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Annual report cites rise in hate groups, but some ask: What is hate?

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The Montgomery, Ala.-based SPLC, which became well-known for civil lawsuits that weakened the KKK and other white supremacist groups, is careful to note that organizations on its list don't necessarily advocate violence. Its definition of a hate group and “ideologues” includes groups and people who suggest that an entire group of human beings are, by virtue of class characteristics, “somewhat less,” says Mark Potok, the editor of the SPLC's Intelligence Report, which published its findings Wednesday.

“We're not in any way suggesting that these groups should be outlawed or free speech should be suppressed ... but it's a kind of calling out the liars, the demonizers, the propagandists,” says Mr. Potok. While the groups themselves may not advocate violence, he says, such speech has “driven people and will continue to drive people to murder.”

Driven by fears about changing demographics, the first black president, and a harrowing economy, “[the] three strands of the radical right – the hatemongers, the nativists and the antigovernment zealots – increased from 1,753 groups in 2009 to 2,145 in 2010, a 22% rise,” the report says. “That followed a 2008-2009 increase of 40%.”

Neo-Nazi-like hate groups grew by nearly 10 percent since 2009, to 1002; anti-immigration vigilante groups grew by 3 percent, to 319; and antigovernment “Patriot” groups – defined as “conspiracy-minded organizations that see the federal government as their primary enemy” – grew by 60 percent, to 824. (See the SPLC's “hate map” here.)

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