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Mar 3rd, 2010

“Patriot” Groups, Militias Surge in Number in Past Year

Southern Poverty Law Center
March 2, 2010

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The number of extremist groups in the United States exploded in 2009 as militias and other groups steeped in wild, antigovernment conspiracy theories exploited populist anger across the country and infiltrated the mainstream, according to a report issued today by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Antigovernment “Patriot” groups — militias and other extremist organizations that see the federal government as their enemy — came roaring back to life over the past year after more than a decade out of the limelight.

The SPLC documented a 244 percent increase in the number of active Patriot groups in 2009. Their numbers grew from 149 groups in 2008 to 512 groups in 2009, an astonishing addition of 363 new groups in a single year. Militias — the paramilitary arm of the Patriot movement — were a major part of the increase, growing from 42 militias in 2008 to 127 in 2009.

The report, “Rage on the Right,” is the cover story in the Spring 2010 issue of the SPLC’s quarterly investigative journal Intelligence Report.


Patriot groups have been fueled by anger over the changing demographics of the country, the soaring public debt, the troubled economy and an array of initiatives by President Obama that have been branded “socialist” or even “fascist” by his political opponents.

“This extraordinary growth is a cause for grave concern,” said Intelligence Report editor Mark Potok. “The people associated with the Patriot movement during its 1990s heyday produced an enormous amount of violence, most dramatically the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead.”

The Patriot movement has made significant inroads into the conservative political scene, according to the new report. “The ‘tea parties’ and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism,” the report says.

Unlike the 1990s, the Patriot movement’s central ideas are being promoted by people with large audiences, such as FOX News’ Glenn Beck and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota [links added]. Beck, for instance, reinvigorated a key Patriot conspiracy theory — the charge that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is secretly running concentration camps — before finally “debunking” it.

The growth of Patriot groups comes at a time when the number of racist hate groups stayed at record levels — rising from 926 in 2008 to 932 in 2009, according to the report. The increase caps a decade in which the number of hate groups surged by 55 percent. The expansion would have been much greater in 2009 if not for the demise of the American National Socialist Workers Party, a key neo-Nazi network whose founder was arrested in October 2008.

There also has been a surge in “nativist extremist” groups — vigilante organizations that go beyond advocating strict immigration policy and actually confront or harass suspected [illegal] immigrants. These groups grew from 173 groups in 2008 to 309 in 2009, a rise of nearly 80 percent.

These three strands of the radical right — the hate groups, the nativist extremist groups, and the Patriot organizations — are the most volatile elements on the American political landscape. Taken together, their numbers increased by more than 40 percent, rising from 1,248 groups in 2008 to 1,753 last year.

There are already signs of radical right violence reminiscent of the 1990s. Right-wing extremists have murdered six law enforcement officers since Obama’s inauguration. Racist skinheads and others have been arrested in alleged plots to assassinate the president. Most recently, as recounted in the new issue of the Intelligence Report, a number of individuals with antigovernment, survivalist or racist views have been arrested in a series of bomb cases.

The hate groups listed in this report include neo-Nazis, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, Klansmen and black separatists. Other hate groups target gays or immigrants, and some specialize in producing racist music or propaganda denying the Holocaust.

A list and interactive, state-by-state map of active hate groups can be viewed here.


Related media


Number of hate groups reach record level (The Dylan Ratigan Show, MSNBC, March 2, 2010) — According to a new report, militias and other extremist groups increasing 244 percent in 2009. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center and radio host Mark Williams of the Tea Party Express discuss. (08:33)


Related reports on this site

Security Watch: Domestic Threats (Feb. 28, 2011)

2010 - The Year in Hate and Extremism

Michele Bachmann: Political Paranoia (Aug. 25, 2010)

Michele Bachmann
Michele Bachmann at a rally in Washington against Barack Obama’s healthcare reform. She now wants the bill repealed. (Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Extremism Rises in America (June 16, 2010)


Why ‘The Rise of the New Right’ Matters (June 15, 2010) — Chris Matthews discusses “Rise of the New Right.” (01:46)

Republican Radicalization Threat (April 17, 2010)

“By mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead.” (David Frum, prominent conservative and former speechwriter for George W. Bush, in a piece about the health-care vote titled “Waterloo.”)

Tea Party Fomenting Rebellion? (April 5, 2010)

Walter Maciel, center, of Tewskbury, Mass., at the Tea Party rally Wednesday, April 14, 2010 on Boston Common. (Photo credit: Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times)

Bachmann Conspiracy Nation (Feb. 20, 2010)

Town Hall Face (Photos: Landov, AP, Getty Images / Newsweek)

Conspiracy theories have long been a fixture on the political landscape, with political paranoia most virulent among politically marginalized sectors of the polity. So, with Democrats holding the reins of power, it stands to reason that the right fringe has become the prime repository of collective craziness.

Condemning Beck and Bachmann (Nov. 19, 2009)

Rage Grows in America: Anti‘Government Conspiracies

November 2009

Introduction: A Year of Growing Animosity

Since the election of Barack Obama as president, a current of anti-government hostility has swept across the United States, creating a climate of fervor and activism with manifestations ranging from incivility in public forums to acts of intimidation and violence.

Hate groups including neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan have grown since Barack Obama was elected president. (Image: NBC News)

What characterizes this anti-government hostility is a shared belief that Obama and his administration actually pose a threat to the future of the United States. Some accuse Obama of plotting to bring socialism to the United States, while others claim he will bring about Nazism or fascism. All believe that Obama and his administration will trample on individual freedoms and civil liberties, due to some sinister agenda, and they see his economic and social policies as manifestations of this agenda. In particular anti-government activists used the issue of health care reform as a rallying point, accusing Obama and his administration of dark designs ranging from “socialized medicine” to “death panels,” even when the Obama administration had not come out with a specific health care reform plan. Some even compared the Obama administration’s intentions to Nazi eugenics programs. … Full story

Bachmann Rebuked for Nazi Image (Nov. 12, 2009)

Sign displayed at U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s “House Call on Congress” anti-health care reform rally in Washington, D.C., Nov. 5, 2009. The sign reads, “National Socialist Health Care: Dachau, Germany — 1945.” (Photo credit: Lee Fang / ThinkProgress)

Anger in America (Oct. 31, 2009)

Bachmann Heads Teabaggers (Sept. 13, 2009)

Rep. Michele Bachmann spoke at a Tea Party at Lake George in St. Cloud after a town hall meeting, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009. (Jason Wachter / St. Cloud Times)
Rep. Michele Bachmann speaks at a Tea Party at Lake George in St. Cloud, Minn., after a town hall meeting, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009. (Photo credit: Jason Wachter / St. Cloud Times)

Invitation to Tea Party headlined by Michele Bachmann

Bachmann: “Slit Our Wrists” (Sept. 2, 2009)

Rep. Michele Bachmann speaks to a luncheon crowd at the Denver Athletic Club, Aug. 31, 2009 (Photo credit: Jason Kosena / The Colorado Statesman)

In a speech filled with urgent and violent rhetoric, Bachmann … drew a clear line on health care reform.

“You’re either for us or against us on this issue,” she said. …

At times, Bachmann’s legislative briefing sounded more like the plot of a slasher movie.

“Right now, we are looking at reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom,” she said. “And we may never be able to restore it if we don’t man up and take this one on.”

While Bachmann didn’t ask this audience to “rise up against President Barack Obama’s tyrannical rule,” they stood anyway and applauded when she announced she was No. 1 on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s list of “top targets.” …

Economy and Obama Volatile Mix (April 16, 2009)

An April 2009 Homeland Security intelligence estimate warns that right-wing extremists could use the bad state of the U.S. economy and the election of the country’s first black president to recruit new members and incite anti-government violence.

Bachmann Call for Armed Revolt? (March 24, 2009)

On March 21, 2009 Rep. Michele Bachmann said that she wants people in Minnesota “armed and dangerous” on the issue of an energy tax, “because we need to fight back” and “having a revolution every now and then is a good thing.”

Obama, Economy Fuel Hate Groups (Feb. 28, 2009)

A cross and swastika are burned at an event called Hated and Proud in Nebraska in July 2008.
A cross and swastika are burned at an event called Hated and Proud in Nebraska in July 2008. (Photo credit: Southern Poverty Law Center / CNN)

Obama Racist Backlash (Nov. 16, 2008)

Racial incidents around the country referring to President-elect Barack Obama, including schoolchildren chanting “assassinate Obama,” racial epithets scrawled on homes and cars, and Black figures hung from nooses, are shattering the post-election illusion of racial progress and harmony, highlighting the stubborn racism that remains in America. There have been “hundreds” of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.


4/4/2010 Update

Drowning in Hate: Ugly Rhetoric Perverts Our Politics

By Ellis Cose
Newsweek logo
April 1, 2010 (magazine issue dated March 22)


Much has been made of the abuse showered on members of Congress at a recent tea-party demonstration on Capitol Hill. Georgia Congressman John Lewis was greeted with racial slurs. Emanuel Cleaver, a black congressman from Missouri, was spat on. Congressman Barney Frank, who is openly gay, was tarred with homophobic epithets.

Later, Democrats in various cities had their offices vandalized. And Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida said one of his 5-year-old twins picked up the phone and heard a voice threatening to kill him if he voted for the bill. …

The more serious danger from this corrosive conduct — and the failure to acknowledge it for what it is — is to our fraying national sense of purpose. It’s a symptom of “what happens when [the citizens of] a country can’t talk to one another constructively,” said Cleaver’s spokesperson.

When I asked Frank whether the rhetoric was worse than during the Clinton era, he said it was. To find its equivalent, said Frank, “I think you have to go back to the ‘60s, early ‘70s.” The crazy talk then, he noted, was from the radical left, the likes of SDS. But at least in that era, respectable liberals denounced the radical fringe. Now the Republican establishment quietly acquiesces. And the right-wing media egg it on. “Instead of damning with faint praise, it is praising with faint damns,” said Frank.

And precisely because it is so faintly damned by on-air pundits and other prominent figures, much of this poisonous talk is absorbed, undiluted, into the body politic. An analysis by Media Matters for America, a liberal media-watchdog group, blames the irresponsible and harshly partisan language for much of the misinformation accepted by a shockingly high percentage of the public.

A majority of Republicans, reported a new Harris poll, believe President Obama to be a Muslim and a socialist — notions that, as Media Matters points out, are widely propagated in right-wing outlets (even though they don’t particularly seem to go together). A majority of Republicans, reports Harris, also believe that Obama “wants to turn over the sovereignty of the United States to a one-world government.”

When patriots are being taught that the president is a religiously suspect traitor ready to hand the country over to some sinister international cabal, it’s hardly surprising they feel entitled to hurl hateful words at him or his presumed allies.

More worrisome is how those ideas play out when they connect with people who are violent and unbalanced, such as the members of a right-wing, Christian militia arrested in Michigan last week. They were reportedly planning to assassinate police officers in their effort to halt the rise of the feared new world order — as foreseen by conspiracy theorists and prophets of the right such as Pat Robertson.

Chip Berlet, a senior analyst with Political Research Associates who studies such militia groups, believes the possibility of violence is heightened in times like these, when fear of joblessness is high, the nation’s racial demographics are changing, and America and its values are widely perceived to be under attack. All you need to push some people over the edge is an enemy seen as irredeemably evil.

For many on the right, Obama has become that enemy. And there is clearly no point, Berlet says, in “having a conversation about policy if your opponent is evil.” So rational discourse is shut down, and working in a truly bipartisan way becomes a bad joke.

Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris poll, points out that hatred of presidents is nothing new. “What I think is different this time is the large numbers of people whose beliefs about this president are pretty weird or false,” he wrote me. …

The midterm season promises no relief from hate-filled language. And why not, when it is so effective at stirring people up? Why not when, according to Harris, a quarter of Republicans think Obama may be the Antichrist and nearly half believe that he “resents America’s heritage”?

However effective such divisive notions may be when hurled around in the political arena, it’s hard to see how, once they get imbibed and digested, we ever get back on the same side.

Ellis Cose is the author of Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge and The Envy of the World: On Being a Black Man in America.


3/6/2014 Update

The Hate Map of the USA: From the KKK to Black Separatists, Where America’s 939 Hate Groups are Based

Click on image for larger display; go to article for interactive features.

By Meghan Keneally

March 3, 2014

A revealing new map has made it clear where hundreds of hate groups are based in the United States, showing how racist and radical groups are still largely found in the South but the number of groups has multiplied dramatically since President Obama took office.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has released a ‘hate map’ last week which shows the national distribution of the various groups that they could confirm.

The overall number of groups actually dropped from 1,007 in 2012 to 939 in 2013 – the last full year with available data – but one of their more troubling observations is that some of the far-right leaning groups have had their ideologies picked up by conservative Republican politicians.

‘The idea that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, among others, is being plugged by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) …’ the report states [links added]. …

Many  states have varying bands of hate groups, but for their map, the SPLC qualified them into eight categories: black separatist, neo-confederate, Christian identity, racist skinhead, white nationalist, neo-Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and general hate.

There is only one state — Hawaii — that has no known hate groups but a vast majority of the rest can be found below the Mason Dixon line.

The 11 states that make up the area between Texas and the Atlantic are home to 589 of the 939 active groups that the SPLC identified – a whopping nearly 63 percent. …

Full report


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — March 3, 2009

In this photo combo made with file photos, part of...
History repeats? Job hunters mass for $4 a day work in 1935 and the line unwinds outside a New York City job fair in February 2009. (Photo credit: Associated Press)

U.S. Economy in Depression?

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that according to some economists, a Depression doesn’t have to be Great, with bread lines, rampant unemployment, and a wipeout in the stock market; the economy can sink into a milder depression — the kind spelled with a lowercase “d” — and it may be happening now.

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