The Southern Poverty Law Center reports this week that since Barack Obama took office, extremist so-called patriot groups grew 244 percent, the number of armed militias growing from 44 in 2008 to 127 in 2009 and nativist extremist groups also dramatically increasing from 173 to 309 in the same period.
Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano brought howls accusing her of biased targeting from GOP politicians and the talk-radio right last year when she called attention to an uptick in right-wing extremism. The SPLC report indicates her concerns had merit.
Napolitano’s DHS was concerned that the new Democratic majority including the Black president with the African name provided the possibility for extremists to ensnare new recruits:
Rightwing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda, but they have not yet turned to attack planning.
Homeland Security reported then that extremist groups had decreased due to scrutiny after the militia movement Oklahoma City bombing but that new recruits for these groups could come from returning veterans. The assertion was met with vitriol from veteran’s groups as well as Republicans and Democrats around the country. The White House distanced itself from the report and Napolitano eventually apologized for offending veterans organizations .
“This was an assessment, not an accusation,” Napolitano said. “It was limited to extremists those who seek to commit violence within the United States. And all this was meant to do was to give law enforcement what we call ‘situational awareness.'”
The SPLC report, “Rage on the Right,” doesn’t see veterans as part of the threat it documents. The report says that hate groups have increased 54 percent overall since 2000 and that key triggers for the hate have been increased largely non-white immigration and the election of Obama.
The report suggests that broader hate themes could be entering the political mainstream. The report points to the reemerging John Birch Society and a group called the Oath Keepers, both sponsors at the mainstream Conservative Political Action Conference this year.
The John Birch Society has claimed that President Eisenhower was a Communist Agent. The Oath Keepers brings active and inactive members of the Armed Services and law enforcement into its ranks. SPLC argues the group is actively preparing to oppose imposition of martial law, under which the U.S. government would fill prison camps set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a line of thinking pushed earlier by Fox News host Glenn Beck.
From the SPLC report:
The anger seething across the American political landscape — over racial changes in the population, soaring public debt and the terrible economy, the bailouts of bankers and other elites, and an array of initiatives by the relatively liberal Obama Administration that are seen as “socialist” or even “fascist” — goes beyond the radical right. The “tea parties” and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism.
The report does not simply call out the groups themselves but instead focuses on what the SPLC sees as some of the biggest instigators of this apparent “roaring back after years out of the limelight.” The SPLC calls out Beck and Minnesota Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Beck investigated the FEMA concentration camp story after warning his millions of viewers and listeners about it for days. His investigation turned up nothing, a fact he reported.
“We are in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in United States history,” Chip Berlet, a veteran analyst of the American radical right, is quoted to say in the SPLC report.