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SPLC’s Intelligence Report: Radical-right violence continues to plague U.S. as number of extremist groups declines

A shrinking number of extremist groups has not translated into a drop in domestic terrorist attacks or racist violence as hatemongers move to online forums.

Despite a decline in the number of far-right extremist groups in the United States, terrorist plots and other acts of deadly violence committed by the radical right have not abated, according to a report issued today by the SPLC.

The report, contained in the Spring 2015 issue of the SPLC’s quarterly investigative journal, Intelligence Report, can be read here.

Click here for an interactive map showing the names, types and locations of hate groups across the country. 

The SPLC found in its annual census that the number of hate groups operating in 2014 was 17 percent lower than in 2013.

Antigovernment “Patriot” groups – armed militias and others animated by conspiracy theories about the federal government –  fell by 20 percent during the same period.

“The drop in the number of extremist groups doesn’t tell the entire story,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the SPLC and editor of the Intelligence Report. “It appears that extremists are leaving these groups for the anonymity of the Internet, which allows their message to reach a huge audience. Domestic terrorists and other extremists with criminal intentions also are increasingly acting alone, choosing to commit lethal attacks without the help of an organized group.”

Extremist violence, in fact, is continuing at levels comparable to the 1990s, at the height of that decade’s militia movement. But rather than coming from organized groups, fully 90 percent of domestic terrorist attacks in recent years have been carried out by “lone wolves” or pairs of extremists who don’t belong to any organization.

Over the last six years, a domestic terrorist incident has occurred, on average, every 34 days, the SPLC found. These leaderless attacks have claimed 63 lives. Plots concocted by extremists working alone or in pairs are the hardest to penetrate and the most likely to succeed.

This violence comes as extremists have migrated toward online networks like Stormfront to spread their beliefs. The neo-Nazi forum has about 300,000 registered users – a nearly 60 percent increase in the last five years.

In contrast, the SPLC found that hate groups declined from 939 groups in 2013 to  784 groups in 2014, bringing that number to its lowest level since 2005. The number peaked at 1,018 in 2011.

Patriot groups fell even more. They dropped from 1,096 groups in 2013 to 874 in 2014. The 2014 number still represents an almost 500 percent increase from the 149 groups operating in 2008, when the antigovernment movement began a dramatic resurgence following the election of President Obama.

In addition to extremists favoring the Internet over organized groups, the declining number of groups appears to be a result of factors such as a strengthening economy, law enforcement crackdowns and the fact that many extremist ideas have been co-opted by mainstream politicians. 

“The drop in the number of extremist groups hasn’t been accompanied by any real reduction in extremist violence,” Potok  said. “The level of extremism – and the danger of radical terror – seems just as high as ever.”

The hate groups listed in this report include neo-Nazis, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, Klansmen and black separatists. Other hate groups on the list target LGBT people, Muslims or immigrants, and some specialize in producing racist music or propaganda denying the Holocaust.