“The election of President Obama was a lightening rod for the extremist community,” says Brian Levin, director of the Center for Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “They regard his election as a marker for the destruction of American society.”
High unemployment caused by the lingering economic recession often fuels resentment, causing groups to lash out at immigrants or others often competing for low-wage jobs. The Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks caused a backlash against Muslims, and attacks have been reported on Sikhs by people confusing them with Muslims.
At the same time that hate groups appear to be on the rise, hate crimes have fallen to a 14-year low, Mr. Levin says. Hate crime homicides are relatively rare.
“The last ten years we’ve averaged under a dozen a year,” Levin says. “But most years it’s in single digits.”
When they do take place, the odds are good a white supremacist was involved. According to Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League, 85 percent of all extremist-related murders are committed by white supremacists.
The ADL, which has been tracking the groups for decades, estimates there are at least 100,000 people in the US who call themselves white supremacists.
“There are far more we have not identified, 100,000 could be low balling,” Mr. Pitcavage says.