carnage did little to dissuade some political figures from spouting incendiary rhetoric about minorities. In fact, they frequently exploited the anger and polarization across the country for political gain.”
SPLC noted that in 2015, the scapegoating of Latinos, Muslims and other immigrants was a mainstream practice. For instance, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers. He also cited a bogus poll from the Center for Security Policy — which is designated as a hate group by the SPLC — to justify the call for a ban on Muslims coming into the country. Trump’s demonization of Muslims and Latinos has excited the radical right, which has led to white nationalists such as David Duke and Jared Taylor endorsing the GOP front-runner.
“These messages by mainstream political figures were often amplified by right-wing media outlets, adding to the sense of polarization and anger across the country – an atmosphere that may be unmatched since the political upheavals of 1968,” said the SPLC, noting that the armed militia standoff in Oregon at the beginning of the new year sends a signal that America’s extremist threat is likely to worsen.
With regard to Islamophobia, the report points to the example of Irving, Texas, a Dallas suburb that is home to one of the nation’s largest mosques. Irving has witnessed numerous anti-Muslim events and demonstrations, with armed men protesting in front of the mosque, and the Ku Klux Klan planning to hold a demonstration there in May 2016. In September, ninth-grader Ahmed Mohamed, 14, was accused of making a fake bomb and sent out of school in handcuffs by Irving school officials.
The SPLC census found that Ku Klux Klan chapters grew from 72 in 2014 to 190 last year, due to the 364 pro-Confederate battle flag rallies that were held in 26 states, after South Carolina removed the rebel battle flag from the state house in Columbia following the Charleston massacre. These rallies “reflected widespread white anger that the tide in the country was turning against them,” according to the report. While a number of domestic terrorist attacks received a great deal of attention, many others were not on the radar screens of the American public:
Here are some of the lesser-known political cases that cropped up: A West Virginia man was arrested for allegedly plotting to attack a courthouse and murder first responders; a Missourian was accused of planning to murder police officers; a former Congressional candidate in Tennessee allegedly conspired to mass-murder Muslims; a New York white supremacist blew his own leg off as he built bombs; and three North Carolinians were accused in a plot to attack the military.
There’s more. A Pennsylvania man who ran a “White Church” pleaded guilty to manufacturing 20 bombs; a New Yorker allegedly collected heavy weapons to murder Jews and African-Americans; three Georgia militiamen went to prison for plotting to attack utilities and start a war with the government; a West Virginia “sovereign citizen” was accused of attempting to overthrow the state government; two white supremacists in Virginia were charged with buying explosives from undercover agents in order to attack Black churches and synagogues; and a racist Minnesotan was arrested for shooting five Black Lives Matter protesters.
According to the civil rights group, the extremist violence emerges in the midst of other losses for the far right, including demographic changes and the browning of the U.S., President Obama’s executive orders to stall deportations of undocumented immigrants, the acceptance of Syrian refugees, and legalization of same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, even as Black and Brown people have suffered the most in this country, white working-class Americans are feeling the effects of income inequality and low wages, with drug overdose deaths and suicides on the rise.