Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released its annual “Year in Hate and Extremism” report. Broad-based populist anger at political, demographic and economic changes in America ignited an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation.
The SPLC documented a 244 percent increase in the number of active “Patriot” groups in 2009. “Patriot” groups and the paramilitary arm of the movement, the militias, are steeped in wild, antigovernment conspiracy theories and see the federal government as their enemy. 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 were a major part of the increase, growing from 42 in 2008 to 127 in 2009.
The numbers back up an August report by the SPLC, “The Second Wave: Return of the Militias,” that first documented the return of antigovernment extremist groups. The movement came roaring back to life after more than a decade of decline. The increase is worrying as the 1990s Patriot movement was associated with high levels of violence, most dramatically the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead.
The growth of Patriot groups comes at a time when the number of 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 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.