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. We do not list individuals as hate groups, only organizations.
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. Other indicators of hateful ideas include the reach of hate websites, for example. 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 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.
Hate groups tear at the fabric of our society and instill fear in entire communities. American history is rife with prejudice against groups and individuals because of their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or other characteristics. As a nation, we've made a lot of progress, but our history of white supremacy lingers in institutional racism, stereotyping and unequal treatment of people of color and others. Hate also plays a particular role in crime and thus the existence and location of hate groups is important to law enforcement. The U.S. Department of Justice warns that hate crimes, more than any other crime, can trigger community conflict, civil disturbances, and even riots. For all their "patriotic" rhetoric, hate groups and their imitators are really trying to divide us; their views are fundamentally anti-democratic and need to be exposed and countered.
The SPLC hate map depicts the approximate locations of hate group chapters. The location of a chapter in no way implies that local government officials or residents endorse the beliefs of the group. Quite often, they don’t know it is there. The hate map is also available in text format sorted by state and by ideology.
Some hate groups have chapters that meet in different cities across a state. And, in some cases, these groups have not designated a specific location as their headquarters. When this occurs, the SPLC lists the chapter as statewide and indicates on the hate map how many statewide chapters there are per state.
The SPLC's Hatewatch blog provides investigative reporting and breaking news analysis on the radical right. Like the extremist files, individuals discussed on Hatewatch are not part of our hate group list, as we do not list individuals as hate groups. Blog mentions also do not necessarily imply that the individuals or the groups discussed are members or leaders of hate or antigovernment groups.
The SPLC produces a nationwide hate group list and map on an annual basis, normally in February. The map includes groups that showed activity during the previous calendar year. Some groups may only exist for a few months during the calendar year and others may disappear or change location after the hate map is published.
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-Immigrant, Anti-LGBTQ and Anti-Muslim. A General Hate category consists of 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 antisemitism 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. Because a group's ideology can inspire hate violence even when the group itself does not engage in violent activity, we concentrate our analysis on ideology. An example is Dylann Roof's racist Charleston massacre at Mother Emmanuel church in 2015. Roof was not a member of any hate group, but his act was inspired by the ideology of the white nationalist group Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), among other hate group websites. The CCC has no track record of leaders or members engaging inviolence, but its ideas can clearly prompt hate violence.
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.
Antisemitism is a central tenet of belief for most white hate groups, though other people are also anathema to these organizations. Many of the groups we list are antisemitic, including neo-Nazis, Racist Skinheads, Christian Identity adherents, Klan groups, many white nationalist groups, and others, such as Radical Traditional Catholics. Black separatist hate groups are also often antisemitic.
Anti-immigrant hate groups are the most extreme of the hundreds of nativist groups that have proliferated since the late 1990s, when anti-immigration xenophobia began to rise to levels not seen in the United States since the 1920s. Most white hate groups are also anti-immigrant, but anti-immigrant hate groups target only that population usually arguing that immigrants are unable to assimilate, have a lower intellectual capacity than white people, bring disease or are inherently more criminal. Although many groups legitimately criticize American immigration policies, anti-immigrant hate groups go much further by pushing racist propaganda and ideas about non-white immigrants.
The SPLC lists organizations such as the Family Research Council as anti-LGBTQ hate groups because they use dehumanizing language and pseudoscientific falsehoods to portray LGBTQ+ people as, for example, sick, evil, perverted, and a danger to children and society – or to suggest that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be pedophiles and sexual predators. Some anti-LGBTQ hate groups support the criminalization of LGBTQ+ people 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-LGBTQ 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 being LGBTQ+ 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, and hundreds of churches and other religious establishments that oppose marriage equality or oppose being LGBTQ+ on strictly Biblical grounds that the SPLC does not list as hate groups.
The SPLC listed black separatist groups since the late 1990s. Most prominent are the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panther Party, which has no relationship to the Black Panther Party of the 1960s and 1970s. The organizations hold beliefs whose tenets include racially-based hatred of white people. Other black separatist groups believe black people are the true Israelites and many espouse virulently antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ beliefs.
Black separatist groups have always been a reaction to white racism. These groups are typified by their antisemitic, anti-LGBTQ, anti-white rhetoric and conspiracy theories. They should not be confused with mainstream black activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and others that work to eliminate systemic racism in American society and its institutions.
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 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 in any way 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 and focused on organizing in the United States. We do, however, list several U.S.-based groups that are ideologically similar to groups like ISIS. They are usually listed as hate groups because of their vilification of Jews and LGBTQ+ 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).
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 antisemitism 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 LGBTQ+ 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 such as Antifa, for example, differ from hate groups in that they are not typically organized around bigotry against people based on the characteristics listed above.
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, who actively engage in paramilitary activities. 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 and antisemitism, 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 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 antigovernment groups – along with explanations of the ideologies that motivate them.