The news about hate groups from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is somewhat good, showing a reduction in nearly 100 hate groups across the United States since 2012. But additional numbers show that the overall number of hate groups is still high, and much higher than before 2008.
In a keynote address to the Alabama Political Science Association meeting on the campus of Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama on March 21, 2014, Outreach Director Lecia Brooks speculated on reasons for the decline. “One reason is that the mainstream media has gotten more conservative,” Brooks, of the SPLC, told her audience. “It provides a well-publicized voice for their argument.”
Another reason, Brooks speculates, is the 2012 election itself. “Obama’s reelection took the wind out of the sails of a few groups, who maybe hoped he would lose. They also realize he can’t run for another term.
But Brooks also said in her interview that while hate groups were down seven percent over the last two years, they were up more than 500 percent since 2008. She offered some reasons why.
“First of all, demographics show whites are shrinking in this country. They made up 83 percent of the population in 1970, but only 66% in 2012. In several states, like California, Texas, New Mexico and DC, they are less than 50 percent of the population. They are concerned about losing power as a result.”
Brooks went on to note an economic component may also exist. “Some people who are in economic distress, or think they are, want to lash out, and hate groups use it to their advantage.”
So who is a hate group? “They have to have a message targeting a group, and be actively recruiting,” Brooks said in response to a question. For examples, she noted that the group “Stormfront” would be a good example, as well as some Neo-Nazi groups and even the Nation of Islam. “The Tea Party is not a hate group,” she added.
SPLC does more than just identify hate groups and put out bulletins on domestic terror activities. They also battle in court for those who need help. Brooks provided an example of someone who was undocumented having her baby taken away from her, and was about to be given to another couple, while the state claimed she could not challenge this in court because of her legal status. She was eventually deported, but at least got to bring her baby with her.
Brooks added examples of court cases against CCC groups, Klan groups and Aryan Nation, as well as historical recollections of the second Selma March and the role of the Dexter Street Baptist Church, and battles to integrate the YMCA and the fight to get blacks hired as state troopers in Alabama. But Brooks noted that as a result, Alabama has one of the most integrated state trooper forces in America.
With the high levels of hate groups remaining, Brooks and the SPLC can take little time to rest on their successes and more than they did after the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act passed (of which the 49th anniversary of the second Selma March and the subsequent VRA occurred the next day). The continued proliferation of such groups is likely to keep the SPLC busy for the next several years.