Last year saw an "explosion" of extremist groups and activism across the U.S., the Southern Poverty Law Center says in a new report, "Rage on the Right: The Year in Hate and Extremism."
The report, prepared by Mark Potok, director of SPLC's Intelligence Project, charts the meteoric rise of anti-immigrant vigilante groups, which grew by 80 percent last year, and the resurgence of "patriot" militias and related organizations after years of a lower profile. Available on the center's web site, www.splcenter.org, the document features links to data on different types of groups.
"The number of hate groups in America has been going up for years," the report says, "rising 54 percent between 2000 and 2008 and driven largely by an angry backlash against non-white immigration and, starting in the last year of that period, the economic meltdown and the climb to power of an African American president."
The report highlights the reemergence of the Patriot movement and its associated militias - most dramatically associated with the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building that left 168 people dead. The Patriots, who see the federal government as the main enemy and emphasize anti-government conspiracy theories, had largely sunk from view by the early 2000s. But in 2009 the number of groups surged nearly two and a half times, to a total of 512, including 127 militias.
Signs of renewed violence emerging from the radical right include the murder of six law enforcement officers by right wing extremists since President Obama was inaugurated, the report says, while "racist skinheads and others have been arrested in alleged plots to assassinate the nation's first Black president."
In an accompanying video, Potok cites a growing overlap between the tea party movement and militias and other Patriot groups. While this frequently involves individuals active in both types of groups, he says, ideas from the Patriot movement, such as conspiracy theories and the need to resist the government by force, are increasingly transmitting to tea party groups.
Potok expresses particular concern about a group founded last year, the Oath Keepers - military and law enforcement officers who, under the guise of pledging to uphold the U.S. Constitution, base their program on conspiracy theories that martial law will be imposed and Americans herded into concentration camps.
"What is really worrying about a group like the Oath Keepers is this is a group of people who are armed by the rest of society," Potok says. "If these are men and women animated by ideas that are completely false, paranoid and groundless, you've got to worry about who they are going to see as the real enemy and what kinds of decisions they make in stressful situations."
Asked in a telephone interview about the relation between the far right upsurge and recent racist incidents on college campuses, Potok pointed out that these are "really just a reflection of what is happening in the larger society." FBI hate crime statistics show that high school and college campuses are the third largest venue for hate crimes, he said, after inside people's homes and on the street, and account for about 10 percent of hate crimes.
"One of the nastiest aspects of what's going on right now is the role mainstream aiders and abetters play in this," Potok said. A campaign by civil rights organizations including the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as many individuals, forced Lou Dobbs' resignation from CNN, he said. While SPLC's report doesn't affect Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann at all, he added, hundreds of people from her district calling her out on her false allegations "has the real potential to make her stop."