2016 witnessed surge in anti-Muslim hate groups, SPLC report says

The "Year in Hate and Extremism" report from the SPLC found that right-wing extremist hate groups gained popularity in the United States last year, amid a highly divisive presidential election.

Hate groups – particularly right-wing extremists and anti-Muslim groups – are on the rise in the United States, according to a report released Wednesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The SPLC, a nonprofit advocacy group, defines hate groups as those that "vilify entire groups of people based on immutable characteristics such as race or ethnicity." 

The SPLC's findings are contained in the current issue of their Intelligence Report, which tracks extremist groups. The "Year in Hate and Extremism" section charts the rise of various hate groups in the United States to "near-historic highs" over the course of 2016, a phenomenon they tied to "a growing circle of well-paid ideologues, and the incendiary rhetoric of Trump – his threats to ban Muslim immigration, mandate a registry of Muslims in America, and more."

The group found that the number of anti-Muslim hate groups has nearly tripled since 2015, from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016. Over the same period of time, the number of hate groups overall increased from 892 to 917, about 100 fewer organizations than the 1,018 groups identified in 2011, the all-time high recorded over the last 30 years of SPLC tallies.

"2016 was an unprecedented year for hate," Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center and editor of the report, said in a statement.

The SPLC's analysis ties the rise of hate groups to many members' enthusiasm around the presidential campaign of now-President Trump, whom they viewed as "a champion of the idea that America is fundamentally a white man’s country," the report says. Comments criticizing Mexican immigrants, a proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, and the appointment of Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, an outlet associated with the so-called alt-right movement, encouraged radical right-wing groups that their concerns were being heard in Washington, the report argues. 

"The country saw a resurgence of white nationalism [in 2016] that imperils the racial progress we've made, along with the rise of a president whose policies reflect the values of white nationalists," Mr. Potok said.

In the 10 days immediately following the election, the SPLC documented 860 reports of hate-related incidents, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in December – a surge that the organization's president, Richard Cohen, called a "predictable result" of Mr. Trump's campaign rhetoric.

At the same time, however, most Americans' attitudes towards people of other religions have warmed in recent years, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center. Nevertheless, feelings towards Muslims did rank near the bottom, compared to other major religious groups in the US. Pew found that a number of factors influenced warm feelings toward other religious groups, with one significant factor being whether or not a person actually knows a person from the other religion.

The SPLC report did find that anti-government groups in the so-called Patriot movement, often associated with right-wing militias, had undergone a large decline, dropping from 998 in 2015 to 623 in 2016. Associated armed militias associated also fell, from 276 to 165 groups. However, the SPLC notes that interest in these groups tends to die down somewhat under Republican presidents, and that Trump's specific support for many of the Patriot movement's key issues, such as support for gun rights, may have caused many groups to disband. 

"The fact that such a prominent candidate was leading the charge on their concerns resulted in many abandoning activism," reads the report.

SPLC also cites the 2016 standoff between Ammon and Ryan Bundy and other armed protesters in Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as another "key factor" in the decline of Patriot groups. 

Black separatist and neo-Confederate groups both saw growth in 2016, though the number of Ku Klux Klan chapters fell from 190 to 130 over the past year. However, the report notes that Klan groups had experienced a surge in recent years, growing from 72 chapters in 2014 to 190 in 2015, and that some constriction in 2016 had been expected.

This article contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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