US hate groups on decline but extremist violence persists, study finds
Members of the KKK hold a rally (Martin/Flickr )

The number of hate groups in the United States declined by 17 percent in 2014 as compared to the year before, though violent acts by domestic extremists have not abated, a report released on Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center found.

Many former members of hate groups, which include neo-Nazis, black separatists and organizations targeting gays, Muslims and immigrants, have left to spread their views anonymously on the Internet, said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC.

"Domestic terrorists and other extremists with criminal intentions also are increasingly acting alone, choosing to commit lethal attacks without the help of an organized group," Potok said in a statement.

Dozens of incidents identified by the SPLC as acts of "domestic terror" and resulting in 63 deaths have occurred in the U.S. over the past six years, the vast majority carried out by one or two people rather than by organized groups, the SPLC said.

The rate of extremist violence in the U.S. in recent years is comparable to that of the 1990s, at the height of the militia movement, the SPLC said.

Overall, the SPLC identified 784 hate groups in the U.S. in 2014, down from 939 in 2013. The number of hate groups peaked in 2011 at 1,108, the SPLC said.

So-called "Patriot" groups, which are skeptical of the government, also declined in number in 2014, by 20 percent, the SPLC said, to a total of 874.

(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Editing by Christian Plumb)