March 3, 2010

It's now a fact: Whatever else the Tea Party movement may or may not have achieved, it can claim credit for at least one real phenomenon -- it has revived the far-right Patriot movement of the '90s.

We've been reporting it for the better part of a year now, and the New York Times recently confirmed it.

Now the annual report on "The Year in Hate" from the Southern Poverty Law Center has the numbers to back it up:

Hate groups stayed at record levels — almost 1,000 — despite the total collapse of the second largest neo-Nazi group in America. Furious anti-immigrant vigilante groups soared by nearly 80%, adding some 136 new groups during 2009. And, most remarkably of all, so-called "Patriot" groups — militias and other organizations that see the federal government as part of a plot to impose “one-world government” on liberty-loving Americans — came roaring back after years out of the limelight.

The anger seething across the American political landscape — over racial changes in the population, soaring public debt and the terrible economy, the bailouts of bankers and other elites, and an array of initiatives by the relatively liberal Obama Administration that are seen as "socialist" or even "fascist" — goes beyond the radical right. The "tea parties" and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism.

“We are in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in United States history,” Chip Berlet, a veteran analyst of the American radical right, wrote earlier this year. "We see around us a series of overlapping social and political movements populated by people [who are] angry, resentful, and full of anxiety. They are raging against the machinery of the federal bureaucracy and liberal government programs and policies including health care, reform of immigration and labor laws, abortion, and gay marriage."

Mark Potok, the author of the report, went on the Dylan Ratigan show yesterday on MSNBC to discuss it:

Ratigan: Mark, have you ever seen numbers like this?

Potok: Not in my tenure doing this work. I've been doing this close to 15 years, and I haven't seen anything like this.

I mean, the comparison, of course, is to the '90s, when we saw so much activity from militias and other anti-government 'Patriot' groups. And of course that's the sector of the radical right that we're really saying has exploded over the last year.

Uh, a minor correction to what you said -- the growth in hate groups, real race-based groups, 55 percent, has been over the last decade or so. That's slowed a bit. But when you look at the whole grouping of the various kinds of groups on the radical right -- extremist nativist groups, Patriot groups and hate groups -- it's astounding. We've seen an overall growth of something like 40 percent. All together, those three strands of the radical right are really the most volatile elements out there, and they amount to something like 1500 groups. It's quite amazing.

It's also worth noting what the report itself says about how this explosion has occurred:

As the movement has exploded, so has the reach of its ideas, aided and abetted by commentators and politicians in the ostensible mainstream. While in the 1990s, the movement got good reviews from a few lawmakers and talk-radio hosts, some of its central ideas today are being plugged by people with far larger audiences like FOX News’ Glenn Beck and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn). Beck, for instance, re-popularized a key Patriot conspiracy theory — the charge that FEMA is secretly running concentration camps — before finally “debunking” it.

Yep. As we've been saying ...

Here's Potok discussing the report in more detail:


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