The Souther Poverty Law Center released a new report on Tuesday finding that “the number of conspiracy-minded antigovernment ‘Patriot’ groups reached an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012” and that the number of hate groups has remained at “near record levels” of more than 1,000. The group is calling on the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to increase the amount of resources devoted to tracking and combatting domestic radical anti-government groups.
The SPLC says the number of “Patriot” groups (of which, 321 are militia groups) is up 7 percent from 2011 and up an incredible 813 percent since 2009. (The SPLC defines Patriot groups being comprised of conspiracy theory-minded individuals who believe the federal government is run by secret “globalists” aimed at taking away American freedoms and establishing a global world order based on socialist principles; and defines a Militia group as a paramilitary wing of the former.)
“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,” an SPLC press release states.
SPLC Senior Fellow and lead author of the report Mark Potok said there are two main reasons why the numbers of Patriot and militia groups have skyrocketed since 2009: the election of the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama (which includes the coinciding nation-wide demographic changes) and fears compounded by the economic crisis and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories. Adding fuel to the fire, Potok said in a press call on Tuesday, is Obama’s reelection and the debate on gun regulation after the shooting massacre in Newtown, CT in January.
“This is the fourth straight year of really explosive growth of Patriot and militia groups,” Potok said. “We’ve never seen this kind of growth in any group that we cover.”
SPLC President J. Richard Cohen sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking that their departments increase resources to combat the problem.
“In January,” the letter says, “a former Tennessee police chief who conducts weapons training for law enforcement threatened in a video posted on YouTube to ‘start killing people’ if President Obama uses his executive power to enact gun control measures.” Cohen adds that “the resources devoted to countering domestic hate and radical antigovernment groups and those they may inspire do not appear commensurate with the threat.”
Indeed, DHS stripped down its domestic terrorism unit after Napolitano ordered a 2009 report on domestic right-wing extremism withdrawn because of significant political backlash from mainstream conservatives.
Daryl Johnson, the 2009 DHS report’s lead author who subsequently wrote a book chronicling his experience at DHS and its lack of focus on domestic extremists, said on Tuesday in light of SPLC’s new report that he “can’t imagine what it will take for DHS to recognize this growing and dangerous threat within the homeland,” adding that the report “should raise a red flag and cause concern.”
“As in the period before the Oklahoma City bombing, we now are seeing ominous threats from those who believe that the government is poised to take their guns,” Cohen said in the SPLC’s press release, which adds: “In October 1994, the SPLC wrote to then-Attorney General Janet Reno about the growing threat of domestic extremism; the Okla- homa City federal building was bombed six months later in the country’s deadliest act of domestic terrorism.”