SPLC testifies to U.S. Senate about rising extremist threat, urges vigilance

In testimony submitted to the U.S Senate today, the SPLC urged the federal government to place a high priority on fighting domestic extremism in the wake of last month’s massacre of Sikh worshippers and a series of other attacks and plots in recent months.

“Given the explosive growth of extremist groups, it’s imperative that federal law enforcement remain vigilant and make hate crimes and domestic terrorism a high priority,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “The recent shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin is a grim reminder of the wanton violence that can be committed by members of extremist groups.”

Wade Michael Page, the shooter in the Aug. 5 attack on the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, was a musician who performed with a variety of white supremacist bands and a member of the Northern Hammerskins, a faction of one of the most violent, racist skinhead gangs in the country. Page killed six Sikhs and wounded four other people, including a police officer, before shooting himself in the head.

Beirich’s testimony was submitted to the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution,

Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. The subcommittee is holding a hearing today on “Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism.”

In her testimony, Beirich said the nation’s changing demographics, its economic problems and the prospect of four more years under an African-American president are key factors fueling the growth of extremist groups.

Earlier this year, the SPLC reported a third year of extraordinary growth that has swelled the ranks of extremist groups to record levels. The SPLC is tracking 1,018 hate groups – a 69 percent increase since 2000 – in addition to 1,274 antigovernment “Patriot” groups, which include armed militias.

The Wisconsin attack was the latest in a series of violent acts and criminal plots by extremists. In November, for example, the FBI arrested four members of a Georgia militia who were accused of various crimes in a plot to attack cities with the deadly ricin toxin and kill federal officials. In May, members of the American Front, a militia-style white suprema­cist group, were arrested in Florida for planning acts of violence and preparing for “an inevitable race war.”