The number of hate groups operating in the United States grew by four percent in 2017, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an Alabama-based monitoring group.
The SPLC identified 954 hate groups in the US last year, an increase from the 917 it had documented in 2016, the group said in a report released on Wednesday.
The number of hate groups has risen 20 percent since 2014, the civil rights monitor noted in a conference call with members of the press.
According to the SPLC, 2017 was the third straight year to witness a rise in the number of hate groups. It was also the first year since 2009 that hate groups were documented in all 50 states.
‘Racism sanctioned by highest office’
Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, laid much of the blame for last year’s increase on the administration of President Donald Trump, saying he has stoked the flames of white supremacy and anti-immigrant xenophobia.
“President Trump in 2017 reflected what white supremacist groups want to see: a country where racism is sanctioned by the highest office, immigrants are given the boot and Muslims banned,” she said.
Neo-Nazi groups, which the year before had numbered 99, saw the largest increase, growing by 22 percent and reaching 121 groups across the country.
Neo-Nazi groups were among the more than 600 organisations the SPLC designated as a broader category, which also includes Ku Klux Klan (KKK) chapters, neo-Confederate groups and others.
Anti-government groups grew from 623 in 2016 to 689 last year, the group explained, adding that 237 of those groups were armed militias.
Anti-Muslim groups rose for the third year in a row.
There were also 233 chapters of black nationalist hate groups, such as the Nation of Islam, in 2017, as compared to 193 the previous year.
Beirich described black nationalist hate organisations, which grew by 22 percent last year, as “broadly anti-Semitic, anti-white and usually anti-LGBT”.
“The growth we’ve seen in this sector is a response to rising white supremacy, which isn’t surprising given the environment we’re in,” she said in a conference call with members of the press on Wednesday.
“I also want to say that these kinds of organisations have nothing in common with groups like Black Lives Matter and others who are fighting for civil rights, for minorities and for everyone – and that’s a distinction that should be kept in mind.”
Meanwhile, KKK chapters declined drastically, decreasing from 130 in 2016 to 72 last year.
Beirich attributed the decrease in KKK chapters to the growing appeal of the alt-right, a loosely knit coalition of white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis who advocate a white ethnostate.
In a recent report, the SPLC documented 100 people killed or injured by affiliates of the alt-right throughout the last four years.
Last month, the Anti-Defamation League published a report that found 18 people were killed by white supremacists in 2017.
“Domestic terrorism committed by white supremacists … continues to be a problem,” Beirich said, alluding to a string of far-right attacks that resulted in deaths last year.
In May 2017, 35-year-old Jeremy Christian was arrested and charged with stabbing to death two people and injuring a third when they attempted to prevent him from hurling Islamophobic insults at Muslim passengers.
In August, white supremacists from across the country descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, for “Unite the Right”, the largest rally of its kind in years.
One of the participants, James Alex Fields, allegedly ploughed his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring several others.
“It’s as if our culture has been infused by these ideas,” Beirich said.
The SPLC’s new report also included 51 anti-LGBT groups and two male supremacist organisations, a new category that was not included in the monitor’s previous reports.
The male supremacist movement “misrepresents all women as genetically inferior, manipulative and stupid and reduces them to their reproductive or sexual function”, the SPLC said in its report.
Beirich said these groups made it “glaringly apparent that it would be weird for us to leave them off of the list, given that they’re doing the exact same as these other organisations are doing to other populations”.