The number of anti-government “patriot” groups, including paramilitary hate organizations, reached an all-time high in 2012, fanned by President Barack Obama's reelection and talk of gun control following the Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Patriot groups -- those dedicated to federal government overthrow in the belief it will confiscate weapons and impose socialism -- expanded in number and size for the fourth consecutive year, the law center said. The groups' recruiting was fueled by the sluggish economy, anxieties about the country’s shifting demographics and their ability to push their ideas and conspiracy theories into the mainstream, the report said. The growth intensified at the end of 2012 with the election and the school massacre.
“As in the period before the Oklahoma City bombing, we now are seeing ominous threats from those who believe that the government is poised to take their guns,” wrote Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center and a member of the Department of Homeland Security working group on violent extremism.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Ala.-based nonprofit that monitors hate groups and crimes, said in a letter to U.S. Attorney Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that patriot groups now hold the potential for a wave of domestic terrorism. The groups overshadow the danger posed by more traditional hate groups -- neo-Nazis and others dedicated against blacks, Latinos, Catholics and Muslims, for example, the report found. The group's letter urged federal officials to create a new task force to assess federal resources devoted to the threat.
In October 1994, the law center wrote to then-Attorney General Janet Reno about the growing threat of domestic extremism. The Oklahoma City federal building was bombed six months later.
Patriot groups have been classified by the law center as hate organizations because their anti-government sentiment is almost always paired with racism, ranging from fear of everyday crime to a looming race war, said Mark Potok, the law center's chief hate group and hate crime investigator.
The law center found 1,360 patriot groups in 2012 -– an 813 percent rise since 2008, the year before Obama took office. Of those groups, 321 constitute militias. The law center also found a near-record 1,007 hate groups with animus directed at minorities, gay men, lesbians, and transgender individuals in 2012. That's a slight decline from the 1,018 groups counted in 2011.
Potok said law enforcement authorities in 2011 intercepted one patriot group member headed towards El Paso, Texas, where he planned to equip patriot groups near the U.S.-Mexico border with devices from his arsenal of homemade explosive devices.
That same year, the most recent for which detailed federal hate crime data is available, law enforcement agencies in the U.S. reported a total of 6,222 hate crime incidents. Of these, about 46.9 percent were racially motivated crimes and about 12 percent centered around the victim’s actual or presumed ethnic or national identity. Nearly 21 percent stemmed from sexual-orientation bias and 20 percent by religious bigotry. About one percent of the nation’s hate crime stemmed from bias against the disabled.