“They tend to have the groups in there where people are either espousing really extremist rhetoric or they've got connections to illegal behavior,” says Carolyn Gallaher, author of “Fault Line: Race, Class and the American Patriot Movement.”
“But the patriot movement is a huge umbrella,” she says, “and there are many people that are in that movement that aren't engaged in illegal activity.”
In its report, the SPLC says that the normalizing of conspiracy theories, largely a result of the breakdown in traditional media and rise of the blogosphere, has played into the growth of patriot groups as their ideas have gained traction in the political sphere, including on many US city councils and county commissions.
Specific ideas include pushback to the United Nations Agenda 21 “smart growth” treaty; lingering questions about Mr. Obama's citizenship, highlighted last week by an independent investigation into Obama's eligibility by Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona; whispers about FEMA building concentration camps; rumors of covert plans by Mexico to repatriate parts of the Southwest; and concerns about Muslim Sharia law becoming part of the US court system.
Patriot groups are also pushing state legislation to rebuff the National Defense Authorization Act, signed by Obama in December, which allows the US to detain without arrest American citizens believed to be involved in terrorism, which is widely seen in the patriot community as a constitutional breach.
All those factors taken together – fears about government tyranny, the looming loss of the white majority, degradation of economic opportunity, the political and media mainstreaming of more extremist thought, and the potential reelection of Obama – have served to “drive up the danger level,” Potok says.