BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The number of hate groups and anti-government organizations in the United States jumped sharply in 2015 as political speech became more divisive, violent encounters between police and black men were increasingly publicized, and attacks in Paris and California spurred widespread fears of terrorism, a civil rights advocacy group said Wednesday.
In its annual Year In Hate and Extremism report, the Southern Poverty Law Center said the number of U.S. hate groups increased to 892 last year, up from 784 in 2014. SPLC officials said the number of anti-government groups increased from 874 in 2014 to 998 in 2015.
The nonprofit also noted an uptick in anti-Muslim behavior, which it linked to terrorist attacks in Paris and California, and talking points from Republican presidential candidates. Some candidates have suggested that Muslim Syrian war refugees be blocked from entering the country to ensure that Muslim extremists don't get in.
The group also noted that the number of black separatist groups, which it categorizes as hate groups, has risen from 113 in 2014 to 180 in 2015.
"We think that the growth of these groups is due almost entirely to the very dramatic attention that has been paid over the past year to police violence against black men," said SPLC Senior Fellow Mark Potok. The group simultaneously notes the number of active Ku Klux Klan groups increased to 190 in 2015 after falling between 2013 and 2014.
In general, Potok said, he would describe 2015 "as a year that very nearly approaches the political upheavals of 1968 — a time of real trial for this country."
The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1971. The center says its mission is to fight hate and bigotry by monitoring extremist groups, launching public education campaigns that promote tolerance, and representing clients in civil rights cases in court.
The SPLC defines hate groups as organizations that attack people based on central characteristics such as race, sexual orientation and religion. The listings focus on ideology and not violence or criminal acts.
Some targets of the center say the SPLC's main mission has become to silence conservative viewpoints.
"What you will find is anybody that has taken a strong conservative view of major issues — whether it be life, marriage, the threat of Islam — they have come out on that hate list," said Family Research Council Vice President Jerry Boykin. On its website, the Council says its mission is to "advance faith, family and freedom in public policy and the culture from a Christian worldview." The SPLC has identified the Council as a hate group.
Center officials deny the allegations.
"The Southern Poverty Law Center was born, and still lives today, to essentially defend the 14th Amendment," Potok said, referring to the amendment that guarantees citizens of all races equal protection under the law.