Feb. 2 (UPI) — The number of hate groups operating in the United States declined for a second straight year in 2020 while levels of hate and bigotry, however, have not, as extremists move online and hate groups become more diffuse, the Southern Poverty Law Center said Monday.
The nonprofit civil rights advocacy group said in its annual report published Monday that it tracked 838 active hate groups last year, representing a drop of 11% from 2019, when it documented 940 such organizations, which it defines as an organization that “has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people.”
Last year’s number also represents the second straight year of decline, which began from a record-high 1,020 groups tracked in 2018. The Montgomery, Ala., law center has been tracking such groups since 1990 and said more than 800 hate organizations have been counted each year since 2015.
“For three decades, we have attempted to sound the alarm about these groups, their growth and the danger they pose,” Margaret Huang, president and chief executive officer of the law center, said in a statement. “It is clearer now than ever that our nation faces an increasingly dangerous threat from home-grown extremists ranging from anti-government militias to hate groups and White supremacists.”
The report said the number of White nationalist groups that saw huge growth during the presidency of Donald Trump declined from 155 to 128 last year as such groups are becoming more diffuse and difficult to track as they migrate online and to encrypted platforms.
Many of these ideologies also lack formal membership, the report said, adding that the proliferation of Internet platforms has also created avenues for people to encounter these extremist beliefs that blur the lines between hateful ideology and far-right ideas, such as seen in the QAnon conspiracy.
Susan Cook, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, said the storming of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 was the product of such right-wing radicalization.
“It was the product of Donald Trump’s support for and encouragement of radicalized individuals and groups to buy into conspiracy theories about a ‘stolen election,'” she said. “Trump may no longer be in the White House, but the White nationalist and extremist movement he emboldened and incited to violence is not going anywhere — and may grow more dangerous to our country.”
Trump last month was impeached by the House of Representatives for inciting the Capitol breach that resulted in the deaths of five people by spreading false claims that the November presidential election was stolen. He is to be tried in the Senate later this month.
The law center attributed the drop in hate groups to the collapse of the Ku Klux Klan, but said newer groups that don’t carry the same stigma such as the Proud Boys have made it obsolete.
The COVID-19 pandemic also minimized hate group activity and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter banning them from their services forced them into encrypted chatrooms that made it more difficult for the ACLU to track their activities, it said.
However, the law center said that while the number of hate groups it document is down it also uses other barometers to weigh hate and bigotry in the country.
The organization pointed to a survey it conducted in August during which 29% of respondents said they personally known some who believes that White people are the superior race and that 51% reported looting during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests was a bigger problem than police violence against Black people.
It also reported nearly 4,900 racist flyering incidents throughout the country, stating White nationalist groups used this method to spread their ideology nearly 12 times more than all other groups combined.
The report was published a week after the Department of Homeland Security issued a rare bulletin through its National Terrorism Advisory System warning of a “heightened threat environment” for the weeks following the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden.
To combat hate groups and the ideology they spread, the SPLC made several policy recommendations including enacting the Domestic Terrorism Preventing Act to monitor, investigate and prosecute cases of domestic terrorism as well as improve federal hate crime data among others.
It also called for holding Trump and those who helped incite the Capital assault responsible.