Hate Groups

Is extremism on the rise in the United States?

By Peter Katel, May 8, 2009

National crises create opportunities for extremists. Today the global economic crisis now wreaking havoc on millions of American households is hitting while the first black president is in the White House and the national debate over illegal immigration remains unresolved. Already, some far-right extremists are proclaiming that their moment is arriving. Indeed, an annual tally by the Southern Poverty Law Center shows 926 hate groups operating in 2008, a 50 percent increase over the number in 2000. And the Department of Homeland Security concludes that conditions may favor far-right recruitment. But a mix of conservatives and liberal free-speech activists warn that despite concerns about extremism, the administration of Barack Obama should not be intruding on constitutionally protected political debate. Some extremism-monitoring groups say Obama’s election showed far-right power is waning, not strengthening. But that equation may change if the economic crisis deepens, the experts caution.

The Issues:

• Could the election of a black president and the nation’s economic crisis spark a resurgence of far-right political activity or violence?
• Are immigrants in danger from extremist violence?
• Is right-wing and extremist speech encouraging hate crimes?

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