After four years of stunning growth, the radical right declined significantly for the first time in 2013, according to the latest count by the Southern Poverty Law Center, released today. But with a total of more than 2,000 groups, the extreme right remained at historically high levels.
The decline was due to an improving economy, dismay at the re-election of President Obama, law enforcement crackdowns, and the co-optation of the far right’s issues by purportedly mainstream politicians. It also reflected internal difficulties in the radical groups themselves, along with the failure of a whole series of their apocalyptic predictions to materialize.
Hate groups declined by 7% last year, from 1,007 in 2012 to 939 in 2013, and from an all-time high of 1,018 in 2011. But by far the most significant drop came among antigovernment “Patriot” groups, including armed militias, which fell 19%, from 1,360 groups in 2012 to 1,096 in 2013. While those drops were significant, the total number of groups was still almost twice as high as in 1996, when the first wave of the militia movement peaked while hate groups were also relatively high.
As reflected in a number of right-wing terrorist plots uncovered last year, the decline did not seem to dampen the violence coming from the movement. In fact, the movement seemed to grow more hard-line as more moderate members dropped out.
“The radical right is growing leaner and meaner,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the SPLC and author of the report. “The numbers are down somewhat, but the potential for violence remains high. Moreover, there is a disturbing dynamic at play. At the same time that the number of extremist groups is dropping, there is more mainstream acceptance of radical right ideas.”
The report is contained the Spring 2014 issue of the Intelligence Report, an investigative magazine published by the SPLC. It also includes a hate group map with state-by-state listings of hate groups. Other articles in the magazine:
- “Financing Hate” describes how hate groups use online organizations like PayPal and Amazon.com to help make money for themselves.
- “Agenda of Fear” explores how a toothless United Nations sustainability plan has been demonized by the radical right to the point that a derivative plan in Baldwin County, Ala., was killed by politicians who saw it as an attack on the Constitution and the Ten Commandments.
- “The Little Führer” describes the rapid ascent of Matthew Heimbach on the radical right even as he came out as an unvarnished neo-Nazi.
- “A Boy Named Sue” profiles Larry Klayman, a radical right-winger who is given to suing countless enemies and even his own mother.
- “Murder’s Price” explores the case of Joseph Paul Franklin, the nation’s most infamous racist serial killer, who was put to death last fall.
- “Why They Join” is an interview with sociologist Pete Simi, who has studied why people join hate groups and how they come to leave them.