The number of hate groups in the United States has surged to an all-time high, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), with numbers rising for the fourth year in a row.
The SPLC’s annual Year in Hate and Extremism report, released Wednesday, recorded 1,020 hate groups in the United States in 2018. That figure includes neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and anti-government extremists, and represents a rise of seven percent from 2017.
The report also noted that an increasingly diverse political field, coupled with President Donald Trump’s failure up until now to follow through on promises like the border wall, have left those on the extreme right feeling somewhat disillusioned. This, in turn, creates the possibility that more will launch violent lone wolf attacks in response to that disillusionment.
“The midterms tended to validate hate groups’ fears for the future. Even more angering to hate groups were the dozens of women…elected to the new U.S. Congress, including two Muslims,” the report read. “For white supremacists, these newly elected officials symbolize the country’s changing demographics — the future that white supremacists loathe and fear.”
According to the SPLC, there is serious concern that disillusioned individuals on the far right will give up on politics and take matters into their own hands.
One example of this is the case of suspected gunman Robert Bowers who allegedly killed eleven worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last October.
“I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” Bowers wrote on the far right social media Gab, just prior to the shooting, referencing a baseless conspiracy theory about billionaire and liberal philanthropist George Soros supposedly financing a caravan of immigrants headed to the U.S.-Mexico border. Soros is a frequent target of anti-Semites who claim he wields massive influence in progressive politics.
“Screw your optics, I’m going in,” Bowers wrote.
The SPLC’s concerns are backed up by another report on far right violence released by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in January. According to that report, almost every extremist-related murder committed in the United States in 2018 was carried out by an individual who was either directly linked or affiliated with the far right. In the lone exception, the perpetrator was affiliated with the far right before switching over to Islamic extremism just prior to carrying out a murder.
The SPLC noted that the president himself has been instrumental in helping to elevate certain far right talking points, such as the idea that white farmers in South Africa are facing genocide, a central theme from last November’s National Socialist Movement rally in Arkansas.
“This president is not simply a polarizing figure but a radicalizing one,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “Rather than trying to tamp down hate, as presidents of both parties have done, President Trump elevates it.”
Additionally, the report highlighted various tech companies’ reluctance to enforce rigid and consistent policies against the far right on their platforms, often waiting until they are forced to react to an incident before taking action. It was only after the violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, for instance, that far right figures were booted off social media and fundraising platforms — despite them having used those same platforms to spew hate for months beforehand.
“Most of the white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups operating today are no longer traditionally structured organizations led by known figures. Instead, hate groups are now… almost entirely online,” the report read. “The increase in white nationalist and neo-Nazi hate group chapters in 2018… shows that these digitally savvy groups are flourishing in spite of Silicon Valley’s promises to police them.”