The Right Wing

Massive Spike in Number of Paranoid 'Patriot' Groups

Gun control and immigration reform are seen as factors in the rise of conspiracy-minded, right-wing extremist groups.

The number of anti-government “Patriot” and militia groups in America hit record levels in 2012, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center report released Tuesday. SPLC recorded 1,360 conspiracy-minded “patriot” groups in 2012, up 813% from 2008. These right-wing extremists typically “believe that the government is poised to take their guns,” wrote SPLC President Richard Cohen.

In particular, SPLC cites the push for gun control legislation following the Newtown massacre as fuel for right wing conspiracy nuts. It notes that a previous surge in patriot and militia groups under the Clinton administration had catastrophic results. To wit, the passage of the 1993 Brady Bill and the 1994 assault weapons ban eventually “led to the first wave of the Patriot movement that burst into public consciousness with the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.” A month prior, the SPLC wrote a letter to the federal government warning about the rise of “extremists in the militia movement.”

One current group composed of former military and law enforcement, the Oath Keepers, epitomizes the paranoiac extremism that’s exploded in recent years. The Nevada-based group’s Web site repeatedly peddles unfounded claims that the Obama’s gun control plan aims to confiscate people’s guns, violating the group’s number one rule to “not obey orders to disarm the American people.” Another group, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association pledges to “be the army to set our nation free.”

Along with the Obama’s push for gun control, SPLC cites other predictable reasons for increased hysteria on the right: the re-election of America’s first black president, the sluggish economy, the prospect of immigration reform, as well as extremism seeping into the mainstream conservative media. And as Obama begins to push his “agenda of gun control and immigration reform, the rage on the right is likely to intensify,” the report predicts.

Considering the growth of Patriot and militia groups, far surpassing the numbers during the Oklahoma City bombing, SPLC urged the Department of Homeland Security to keep a closer eye on right wing extremists. In 2009 a DHS folded its non-Islamic terrorism unit after conservative groups attacked a report detailing the increasing threat of right wing extremism in America.

“In the 1990s, warnings that might have averted some of the violence from the radical right failed to stick,” writes SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok, “Now, as we face another large and growing threat from the extremists of the Patriot movement, the country needs to do better.”

Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.