By KIM SEVERSON – Published: March 7, 2012
ATLANTA — Fed by antagonism toward President Obama, resentment toward changing racial demographics and the economic rift between rich and poor, the number of so-called hate groups and antigovernment organizations in the nation has continued to grow, according to a report released Wednesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The center, which has kept track of such groups for 30 years, recorded 1,018 hate groups operating last year.
The number of groups whose ideology is organized against specific racial, religious, sexual or other characteristics has risen steadily since 2000, when 602 were identified, the center said. Antigay groups, for example, have risen to 27 from 17 in 2010.
The report also described a “stunning” rise in the number of groups it identifies as part of the so-called patriot and militia movements, whose ideologies include deep distrust of the federal government.
In 2011, the center tracked 1,274 of those groups, up from 824 the year before.
“They represent both a kind of right-wing populist rage and a left-wing populist rage that has gotten all mixed up in anger toward the government,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the author of the report.
The center, based in Montgomery, Ala., records only groups that are active, meaning that the groups are registering members, passing out fliers, protesting or showing other signs of activity beyond maintaining a Web site.
The Occupy movement is not on the list because its participants as a collective do not meet the center’s criteria for an extremist group, he said.
One of the groups that was moved from the “patriot” list to the hate group list this year is the Georgia Militia, some of whose members were indicted last year in a failed plot to blow up government buildings and spread poison along Atlanta freeways. They were reclassified because their speech includes anti-Semitism.
The far-right patriot movement gained steam in 1994 after the government used violence to shut down groups at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Tex. It peaked after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and began to fade. Its rise began anew in 2008, after the election of Mr. Obama and the beginning of the recession.
There have been declines in some hate groups, including native extremist groups like the Militiamen, which focused on illegal immigration. Chapters of the Ku Klux Klan fell to 152, from 221.
Among the states with the most active hate groups were California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey and New York. The federal government does not focus on groups that engage in hate-based speech, but rather monitors paramilitary groups and others that have shown some indication of violence, said Daryl Johnson, a former senior domestic terrorism analyst for the Department of Homeland Security.
The Justice Department does not comment on the center’s annual report, but a spokeswoman said the agency had increased prosecution of hate crimes by 35 percent during the first three years of Mr. Obama’s presidency.