SPLC report finds decrease in hate and extremist groups, with views gaining wider acceptance

The Southern Poverty Law Center released its annual report on hate and extremist groups, finding the number of both fell in 2021, though staffers believe the views they push are still prevalent.

"Extremist groups are declining because the ideas that mobilize now operate so openly in the political mainstream. So far-right organizing doesn't need to take place in hate groups when those ideas are already part of the political conversation when there are so many places online across so many different platforms where extremists can organize, propagandize, and recruit," said Cassie Miller, a researcher and writer with the left-leaning advocacy organization.

In 2021, the SPLC identified 733 hate groups, a figure which decreased for the third straight year and was at its lowest point since 2002; they also identified 488 anti-government groups, a fourth straight year of decreases, and the lowest number since 2008.

Their report began with highlighting the January 6th attack at the Capitol, which was preceded by an event featuring high-profile politicians, including former President Donald Trump and North Carolina Congressman Madison Cawthorn.

"Because (these groups) have that access to power, they've really been able to dominate public debate and spread conspiracy theories and misinformation and really to become one of the most powerful forces to shape American politics today," said Miller.

Chantal Stevens, the Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, noted the danger in these ideas gaining mainstream traction, making them easier to accept.

"That's where it becomes really scary, right? When you have politicians who know better who are using those positions of power and influence to spew this hate, they're normalizing this type of behavior, and that's where it becomes really, really problematic for our country," Stevens said.

She expressed concern over less obvious steps which could target marginalized groups, ranging from efforts to restrict voter access to limiting classroom discussions.

"This is really critical stuff that's happening. We're seeing it in efforts to scare families and sow political division by injecting hostility into local school board meetings," Stevens said.

The SPLC found there were 28 so-called hate groups that operated in North Carolina last year.

According to the FBI, in 2020, the number of bias-related crimes decreased in the state from the year before, though incidents involving a person's race, ethnicity or ancestry increased.

In the first two months of 2022, there have been a number of high-profile incidents of bias in the state, including bomb threats made against HBCU's, vandalism of a mural outside of an HBCU decrying police brutality, and antisemitic graffiti on the I-540 overpass.
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