Birmingham, AL’s Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors right-wing “Patriot” groups, hate groups and hate crimes across the country, released a report this week that found there were 1,360 radical, anti-government “Patriot” groups (including 321 militias) in 2012. Such groups numbered only 149 in 2008. This represents an 813 percent rise since President Obama took office—and not coincidentally, the fourth straight year the numbers have increased.
“These numbers far exceed the movement’s peak in the 1990s, when militias were inflamed by the 1993 Brady Bill and the 1994 assault rifle ban,” says the report.
At the same time, active “hate groups – neo-Nazis, white nationalists, racist skinheads, and others” continue to proliferate at near-record highs. The SPLC counted 1,007 such groups in 2012. Organizations considered hate groups by the Center “have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics,” and their activities can include “criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.”
The Center’s president, Richard Cohen, sent a letter (PDF) to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano this week, urging them to “create a new task force to ensure the government is devoting the resources needed to address domestic terrorism.” Said SPLC founder and chief trial attorney Morris Dees in an email to supporters:
We’re seeing ominous threats from extremists who believe the government is poised to take their guns. It’s the same type of atmosphere we saw in the mid-1990s when we warned then-Attorney General Janet Reno of the danger. Six months later, militia sympathizer Timothy McVeigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 men, women, and children.
In a post on the Center’s Hatewatch blog, the report’s author, Senior Fellow Mark Potok, sums up the current climate. “The resurgence of the Patriot movement, which first rose and fell in the 1990s, has largely been a reaction to the election of the nation’s first black president in 2008 — and the demographic change, including the loss of the country’s white majority predicted for 2043, that he represents — as well as the difficult economy, he writes. “The recent talk of gun control, which has sparked state legislative efforts to ‘nullify’ any federal legislation and also a movement of rural sheriffs who promise to resist, is now adding fuel to a fire that was already burning at white-hot temperatures.”