By Christianna Silva
The number of hate groups in the U.S. reached a two-decade high of 1,020 in 2018, according to an annual survey released Wednesday, February 20 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks hate groups.
The count of active groups that “attack or malign an entire class of people typically for their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity” has been steadily climbing for the past four years, with a 7 percent rise from 2017 to 2018 alone. There were more hate groups in 2018 than in any other year since the watchdog group first began reporting on them in 2000, showing a slight increase over the previous high of 1,018 hate groups in 2011, which the organization says was due to backlash against then-President Barack Obama.
The vast majority of active hate groups follow some form of white supremacist ideology, from neo-Nazis to the Ku Klux Klan to neo-Confederates and white nationalists, according to the organization, which reports that the number of white nationalist groups alone surged by almost 50 percent in the last year, from 100 to 148. Neo-Confederate groups also increased from 31 chapters in 2017 to 36 in 2018, while 112 neo-Nazi groups and 51 chapters of the KKK are still active. The watchdog organization notes that 49 anti-LGBTQ+ and around 100 anti-Muslim hate groups exist in the U.S. Black nationalist groups, which the SPLC explains are typically anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-white, also saw an increase, growing from 233 chapters in 2017 to 264 in 2018. The group notes that around 163 groups are categorized as “general hate,” but that these groups typically align themselves with white supremacist movements.
The organization also notes that though they classify 17 groups as being anti-immigration hate groups, anti-immigration activists “are the most extreme of the hundreds of nativist and vigilante groups that have proliferated since the late 1990s, when anti-immigration xenophobia began to rise to levels not seen in the U.S. since the 1920s,” and several former employees of these self-styled “think tanks” are now employed by several departments of the the U.S. government, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), State Department and the White House Domestic Policy Council. Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) has also participated in events hosted by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a nativist hate group.
This report has been met with some contention; three groups are already suing the SPLC for including them in this most recent list, according to NPR. In a press call, a representative for the SPLC said the organization is standing by its classifications.
Crime statistics mirror the SPLC’s report, showing a dramatic rise in the number of hate crimes reported to the police over the past four years, reaching the highest level the U.S. has seen in a decade, according to a May 2018 analysis from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University–San Bernardino. Furthermore, the FBI database also shows a 30 percent increase in hate crimes in a three-year period ending in 2017; in November 2018, the FBI reported that 7,175 hate crimes were reported by law enforcement in 2017, compared to 6,121 reported hate crimes in 2016. 2017 was also the third-highest year since the FBI began collecting this data. However, it’s important to note that the FBI data falls victim to massive underreporting since its database is voluntary – the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that the number of hate crimes each year is likely closer to 250,000.
The SPLC posits that the increase of hate groups in the country on President Donald Trump’s tenure in office, Fox News, right-wing media outlets, and Trump advisers who have notable hate group sympathies, saying the rise was driven by “hysteria over losing a white-majority nation to demographic change.” The SPLC also points to a 30 percent increase in the number of hate groups across the country since Trump took office.
“The numbers tell a striking story – that this president is not simply a polarizing figure but a radicalizing one,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, which publishes the organization’s annual hate group count and analysis, in a statement on February 19. “Rather than trying to tamp down hate, as presidents of both parties have done, President Trump elevates it – with both his rhetoric and his policies. In doing so, he’s given people across America the go-ahead to act on their worst instincts.”