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Right-Wing Rage: Hate Groups, Vigilantes and Conspiracists on the Verge of Violence

The radical right has caught fire, as broad-based anger over the past year has ignited an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation.
 
 
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The radical right caught fire last year, as broad-based populist anger at political, demographic and economic changes in America ignited an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation.

Hate groups stayed at record levels -- almost 1,000 -- despite the total collapse of the second largest neo-Nazi group in America. Furious anti-immigrant vigilante groups soared by nearly 80 percent, adding some 136 new groups during 2009. And, most remarkably of all, so-called  "Patriot" groups -- militias and other organizations that see the federal government as part of a plot to impose “one-world government” on liberty-loving Americans -- came roaring back after years out of the limelight.

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.

“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, wrote earlier this year. "We see around us a series of overlapping social and political movements populated by people [who are] angry, resentful, and full of anxiety. They are raging against the machinery of the federal bureaucracy and liberal government programs and policies including health care, reform of immigration and labor laws, abortion, and gay marriage."

Sixty-one percent of Americans believe the country is in decline, according to a recent NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll. Just a quarter think the government can be trusted. And the anti-tax tea party movement is viewed in much more positive terms than either the Democratic or Republican parties, the poll found.

The signs of growing radicalization are everywhere. Armed men have come to Obama speeches bearing signs suggesting that the "tree of liberty" needs to be "watered" with "the blood of tyrants." The Conservative Political Action Conference held this February was co-sponsored by groups like the John Birch Society, which believes President Eisenhower was a Communist agent, and Oath Keepers, a Patriot outfit formed last year that suggests, in thinly veiled language, that the government has secret plans to declare martial law and intern patriotic Americans in concentration camps. Politicians pandering to the anti-government right in 37 states have introduced "Tenth Amendment Resolutions," based on the constitutional provision keeping all powers not explicitly given to the federal government with the states. And, at the Web site titled "A Well Regulated Militia," a recent discussion of how to build "clandestine safe houses" to stay clear of the federal government included a conversation about how mass murderers like Timothy McVeigh and Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph were supposedly betrayed at such houses. 

Doing the Numbers
The number of hate groups in America has been going up for years, rising 54 percent between 2000 and 2008 and driven largely by an angry backlash against non-white immigration and, starting in the last year of that period, the economic meltdown and the climb to power of an African American president.

According to the latest annual count by the Southern Poverty Law Center), these groups rose again slightly in 2009 -- from 926 in 2008 to 932 last year -- despite the demise of a key neo-Nazi group. The American National Socialist Workers Party, which had 35 chapters in 28 states, imploded shortly after the October 2008 arrest of founder Bill White for  making threats against his enemies.