2018 saw the fourth straight year of growth in the number of hate groups in the U.S., according to a new report Wednesday from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks white supremacists and other extremist groups. The 30 percent increase coincides with Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency. It comes on the heels of three consecutive years of decline near the end of former President Obama’s time in office.
SPLC counted 784 hate groups in 2014, a figure that rose to 954 in 2017 and then 1,020 in 2018. The Alabama-based law center said last year’s total surpassed the previous high reported in 2011.
The recent increase “dovetails with (Donald) Trump’s campaign and then his presidency, a period that has seen a 30 percent increase in the number of these groups,” said Heidi Beirich, director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “In the three years prior to that, during the waning years of (Barack Obama’s) presidency, hate groups were actually on the decline.”
“The numbers tell a striking story — that this president is not simply a polarizing figure but a radicalizing one,” Beirich added. “Rather than trying to tamp down hate, as presidents of both parties have done, President Trump elevates it — with both his rhetoric and his policies. In doing so, he’s given people across America the go-ahead to act on their worst instincts.”
SPLC points out the vast majority of hate groups — including neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, racist skinheads, neo-Confederates and white nationalists — adhere to some form of white supremacist ideology. The number of white nationalist groups, those particularly electrified by the Trump presidency, surged by almost 50 percent — from 100 groups to 148 — in 2018, according to SPLC.
“The KKK has not been able to appeal to younger racists, with its antiquated traditions, odd dress and lack of digital savvy,” the report said. “Younger extremists prefer Fred Perry polo shirts and khakis to Klan robes.”
According to data from the FBI, hate crime incidents targeting Jews and Jewish institutions in the U.S. spiked by about 37 percent between 2016 and 2017. Overall, hate crimes most frequently targeted victims based on race, ethnicity, religion or ancestry, making up about 80 percent of the total. The bureau has not released information yet for 2018.
SPLC also debuted a new way to explore its findings on hate groups across the country with an interactive map. It shows how the number of hate groups has changed over time at the state and national levels. The law center said users can also filter the map to focus on particular ideologies, such as white nationalist groups.
Hate group definition controversy
Some groups on the list have disputed the SPLC’s findings or even sued over the hate-group label. Some have accused the law center of political bias.
Liberty Counsel Inc., a Florida-based legal advocacy organization, sued after a website that maintains a charity database flagged it and 45 other nonprofits as being labeled as hate groups by the law center, the Associated Press reports. Liberty Counsel describes itself as a Christian organization that advocates for family values, but SPLC labels it an “anti-LGBT” hate group. A federal judge in Virginia threw out that lawsuit.
A federal magistrate in Alabama recommended the dismissal of a separate lawsuit that accused the SPLC of defaming a Florida-based evangelical ministry by designating it as a hate group.