The number of hate groups in the U.S. seems to be dropping, while California remains home to more such groups than any other state, according to a new report and interactive map published by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Of the nation’s 784 hate groups, 57 were active in California last year, while the center identified 50 in Florida.
The good news is that the total number of hate groups in the country has dropped by 17 percent from 2013 to 2014 and is down significantly from an all-time high of 1,018 in 2011. The center tracks groups that spread hate speech through marches, criminal acts, meetings or printed materials which include neo-Nazis, white supremacists, black separatists and those that target LGBT people, Muslims or immigrants.
Every state was home to at least one hate group – even the sparsely populated states of Rhode Island and Wyoming which each has a chapter of a neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Movement. Though California had the most groups of any state, it also has the highest overall population with 38.8 million residents, closely followed by Florida in third place with 19.9 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Alaska and Hawaii were excluded from the analysis.
One of the most notable areas of decline among hate groups was in the prevalence of “patriot” organizations with antigovernment sentiments, including armed militias. Their numbers fell by 20 percent in just a year, following a surge beginning in 2008 that the center attributes to the election of President Barack Obama.
“Nativist” groups that oppose immigration and which personally confront immigrants also took a hit, dropping from 33 to 19 last year despite Obama’s controversial executive actions allowing some undocumented immigrants to temporarily stay in the U.S. and news of 60,000 unaccompanied children that had made their way into the country.
Some anti-gay groups also dissipated as same-sex marriage spread to 36 states in 2014, and members began to take their efforts to halt its legalization overseas. The National Organization for Marriage, which advocates against gay rights, fell $2.5 million into debt last year due to a drop in donations, the report states.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow who edited the report, says that the overall decrease across all hate groups may be because some members have chosen to collaborate through Internet sites. Stormfront, a white supremacy website that was the world’s first major online network devoted to spreading hate, has grown by about 60 percent in the past five years to 300,000 members. However, the report adds that a stronger economy and efforts by law enforcement agencies to crack down on extremism also have likely played a role.
The center also notes that acts of terror, which occur every 34 days on average in the U.S., are almost always instigated by individuals who are acting alone – 90 percent of the time, in fact. One such example came last summer, when a couple with anti-law enforcement views murdered two police officers during their lunch break in a restaurant in Las Vegas before killing a civilian and then each other in a suicide pact, as reported by CNN.