Mar 9, 2022 - Politics & Policy

SPLC: Number of hate groups fell in 2021 as views went mainstream

Photo of a mob rioting at the U.S. Capitol holding Trump signs
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Brent Stirton via Getty Images

The number of hate and anti-government extremist groups declined for the third year in a row in 2021, but their ideologies have gained traction and entered the mainstream, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Why it matters: Buoyed by the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and far-right militias have found ways to leave the fringes and infiltrate the highest levels of government, the SPLC says.

By the numbers: The SPLC identified 733 active hate groups in 2021, down from 838 in 2020, 940 in 2019 and a historic high of 1,021 in 2018.

  • The number of anti-government groups also fell from 566 in 2020 and 576 in 2019 to 488 in 2021.
  • "Rather than demonstrating a decline in the power of the far right, the dropping numbers of organized hate and anti-government groups suggest that the extremist ideas that mobilize them now operate more openly in the political mainstream," the report states.

What they're saying: "The reactionary and racist beliefs that propelled a mob into the Capitol ... coalesced into a political movement that is now one of the most powerful forces shaping politics in the United States," the law center noted.

  • "In the year since the insurrection, this hard-right movement ... has worked feverishly to undermine democracy, with real-world consequences for the people and groups they target."
  • The report pointed to a slew of voting restrictions and anti-trans bills, some Republican Congress members' ties to white nationalists, the spread of the "white great replacement theory" and the push to limit school discussions of race, gender and sexuality, among other things.
  • "Extremist organizing doesn’t need to take place in fringe hate groups when right-wing extremist narratives circulate widely, and their proponents hold real institutional and social power."

The big picture: Domestic extremism is on the rise.

  • Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has called domestic violent extremism the "single greatest terrorism-related threat" in the U.S., while the Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded last year that violent extremists motivated by political or racial bias pose an "elevated threat" to the U.S.
  • In September, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified that the agency's domestic terrorism caseload had "exploded" in size since the spring of 2020.
  • Reports of hate crimes skyrocketed in more than a dozen of America’s largest cities last year.

Worth noting: SPLC has faced criticism for its liberal advocacy roots and its method for designating hate groups, according to AP.

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