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Southern Poverty Law Center says US hate groups on decline, but not hate itself

During one of the most politically divisive years in recent memory, the number of active hate groups in the US actually declined as far-right extremists migrated further to online networks, reflecting a splintering of white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups that are more difficult to track.

In its annual report, the Southern Poverty Law Center says it identified 838 active hate groups operating across the US in 2020. That’s a decrease from the 940 documented in 2019 and the record-high of 1,020 in 2018, said the law center, which tracks racism, xenophobia and anti-government militias.

“It is important to understand that the number of hate groups is merely one metric for measuring the level of hate and racism in America, and that the decline in groups should not be interpreted as a reduction in bigoted beliefs and actions motivated by hate,” says the report, first shared exclusively with The Associated Press.

The Montgomery, Alabama-based law center says many hate groups have moved to social media platforms and use of encrypted apps, while others have been banned altogether from mainstream social media networks.

People march with those who claim they are members of the Proud Boys extremist group at a rally in support of US President Donald Trump in Washington, January 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Still, the law center said, online platforms allow individuals to interact with hate and anti-government groups without becoming members, maintain connections with likeminded people, and take part in real-world actions, such as last month’s siege on the US Capitol.

White nationalist organizations, a subset of the hate groups listed in the report, declined last year by more than 100. Those groups had seen huge growth the previous two years after being energized by Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency, the report says.

The number of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ hate groups remains largely stable, while their in-person organizing is hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Bottom line, the levels of hate and bigotry in America have not diminished, says SPLC President and CEO Margaret Huang.

“What’s important is that we start to reckon with all the reasons why those groups have persisted for so long and been able to get so much influence in the last White House, that they actually feel emboldened,” Huang tells the AP.

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