The Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as an organization that – based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities – has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.
The organizations on our hate group list vilify others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity – prejudices that strike at the heart of our democratic values and fracture society along its most fragile fault lines.
The FBI uses similar criteria in its definition of a hate crime:
[A] criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.
We define a “group” as an entity that has a process through which followers identify themselves as being part of the group. This may involve donating, paying membership dues or participating in activities such as meetings and rallies. Individual chapters of a larger organization are each counted separately, because the number indicates reach and organizing activity.
Each year since 1990, the SPLC has published an annual census of hate groups operating within the United States. The number is a barometer, albeit only one, of the level of hate activity in the country. The hate map, which depicts the groups’ approximate locations, is the result of a year of monitoring by analysts and researchers and is typically published every January or February. It represents activity by hate groups during the previous year.
Tracking hate group activity and membership is extremely difficult. Some groups do everything they can to obscure their activities, while others grossly over-represent their operations. The SPLC uses a variety of methodologies to determine the activities of groups and individuals. These include reviewing hate group publications and reports by citizens, law enforcement, field sources and the news media, and conducting our own investigations.
The SPLC lists hate groups under the following categories: Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazi, White Nationalist, Racist Skinhead, Christian Identity, Neo-Confederate, Black Separatist, Anti-LGBT and Anti-Muslim. A General Hate category consists of Anti-Immigrant, Hate Music, Holocaust Denial and Radical Traditional Catholicism, among others. An Other category includes groups espousing a variety of hateful ideologies. Some groups do not fall neatly into one sector, and many embrace racism and anti-Semitism as core components.
Vilifying or demonizing groups of people on the basis of their immutable characteristics, such as race or ethnicity, often inspires or is a precursor to violence. But violence itself is not a requirement for being listed as a hate group.
Conversely, there are some violent groups that are not hate groups. For example, we do not list racist prison gangs as hate groups, because their goals are primarily criminal, not ideological.
In addition to hate groups, the SPLC monitors a sector of the radical right known as the “Patriot” or antigovernment extremist movement. This movement sees the federal government as an enemy of the people and promotes baseless conspiracy theories generally involving a secret cabal of elites seeking to institute a global, totalitarian government – a “New World Order.” It includes the militia movement, which comprises groups such as the Three Percenters and Oath Keepers. The movement also includes so-called “sovereign citizens” who reject the authority of the government, as well as self-described “constitutional sheriffs” who believe sheriffs are the highest form of law enforcement in the country and can disobey federal laws deemed “unconstitutional,” and members of the tax protest movement, who believe they have the legal ability to avoid paying income taxes, which they perceive to be illegitimate.
The SPLC produces an annual list of antigovernment groups. The vast majority are not hate groups, so they are not listed on the hate map. Although many elements of the movement were originally rooted in white supremacy, the movement has largely attempted to distance itself from these ties since the mid-1990s, following the Oklahoma City bombing. In recent years, however, anti-Muslim sentiments have permeated the movement’s conspiracy theories about “New World Order” plots to destroy Western civilization.
The SPLC lists organizations such as the Family Research Council as anti-LGBT hate groups because they use dehumanizing language and pseudoscientific falsehoods to portray LGBT people as, for example, sick, evil, perverted, and a danger to children and society – or to suggest that LGBT people are more likely to be pedophiles and sexual predators. Some anti-LGBT hate groups support the criminalization of homosexuality in the United States and abroad, often marshaling the same debunked myths and demonizing claims in their efforts.
A major misconception – one that is deliberately promoted by anti-LGBT hate groups in order to accuse the SPLC of being “anti-Christian” – is that the SPLC considers opposition to same-sex marriage or the belief that homosexuality is a sin as the sole basis for the hate group label. This is false. There are many organizations, such as Focus on the Family, that oppose same-sex marriage or oppose homosexuality on strictly Biblical grounds that the SPLC does not list as hate groups.
Our goal is to identify all U.S.-based groups that meet our definition of a hate group regardless of whether one would think of the group as being on the left or the right. One can always debate whether a group should be considered “left” or “right.” The Nation of Islam, which we list for its anti-Semitism and vilification of white people, is a case in point. Another example is Jamaat al-Muslimeen – a Muslim group we list because of its vilification of Jews and the LGBT community. But, as a general matter, prejudice on the basis of factors such as race is more prevalent on the far right than it is on the far left.
This does not mean that extremism and violence on the far left are not concerns. But groups that engage in anti-fascist violence (antifa), for example, differ from hate groups in that they are not typically organized around bigotry against people based on the characteristics listed above.
We’ve written about this issue before. While its critics claim that Black Lives Matter’s very name is anti-white, this criticism misses the point. Black lives matter because all lives matter and black lives have been marginalized for far too long. As BLM puts it, the movement stands for “the simple proposition that ‘black lives also matter.’”
We have heard nothing from the founders and leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement that is remotely comparable to the racism espoused by, for example, the leaders of the New Black Panther Party – and nothing at all to suggest that the bulk of the demonstrators hold supremacist or black separatist views. Indeed, people of all races have marched in solidarity with African Americans during BLM marches.
The SPLC lists only domestic hate groups – those based in the United States. We do, however, list several U.S.-based groups that are ideologically similar to groups like ISIS. They are listed as hate groups because of their vilification of Jews and LGBT people.
The SPLC condemns violence in all its forms, including the violent acts of far-left street movements like antifa (short for anti-fascist). But the propensity for violence, though present in many hate groups, is not among the criteria for listing. Also, antifa groups do not promote hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity (see criteria above).
The Extremist Files feature on our website contains in-depth profiles of individuals who are key figures on the radical right. Most are associated in some way with either hate groups or antigovernment “Patriot” groups. These profiles, however, should not be confused with the hate group list; we do not list individuals as hate groups, and not all of the profiled individuals are members or leaders of hate groups.
We also offer profiles of a number of radical-right organizations – most of which are designated as either hate groups or “Patriot” groups – along with explanations of the ideologies that motivate them.