Mapping The Rise And Fall Of Hate And Extremism In America

An annual census of hate groups and radical right extremist groups in America shows a slight improvement from last year–though that doesn’t mean they aren’t growing in power.

Hate groups come in all varieties and screeds, from the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis to the radical anti-LGBT and Black Separatist movements. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit dedicated to combating hate and extremism, defines a hate group as any group with beliefs or practices that “attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”


There’s a bit of good news in the organization’s annual census of hate groups in the U.S.: Hate is on the wane in the U.S., at least slightly, according to the latest data.

Credit: Southern Poverty Law Center

Only 939 groups were active in 2013, a year when certain equality causes, especially the LGBT rights movement, made major legislative strides across the nation. The number may sound like a lot, but it’s actually a 7% improvement compared to 1,007 groups in 2012 and an all-time high in 2011 of 1,018. (You can explore an interactive version of the map below with all of the groups catalogued here.)

Southern states had the largest concentrations of hate groups of any region with 58 in Florida and 50 in neighboring Georgia. But the state with the most hate groups, at 77, is actually one with of among the most liberal reputations: California. (It’s also the most populous U.S. state.)

A more interesting trend appears in the group’s tracking of radical right “extremist” groups or self-described Patriot groups (the group does not track militant organizations considered to be left-wing, but they’re out there). These aren’t hate groups per se–they have no particular or specific enemy–but they are radical in their more generally militant, anti-government and conspiracy-oriented organizing. The numbers of these groups rose dramatically in recent years, coinciding with the election of President Obama and the economy’s collapse, but finally started to drop off a bit in 2013, says Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Credit: Southern Poverty Law Center

“What’s it all about? [The rise] really coincided with the assent to power of Barack Obama. It is about a black man in the White House, and it is about what that black man represents–in particular the browning of America,” says Potok. He notes the U.S. Census Bureau predictions that whites will be in the minority in the U.S. in a few decades. The rise in extremism over the last decade, both with hate and Patriot groups, is in part a backlash against the “changing face of America,” he says.

Explaining the drop in the number of groups in the 2013 data, Potok notes that Obama’s re-election took the wind out of the sails for some Patriot groups, and more disturbingly so has the more mainstream adoption by elected officials of some of their radical ideas. As an example, he counts that seven states–Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee–that have passed baseless Islamophobic laws that prevent “Islamic Shariah law” from being imposed in the United States. Obviously, this is a highly unlikely eventuality that would be a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution anyway.

The SPLC plans to stay as vigilant as ever. “The weakening of groups often has the effect of fostering, rather than retarding, followers’ decisions to finally act out violently. Despite the decline, there are still enormous numbers of radical groups operating–more than 2,000 of them, including hate and Patriot organizations,” Potok writes.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.