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Number of US extremist groups ‘exploded’ in 2009: report

By Daniel Tencer
Tuesday, March 2, 2010 17:08 EDT
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Glenn Beck, Rep. Michele Bachmann singled out for popularizing militia movement ideas

Extremist groups surged in the United States in 2009, with anti-government “Patriot” militias leading the way, says a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“The radical right caught fire last year, as broad-based populist anger at political, demographic and economic changes in America ignited an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation,” says the report written by Mark Potok.

The number of active Patriot groups grew from 149 to 512 during the course of the year, a 244-percent increase, the report states. Militias — which the SPLC describes as “the paramilitary arm of the Patriot movement” — grew from 42 to 127 over the same period, a three-fold increase.

“We are in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in United States history,” the report quotes Chip Berlet, “a veteran analyst of the American radical right.”

“We see around us a series of overlapping social and political movements populated by people [who are] angry, resentful, and full of anxiety. They are raging against the machinery of the federal bureaucracy and liberal government programs and policies including health care, reform of immigration and labor laws, abortion, and gay marriage.”

The report places some responsibility for the rise in militias on supposedly “mainstream” media outlets and politicians.

As the movement has exploded, so has the reach of its ideas, aided and abetted by commentators and politicians in the ostensible mainstream. While in the 1990s, the movement got good reviews from a few lawmakers and talk-radio hosts, some of its central ideas today are being plugged by people with far larger audiences like FOX News’ Glenn Beck and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn). Beck, for instance, re-popularized a key Patriot conspiracy theory — the charge that FEMA is secretly running concentration camps — before finally “debunking” it.

The SPLC’s report appears to confirm concerns raised in April, 2009, by a Department of Homeland Security report warning of a “threat” from growing right-wing extremist groups. That report was dismissed by some conservative commentators as “paranoid” or “hysterical.”

The SPLC, an organization devoted to preserving and expanding civil rights, has been watching the recent trend with some alarm. In April of last year, only three months into President Obama’s term, it noted a 50 percent increase in “violent hate groups.”

“A key difference this time is that the federal government — the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy — is headed by a black man,” that report stated.

“That, coupled with high levels of non-white immigration and a decline in the percentage of whites overall in America, has helped to racialize the Patriot movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by race hate.”

 
 
 
 
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