A white supremacist carries a swastika flag at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. Credit: Steve Helber/Associated Press

Every year, the Southern Poverty Law Center releases a report on the year in hate and extremism. That report was just released, and four things jumped right out at us.

  1. It counted more hate groups than ever before.

The total number of hate groups in the United States recognized by the center rose to a record 1,020 last year, up about 7 percent from 2017. It was the fourth year in a row to see an increase.

The center also noted that the number of white nationalist groups grew nearly 50 percent, from 100 chapters in 2017 to 148 in 2018.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks these groups throughout the year and maintains a database listing them. You also can check out an interactive map of these groups here.

  1. White supremacists are really angry (even more so than usual).

That’s partly because they’re upset about a Census Bureau prediction that the U.S. will cease being a white-majority nation by 2045, but America’s racists also are sad about their perceived lack of support from President Donald Trump.

As the report notes:

“Starting to feel swindled by @realDonaldTrump,” influential antisemitic writer Kevin MacDonald tweeted on Nov. 15. “He will get slaughtered in 2020 unless he does something serious for his base on immigration.”

White nationalist Richard Spencer, who infamously led a crowd of fellow racists at a Washington, D.C., meeting in Nov. 2016 with a toast and raised stiff-armed chant of “Hail Trump,” was more blunt. Spencer took to Twitter in November to proclaim, “The Trump moment is over, and it’s time for us to move on.”

  1. Black nationalist groups also are on the rise.

The Southern Poverty Law Center counted 264 black nationalist organizations in 2018, up from 233 chapters in 2017.

These groups – which the center classifies as hate groups and says are typically anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ – are rising in response to the increase in white nationalist groups, Trump’s often racist rhetoric and the president’s move away from civil liberties policies such as police reform.

These groups still are fringe compared with white nationalist, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant groups; however, the Southern Poverty Law Center notes:

The environment for black nationalist groups is categorically different than it is for white hate groups. Unlike white hate groups, whose champions found themselves in influential White House positions over the past two years, black nationalists have little or no impact on mainstream politics and no defenders in high office.

  1. Hate groups and extremist groups aren’t always the same thing.

Some on the right criticized the Southern Poverty Law Center for not including groups such as anti-fascists in the annual report.

As we have reported in detail, the loosely knit antifa movement certainly has its extremists. But activists who are prepared to “break bones” in the name of anti-fascism, or even the more extreme members of the Black Lives Matter movement, simply don’t meet the center’s detailed criteria for what constitutes a hate group.

Specifically, the center defines a hate group as “an organization that – based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities – has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”

The definition continues: Hate groups “vilify others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Anti-fascists certainly hate people who espouse hateful views on white supremacy or homophobia or have other racist or discriminatory beliefs. The difference here is that such beliefs are not immutable — people aren’t born with fascist or racist beliefs. Whereas people are, of course, born African American or Jewish or LGBTQ.

That doesn’t mean elements of the antifa movement or other ideological groups aren’t extremist groups; they’re just not considered hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.    

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Will Carless was a correspondent for Reveal covering extremism. He has worked as a foreign correspondent in Asia and South America. Prior to joining Reveal, he was a senior correspondent for Public Radio International’s Global Post team based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Before that, Will spent eight years at the Voice of San Diego, where he worked as an investigative reporter and head of investigations. During his tenure in San Diego, Will was awarded several prizes, including a national award from Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has been a finalist for the Livingston Awards for young journalists twice in the last five years. He surfs, spends time with his family, travels to silly places and pretends he’s writing a novel.