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Hate groups on the upswing

The Northwest has always had its share of racist groups, and the latest Southern Poverty Law Center report identifies 13 in Washington state alone.

Southern Poverty Law Center

Southern Poverty Law Center SPLC

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Wednesday (Feb. 23) reported that the number of hate groups in the United States grew significantly in 2010, topping more than 1,000 for the first time since it began following trends in the 1980s.

There's no shortage of such groups in the Northwest, whose history has always been tainted by strains of racially and religiously bigoted  thinking back to territorial days and the presence of pro-slavery elements. The Northwest also saw anti-Chinese riots that helped lead to a racist immigration policy nationally. And the Aryan Nations movement is just one of the more recent white supremacist ideologies to find a toehold here.

On its Hate Map, the SPLC identified 13 groups in Washington alone that it believes are based on racist or anti-Jewish thinking, or stem from founders who largely engaged in such thinking. That was a modest decrease from 15 identified here in 2009. Most on the Washington list are Neo-Nazi, skinhead, black separatist, or white nationalist groups, but there were also two churches in Spokane. A leader of one of the churches, St. Michael's Parish/Mount St. Michael, has argued with the Center previously that it isn't anti-Semitic but instead is engaged in correcting the errors of supposedly heretical reforms by the Roman Catholic Church over the past 50 years.  Part of the Center's view of the church is here. (The Mount St. Michael group reportedly doesn't recognize any of the Roman Catholic popes since Pius XII, who died in 1958.)

Around the Northwest, Idaho had 13 groups, up four from a year earlier; Oregon had 15, up from just 10 in 2009; Montana had 13, up one; and Alaska had none after having had one hate group in 2009. For the five states, the total is 54 this year, a growth of seven.

The Center said that right-wing extremist organizations of various kinds (not necessarily hate groups) grew explosively last year, with many believing that President Barack Obama embodies the nation's problems. The renowned civil rights group said the growth was "driven by resentment over the changing racial demographics of the country, frustration over the government’s handling of the economy, and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and other demonizing propaganda aimed at various minorities."

The Law Center also is tracking 'patriot' groups; the center notes it isn't saying the groups engage in any violence, advocacy of violence, or racist thinking. It cites 27 organizations in Washington as belonging to this category, that generally "define themselves as opposed to the 'New World Order,' engage in groundless conspiracy theorizing, or advocate or adhere to extreme anti-government doctrines." And the center said there had been a slight rise in " 'nativist extremist' groups — organizations that go beyond mere advocacy of restrictive immigration policy to actually confront or harass suspected immigrants or their employers." It cited four in Washington.

The center's Mark Potok wrote that the split control in Congress could contribute to paralysis on issues like immigration reform. And his overall take was fairly downbeat:

What seems certain is that President Obama will continue to serve as a lightning rod for many on the political right, a man who represents both the federal government and the fact that the racial make-up of the United States is changing, something that upsets a significant number of white Americans. And that suggests that the polarized politics of this country could get worse before they get better.

The center pointed to Spokane's Martin Luther King Jr. Day incident, in which a sophisticated bomb was found before a parade, as one of a number of signs that "the radical right has remained highly energized." The crime hasn't been solved. At a Spokane NAACP-organized meeting on Monday, residents expressed concern that the FBI might not be able to solve the case.

Joe Copeland is political editor for Crosscut. You can reach him at Joe.Copeland@crosscut.com.


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