Anti-Muslim hate groups nearly triple in US since last year, report finds
By Islamophobia Reports
Anti-Muslim hate groups nearly triple in US since last year, report finds
Southern Poverty Law Center credited rise in racist and far-right groups to Donald Trump's 'incendiary rhetoric' and his senior staff of 'anti-Muslim ideologues'
The number of organized anti-Muslim hate groups in America nearly tripled last year, from 34 to more than 100, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a left-leaning non-profit that tracks extremist groups.
The center credited the "incendiary rhetoric" of Donald Trump's presidential campaign with fueling the rise in anti-Muslim hate, along with anger over terror attacks like the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last June.
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Several senior White House officials, including Steve Bannon, Steven Miller, and Kellyanne Conway, are "serious anti-Muslim ideologues", Mark Potok, the lead author of the annual hate group report, said Wednesday.
"It's hardly like the departure of Michael Flynn is going to mitigate the really serious onslaught directed at American Muslims," Potok said. The former national security adviser, who resigned Monday, had made several anti-Muslim statements, including a Twitter post suggesting that "fear of Muslims is rational".
The new report found there are now more than 900 active hate groups across the US – from Ku Klux Klan chapters to neo-Nazi hubs to racist black separatist organizations – an uptick of less than 3% since 2015, according to the group's annual count. This is slightly lower than the group's all-time high count of 1,018 hate groups in 2011.
Trump's meteoric rise in the past year electrified many of these racists and far-right extremists, the report concluded. At the same time, Trump's campaign may have also drained energy from independent extremist rallies and gatherings, as far-right supporters chose instead to attend mainstream Trump rallies. The number of "in-person" extremist events declined in 2016, according to the report.
"They were so turned on by what was happening in the pro-Trump world that they entered that world, rather than holding their own rallies," Potok said.
"We think Trump has co-opted many of the issues of the radical right," he said. "We think that has prevented or at least slowed the growth of these groups."
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trump has denounced some racist groups and said at at meeting with the New York Times in November: "If they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why."
Asked at a news conference Wednesday about a spike in antisemitic threats, Trump told reporters: "We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that's going on.
"I think one of the reasons that I won the election is because we have a very, very divided nation," the president added. "Very divided, and hopefully, I'll be able to do something about that."
The modest increase in the number of organized hate groups across the US also comes along with rapid growth of largely anonymous, internet-based hate websites, the analysts found. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi hate site whose founder organizes harassing "troll storms" of abuse towards political opponents, surpassed the traffic ratings of Stormfront, a more traditional racist site, last July, according to the center's analysis, becoming the most popular English-language far-right site.
The Daily Stormer, which takes a millennial, meme-driven approach to racism, misogyny and virulent antisemitism, also spun-off 31 active "real-life, on-the-ground clubs" across the country, the law center analysts found. These groups were advertised as "the IRL [In Real Life] Troll Army AKA The Stormer Book Club", or "groups to prepare for the coming race war".
Despite some migration from internet forums to real-life meetings, the broader shift from "brick and mortar" hate organization to internet forums is challenging for analysts trying to measure the growth of hate in America, Potok said. "It's clear that more and more of these people are operating only on the internet, except when the moment comes to start shooting," he said.
Dylann Roof, convicted of murdering nine black church members at a historic black church in Charleston, had been "radicalized online", the law center's president said in January.
At least one category of extremist groups may have shrunk dramatically because of Trump's victory. The number of groups affiliated with the anti-government Patriot movement, which saw dramatic growth under Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, fell in 2016, the report found, from 998 groups to 623.
"Donald Trump is so revered by so many people in these groups that they have essentially stood back," Potok said.
The report cited a survivalist writer online who noted that Trump's victory had brought with it a decrease in anxiety among some survivalists: "It is almost as if the apocalypse has been cancelled and the future history of the US has been rewritten with a much happier ending."
The 2016 report also noted a small uptick in racist black separatist groups, after a dramatic – 59% – jump in 2015, from 113 groups to 180. The murder of five police officers in Dallas by a shooter who had "liked" some of these groups on Facebook brought new attention to these groups, the analysts concluded.
These racist black separatist groups "explicitly denounce white people, Jews and LGBT people", the report noted, and should not be confused with civil rights groups such as Black Lives Matter, which protest police brutality but have "never endorsed anti-white or anti-police violence", and are not categorized as hate groups.
Two of the most prominent organizations named by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-Muslim hate groups, Frank Gaffney's DC-based Center for Security Policy, and Brigitte Gabriel's ACT for America, which calls itself the "NRA of national security", did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report and their categorization as hate groups.
Asked for comment on the report, Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer site, wrote: "It's just more of the same goofy gibberish from the Jews."
After decades on the fringes of American life, racist hate groups found themselves unexpectedly in the mainstream news spotlight last year, as Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis rejoiced at Donald Trump's rise and his presidential victory.
The president has condemned some far-right groups and their ideology, though he did so slowly at first, particularly when initially asked to respond to his endorsement by former Klan leader David Duke. Trump and his closest staffers have also occasionally shared racist and antisemitic memes on social media. On Valentine's Day, the Twitter account of Kellyanne Conway, one of the president's most prominent surrogates, shared a tweet from a self-described "white identity" "nationalist" account attacking liberals, noting: "Love you back!" Conway later said that she had not been the one to share the tweet.
The Southern Poverty Law Center's annual count of hate groups, which it has carried out for three decades, focuses on counting standalone groups and local chapters of organizations with extreme racists views. The center only counts groups that are "actually active", in that year, whether through holding rallies, committing crimes, spreading leaflets, or simply accepting membership dues and selling literature, Potok said.
Last fall, the group faced broad criticism for including both Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz in a list of anti-Muslim extremists. Potok defended their categorization, but conceded that both of those advocates were the most moderate voices on the list. He said that neither of these advocates ran groups in America that had been included in the 2016 count of hate groups.
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