US hate groups in decline as views hit mainstream, report says

Dropping numbers suggest that hate groups 'now operate more openly in the political mainstream'

The Southern Poverty Law Centre said it identified 733 active hate groups in 2021, down from the 838 counted in 2020 and the 940 counted in 2019. AP
Powered by automated translation

The number of white nationalist, neo-Nazi and anti-government extremist groups across the US fell for a third straight year in 2021, even as some groups were reinvigorated by the January 6 attack on the US Capitol last year and by the continuing culture wars over the pandemic and school curriculums.

In its annual report, the Southern Poverty Law Centre said it identified 733 active hate groups in 2021, down from the 838 counted in 2020 and the 940 counted in 2019. Hate groups had risen to a historic high of 1,021 in 2018, said the law centre, which tracks racism, xenophobia and far-right militias.

The number of anti-government groups fell to 488 in 2021, down from 566 in 2020 and 576 in 2019. Such groups peaked at 1,360 in 2012, the year former president Barack Obama was elected to a second term.

“Rather than demonstrating a decline in the power of the far right, the dropping numbers of organised hate and anti-government groups suggest that the extremist ideas that mobilise them now operate more openly in the political mainstream,” said the Wednesday report, shared with The Associated Press before its release.

The Montgomery, Alabama-based law centre cited several examples including Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, whose discussion of a conspiracy likening immigration from non-white countries to a “great replacement” of white Americans last September was welcomed by white nationalists linked to the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the January 6 Capitol attack.

The law centre counted 98 active white nationalist groups in 2021.

The report's release comes one day after a federal jury convicted a Texas man of storming the Capitol with a holstered handgun in an attempt to obstruct Congress's joint session to certify the Electoral College vote that cemented President Joe Biden's victory.

Separately on Tuesday, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, a long-time leader of the far-right Proud Boys extremist group, was arrested on a conspiracy charge related to his alleged role in co-ordinating the Capitol attack.

Active Proud Boys chapters jumped to 72 in 2021, up from 43 in 2020. The rise in chapters was noteworthy considering that more than three dozen members of the group had been charged in relation to their role in the Capitol attack, the law centre said.

“After January 6, in the immediate aftermath, these groups did lay low,” Susan Corke, SPLC’s Intelligence Project director, told AP.

“I had a moment of hope that was quickly extinguished when I didn’t see more mainstream Republicans condemn these groups.”

Beyond the Capitol attack, the law centre's report details how several factions of the far-right movement have been reinvigorated by political wedge issues.

Issues fuelling active hate and anti-government extremist groups include the banning of critical race theory and books that discuss LGBTQ identity in public schools, coronavirus vaccines and mask mandates, and immigration.

“This movement is working feverishly to undermine democracy, but what’s more startling is that they are also coalescing around a willingness to engage in violence,” Ms Corke said.

Slowing any push towards authoritarianism, according to the SPLC, requires elected leaders to universally embrace democratic institutions, while also protecting the right to vote for communities of colour and other marginalised people.

The law centre has also called for better funding of prevention programmes that interrupt the radicalisation of young people by hate and anti-government groups.

Updated: March 10, 2022, 6:19 PM