‘Extraordinary violence’: Hate, anti-government ‘patriot’ groups flourished in 2015 – report

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An advocacy organization monitoring anti-government and hate groups in the United States released its annual census report showing that extremism flourished around the nation in 2015, growing by 14 percent.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which conducted the survey, called it a year marked by "extraordinary violence from domestic extremists."

Founded in 1971 as a civil rights legal advocacy, the SPLC has published annual reports on "hate groups" since 2001. Critics have accused the organization of targeting and demonizing conservatives and stoking fear in order to get funding. Last year, the group apologized for describing GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson as an "extremist."

The organization's annual report for 2015, titled “The Year in Hate and Extremism” and released on Wednesday, attributed the rise of hate and anti-government groups to the exploitation of the anger and fear some Americans felt over the country’s changing culture, whether through immigration, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, or the atrocities committed by Islamist terrorists. The group also highlighted anger felt by white, working-class Americans and some middle-class white people, especially the less educated, over economic pressures.

"Charleston. Chattanooga. Colorado Springs. In these towns and dozens of other communities around the nation, 2015 was a year marked by extraordinary violence from domestic extremists – a year of living dangerously," wrote Mark Potok, senior fellow at the SPLC.

In its count, the report found hate groups increased from 784 groups in 2014 to 892 in 2015, a 14 percent rise, but the increases where notably not seen in what many may view as hardcore groups.

“The hardest core sectors of the white supremacist movement – white nationalists, neo-Nazis and racist skinheads – actually declined…a reflection, perhaps, that hate in the mainstream had absorbed some of the hate on the fringes,” wrote Potok. “But there were significant increases in the Klan as well as black separatist groups.”

Ku Klux Klan chapters boom

The report said Klan chapters grew from 72 in 2014 to 190 last year, with 364 pro-Confederate flag rallies following South Carolina’s legislative decision to take down the battle flag from its Capitol grounds. That decision followed the massacre of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist named Dylann Roof. The rallies were not limited to the South, but were held in 26 states and “reflected widespread white anger that the tide in country was turning against them.”

The SPLC said its group count likely underestimates the true size of the American radical right, as many white supremacists operate online on sites such as Stormfront, which has 300,000 members and has added 25,000 new registered users annually for several years.

“The milieu of the web is an ideal one for ‘lone wolves’ - terrorists who operate on their own and are radicalized online. Dylann Roof is the perfect example,” the report stated. “His journey began with absorbing propaganda about black-on-white crime from the website of the Council of Conservative Citizens…and ended with the June massacre in Charleston. Like increasing numbers of white supremacist circles, Roof was convinced…that white people worldwide were the targets of genocide.”

Black Separatists also on the rise

The report found black separatist hate groups grew 59 percent, from 113 chapters in 2014 to 180 last year, fueled by “the explosion of anger fostered by highly publicized incidents of police shootings of black men.” The SPLC found that unlike activists with the Black Lives Matter movement, who called for police reform and an end to structural racism, the black separatist groups demonized all whites, gays and, in particular, Jews.

The report found a correlation between the growth of hate groups and a series of lethal terrorist attacks. In addition to the massacre of nine black people at a church in Charleston, Islamist radicals killed 14 people at work party in San Bernardino, California, just days after an anti-abortion extremist killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“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.”

Anti-Muslim groups in the spotlight

The report found the demonization of Muslims, Latinos, immigrants and others become commonplace in 2015. The Center for Security Policy is one of two anti-Muslim groups listed as a hate group for the first time in this year’s report. The other is ACT! For America. In 2015, the two groups started opposing immigration by refugees from the Syrian civil war, drafting model statutes meant to ban the refugees at the county level. Some 30 state governors also said they would prohibit refugees.

“After the San Bernardino attack in December, Muslim activists and other reported an enormous surge of anti-Muslim hate crimes, including shootings, mosque arsons, Koran desecrations, assaults and the bullying of schoolchildren,” wrote Potok. “As the new year began there was little evidence that the hatred was diminishing.”

Anti-government “Patriot” groups flourish

The other big growth area was in conspiracy-minded, anti-government “Patriot” groups, which rose from 874 in 2014 to 998 last year, a growth of 14 percent.

“The growth was fueled by the euphoria felt in antigovernment circles after armed activists forced federal officials to back down at gunpoint from seizing cattle at Cliven Bundy’s ranch to pay his grazing fees,” wrote Potok.

Potok said that event emboldened activists to occupy the wildlife refuge in Oregon in January 2016 as a protest against federal land ownership in the West.