In its annual report, to be released Monday, the Southern Poverty Law Center says it has identified 838 active hate groups operating across the US in 2020. That’s a decrease from the 940 documented in 2019 and the record-high of 1,020 in 2018, said the law center, which tracks racism, xenophobia and anti-government militias.
“It is important to understand that the number of hate groups is merely one metric for measuring the level of hate and racism in America, and that the decline in groups should not be interpreted as a reduction in bigoted beliefs and actions motivated by hate,” said the report, first shared exclusively with the Associated Press.
The Montgomery, Alabama-based law center said many hate groups have moved to social media platforms and use of encrypted apps, while others have been banned altogether from mainstream social media networks.
Still, the law center said, online platforms allow individuals to interact with hate and anti-government groups without becoming members, maintain connections with likeminded people, and take part in real-world actions, such as last month’s siege on the US Capitol.
White nationalist organizations, a subset of the hate groups listed in the report, declined last year by more than 100. Those groups had seen huge growth the previous two years after being energized by Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency, the report said.
The number of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ hate groups remained largely stable, while their in-person organizing was hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Bottom line though, the levels of hate and bigotry in America have not diminished, said SPLC President and CEO Margaret Huang.
“What’s important is that we start to reckon with all the reasons why those groups have persisted for so long and been able to get so much influence in the last White House, that they actually feel emboldened,” Huang told the AP.
The final year of the Trump presidency, marked by a wide-ranging reckoning over systemic racism, also propelled racist conspiracy theories and white nationalist ideology into the political mainstream, the law center said.
According to an SPLC survey conducted in August, 29% of respondents said they personally know someone who believes that white people are the superior race. The poll also found that 51% of Americans thought the looting and vandalism that occurred across the country around Black Lives Matter demonstrations was a bigger problem than excessive force by police.