Southern Poverty Law Center Finds Fewer Militias, Hypes Militia Threat Anyway

Person of the year: You!The Southern Poverty Law Center has released its annual report on "The Year in Hate and Extremism," in which the organization estimates the size of the "extremist" threat. Since its count of hate groups has dropped since last year—the number went down from 1,018 to 1,007—the center is hyping a 7 percent increase in another category: what it calls "conspiracy-minded antigovernment 'Patriot' groups." The SPLC's definition of "Patriot" is pretty broad: The list ranges from the conservative websites WorldNetDaily and FreeRepublic.com to the Moorish Science Temple and its offshoots. The Moors, a black militant movement, are presumably included because they sometimes borrow ideas from the sovereign citizens and other folks often associated with the right.

For SPLC Senior Fellow Mark Potok, that 7 percent surge is a sign that a growing terrorist threat demands the Department of Homeland Security's attention:

Eighteen years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote then-Attorney General Janet Reno to warn about extremists in the militia movement, saying that the "mixture of armed groups and those who hate" was "a recipe for disaster." Just six months later, the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed. Today, with our country’s political polarization at historic levels and government officials being furiously demonized by Patriots, we may be approaching a comparable moment.

In the 1990s, warnings that might have averted some of the violence from the radical right failed to stick. Now, as we face another large and growing threat from the extremists of the Patriot movement, the country needs to do better. One important start would be to demand that the Department of Homeland Security, which gutted its non-Islamic domestic terrorism unit after unjustified criticism from the political right, rebuild its important intelligence capabilities.

A different story emerges if you study the list itself. For one thing, while the number of Patriot groups has gone up since last year, the number of militia groups has gone down, from 334 to 321. That doesn't necessarily mean that there are fewer people involved in militias: One quirk of the SPLC's decision to measure activity by counting groups is that if an organization splinters in a faction fight that shows up as growth, but if two smaller groups join forces it looks like shrinkage. But given that Potok invokes the militias in both the opening and the conclusion of his article, and given that the article makes a big deal of the increased Patriot count, it seems disingenuous not to mention that the militia count is actually declining.

More important, neither the number of militias nor the number of Patriot groups writ large is a good proxy for the number of potential terrorists. As I wrote in response to an earlier edition of the SPLC's list, the Oath Keepers—whose chapters take up 67 spots on the 2013 list—have a history of distancing themselves

Terrorists, obviously.from violent-minded supporters, and the whole point of the organization is to persuade the government's agents to refuse orders the group considers unconstitutional, a central tactic not of terrorism but of nonviolent civil resistance. Meanwhile, 41 groups on the SPLC list are chapters of the John Birch Society. Far from an adjunct to the militias, the Birchers—notorious for their own conspiracy theories—devoted a lot of effort in the '90s to debunking the more elaborate conspiracy yarns popular in much of the militia world. They frown on insurrectionary violence, too, sometimes suggesting that it merely plays into the hands of the Grand Cabal.

The militia subculture itself is far from united. The University of Hartford historian Robert Churchill—author of an excellent book on the militias, To Shake Their Guns in the Tyrant's Face—has identified two distinct though sometimes overlapping elements within the movement: the "constitutionalists" and the "millenarians." While the first group stresses civil liberties and organizes in public, the second segment is more prone to paranoid, violent, and apocalyptic rhetoric and is more likely to form secret cells. The Hutaree [a militia charged in 2010 with plotting a terror attack] hail from the far end of the millenarian side of the spectrum. There doesn't seem to be any love lost between them and the area's dominant militia, the constitutionalist Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia (SMVM), which greeted the March arrests by denouncing the Hutaree as a religious cult. Mike Lackomar of the SMVM even told The Detroit News that the Hutaree had called his militia asking for assistance during the raids and had been rebuffed....In mid-April both Lackomar and another militiaman, Lee Miracle, told The Detroit News that they had warned the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the Hutaree over a year ago. Miracle says he urged the agency to check out the Hutaree website, telling his contact, "See if they creep you out the way they creep me out."...

None of this is unprecedented. Back in the 1990s, several would-be terrorists in the Patriot milieu were arrested after other militiamen got wind of their plans and alerted police.

Potok cites one more set of data to argue that "the threat of violence seems to be looming":

Already, to the surprise of some analysts, a major new study of domestic political violence from the radical right—"Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right," by the director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point—found that right-wing violence is up dramatically from the 1990s. Specifically, the report found that there were an average of 70 "attacks or violent plots originating from individuals and groups who self-identify with the far-right of American politics" in the 1990s, but that the comparable number for the 2000-2011 period was 308, with especially high numbers from 2007 on.

Someone should write a report on drone warfare titled "Challengers from Midfield: Understanding America's Violent Bipartisan Consensus."Potok is pulling a bait and switch here. As noted above, the SPLC keeps its count of hate groups, such as the various competing Klans, separate from its list of anti-government "Patriot" groups. The West Point report follows suit, though instead of Patriot it uses the label antifederalist. Potok's piece is specifically about an increase in the number of Patriot groups, and it's in that context that he invokes the West Point paper. But he cites the paper's claims about right-wing violence overall, not its data on antifederalist violence.

It's not hard to see why he does this. In recent years, as the SPLC was reporting a continuing growth in Patriot activity, the West Point dataset showed a steady level of one to four violent incidents involving "anti-federalists" per year. In 2010, the number spiked to 13, but the year after that the number dropped back down to two. "Thus," the West Point paper concludes, "while there may be a rise in the number of active militia groups, except for 2010 we still do not see this systematically manifested in the level of violence." Given how low these numbers are to begin with, it's not even clear whether the 2010 results reflected something that happened that year or if they were a random outlier. (For more on that West Point report, which really doesn't demonstrate what a lot of people who quote it seem to think it demonstrates, go here.)

Finally, a note about double counting. I don't really mind the fact that the SPLC lists separate chapters of the same organization; it makes sense to do that if you're aiming to show how much activity there is on the ground. I have a harder time seeing the justification for listing both the Tenth Amendment Center and Nullify NOW!, since Nullify NOW! is a campaign run by the Tenth Amendment Center. I was also amused to see that the list includes not just WorldNetDaily but the Western Center for Journalism, which spawned WorldNetDaily; there is also a slot for Aggressive Commentary, a radio show hosted by a WorldNetDaily columnist. Maybe the SPLC should spin off WorldNetDaily into its own list.

Bonus link #1: I was among the critics of the SPLC study who were quoted in a CNN story earlier this week.

Bonus link #2: The same issue of the SPLC's magazine Intelligence Report that includes these lists also quotes me in a feature about the John Birch Society. I blogged about that last night.

Bonus links #3, 4, and 5: Both the Patriot movement and the SPLC play roles in The United States of Paranoia, a book I've just written that HarperCollins will be publishing in August. You can read more about the book here, and you can pre-order a copy from Amazon here and from Barnes & Noble here.

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  • A Serious Man||

    So the Oath Keepers and Nullifiers that simply state their opposition to a tyrannical Federal government are the terrorists?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Naturally!

    /SPLC

  • DarrenM||

    Ghandhi would be considered a 'terrorist' by the SPLC's standard today? It's just more 'destroy anyone outside the tribe'.

  • umh||

    Even Ghandi wanted his people to be able to defend themselves and I believe resorted to pacifism only when more direct tactics were closed to them. "Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest."

    Governments mangle terms like "terrorist" whenever it suits them.

  • Loki||

    Duh, anyone who opposes the government is a "terrorist". Unless the president is a rethuglican, then dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

    And since the current president is both a democrap and black, it's also racist in addition to being terrorism to oppose His Greatness.

  • bmp1701||

    So the Oath Keepers and Nullifiers that simply state their opposition to a tyrannical Federal government are the terrorists?

    Yes. By failing to respect the authoritah of laws made by a democratic majority, they are terrorizing majorities which simply want to crush and/or rob the evil 1%.

  • umh||

    Why do you want to crush someone? I do not doubt that there are some evil people in the "1%" you are referring to and I know there are evil people in the "99%" too and as much as I hate the word fair as it is used so often today; I have to say you are not being fair to the good people who are part of the "1%". I myself strive to be part of the "10%" (which was easier before I retired).

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Don't forget Floyd Corkins, whose attempt to kill people at the conservative Family Research Council was only stopped by an alert guard.

    "...Corkins told the FBI "that he identified the FRC as an anti-gay organization on the website for the Southern Poverty Law Center." Specifically, he saw the council on the SPLC's "hate map.""

    http://reason.com/blog/2013/02.....t-murderer

  • Jeff||

    What kind of hate group does the SPLC classify itself as?

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "What do you mean double standard? We don't have a double standard!"

  • LTC(ret) John||

    A Righteous One!

  • wareagle||

    dammit...you beat me to it. SPLC is the "right" kind of hate group as it only hates the haters. That's different from the others.

  • ||

    Have the squirrels been appeased?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    For now, KK, for now...

  • Brandon||

    I dunno. Can you read this?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    I am aware of 54 heavily armed militias!!!! Just look at the list of 'em!1!1! AND THEY ARE ADVERTISING FOR RECRUITS!!11!

    http://www.nationalguard.mil/default.aspx

  • Jordan||

    What happened to the other 3?

    /Obama

  • H. ReardEn||

    +1 Manchurian Candidate

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    One important start would be to demand that the Department of Homeland Security, which gutted its non-Islamic domestic terrorism unit after unjustified criticism from the political right, rebuild its important intelligence capabilities.

    So... the SPLC was to see the FedGov increase it's surveillance of American citizens? Maybe they would be happy if FedGov started a Gestapo? Or Stasi? An apparatus like that could certainly never be used against someone named "Potok". So yes, let's increase the secret police force.

  • Raven Nation||

    Imagine if the Feds decided to increase their surveillance of left-wing terrorist groups aka unions.

  • wareagle||

    when does SPLC get counted as a hate group?

  • John Galt||

    Since they're the ones making the list most likely never.

  • Peter Bagge||

    Their interactive "Hate Map" shows a KKK HQ based in the affluent Seattle suburb of Kirkland, WA. Yet I can find no evidence elsewhere that this "konklave" has ever existed, even in the form of one crabby, lonely person. Maybe the SPLC just needed to fill up some blank spaces on the map?

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I find the lack of KKK groups in California to be curious. It makes me think the hate map may just be "made up".

  • John Galt||

    SPLC reserves the right to invent facts as needed.

  • ConstitutionFirst||

    For 40 years, intolerance, extremism and it's attendant violence has been the providence of the Left.
    For 40 years southern poverty has been desperately seeking relevancy and failing miserably in that task.

  • Raven Nation||

    "Provenance of the Left"

    Grammar troll

  • ||

    I HATE the SLPC!

  • ||

    Also the SPLC! Because they suck too!

  • Almanian!||

    I hate the SPCA!

    /cop

  • John Galt||

    Look at all the scary white people on the pamphlet's cover! Okay, I'm on board. Those whacked out haters are dangerous. And really white.

  • Harvard||

    Is Potok the squeaking fairy that looks like an early Speilberg or is he the redheaded prick that resembles Wayne Rogers?

  • Jeff||

    He's the one who looks like an inbred, cancer-stricken George Lucas.

  • MikeDinAL||

    Morris "Sleaze" Dees is the redhead. And he certainly knows about poverty. Check out his modest shotgun shack: http://www.montgomeryadvertise.....ck_check=1

  • John Galt||

    Maybe we should send the Bloods, Crips and MS 13 after the them since the Bloods, Crips, MS 13, Latin Kings and a whole shitload of other good guys are armed to the teeth and have loads of experience murdering, assaulting, robbing, drive by shooting and otherwise dealing with haters.

  • John Galt||

    The Moorish Science Temple blokes look like an interesting bunch. I'll have to invite them over for a card game sometime.

    The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

  • ||

    "The Moorish Science Temple of America is an American religious organization founded in the early 20th century by Timothy Drew. Although presented as a sect of Islam, the Moorish Science Temple also draws inspiration from Buddhism, Christianity, Freemasonry, Gnosticism and Taoism" add salt to taste.
    serve with a nice Chianti.
    They take cafeteria religions to a whole new plane.

  • bmp1701||

    Are they related to Moorish Science Theater?

  • ||

    In the not too distant future, next Sunday A.D. possibly.

  • Ace Sullivan||

    300+ groups vs. millions of racist violent mobbing urban blacks. makes sense

  • ||

    21st Century AmeriKa; Where patriotism is a badge of hatred and not honor.
    Good times... Good times....

  • Mr. FIFY||

    In SPLCspeak, any right-of-center group = hate-filled, armed-to-the-teeth racist militia.

    Even the non-violent ones.

  • erizzow||

    Let's not mention the SPLC was founded by a sexual miscreant/child molester.

  • Lyle||

    I think CNN, in their montage, used an image from a religious procession in Spain. They dress up in white hooded outfits and look like the KKK.

    If true, how ridiculous.

  • Lyle||

    Yeah, I double checked. At 1:38... I'm pretty sure those guys are part of a Catholic procession.

  • ||

    I needed a good laugh this morning, and the SPLC has helped Jesse Walker to stimulate it. Now, what can be done to motivate the SPLC to publish this report twice per year??

  • Sarah Conner||

    A hate group keeps a list of imaginary hate groups. Are they completely irrelevant yet?

  • ernie1241||

    If you or your family were ever on the receiving end of some hate-based comment or act -- you might not have such a flippant attitude about it.

    There is nothing "imaginary" about the scores of people who are arrested and convicted of hate crimes in our country every year -- including assaults, beatings, attempted or actual murder, bombings, etc.

    Shame on you for having no interest in such despicable acts.

  • Agreenweed||

    Southern Poverty Law Center...hey that is the group that helps all of us southerners get on welfare right? Shit, I am tired of working 40-50 hrs a week and going to school on top of it! What's their number again? LOL ya right.

  • Public Citizzen||

    I am curious as to where these organizations define the center of the political spectrum in the United States.
    If we have a baseline that has LBJ as a moderate and JFK as a moderately liberal on the Democrat side and Barry Goldwater as a conservative and Everett Dirksen as a moderate on the Republican side I would feel comfortable with their baseline reference. If they are using a different standard, quite likely in the case of the SPLC, then everything that follows becomes suspect.
    I am immediately disturbed by the use of the term "anti-federalist" this casts the entire report into an "us vs them" frame of reference with anybody who is an advocate of responsible federal spending and the reduction of the documented waste in too many federal programs instantly place in the "them" category.

  • ernie1241||

    The "us versus them" paradigm is precisely what SPLC is describing as the organizing force of extremist groups.

    Extremists do not recognize the existence of honorable, decent, intelligent, principled and patriotic opponents who have competing alternative views. Instead, they portray ALL critics or opponents as sinister evil "enemies" of our way of life who are consciously working to destroy our country and our freedoms.

  • ||

    Eighteen years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote then-Attorney General Janet Reno to warn about extremists in the militia movement, saying that the "mixture of armed groups and those who hate" was "a recipe for disaster."

    They went to the right place. If it wasn't for this kind of vigilance against hate and violence, that savage, extremist bitch Vicki Weaver would still be in possession of her head!

  • ΘJΘʃ de águila||

    SPLC = informants for the Nazi Police State.

  • mosco||

    SPLC is a political and propaganda group, bordering on a hate group for the left. Any entity that promotes their stuff as credible has to be seen in that light also.

    All of them, including West Point, are delusional in presuming they have any idea how much "anti-federalist" / activist-libertarian activity there is, since most is now underground, not on Facebook. And though the article alludes to it, the spectrum of positions is so vast it renders categorization meaningless.

  • Josua||

    Meanwhile, space cadet Mark Kelly purchased an "assault weapon" and "high-capacity" magazines after delivering his anti-constitution vomit in Colorado, according to Breitbart.

    My condolences that a crazy person seriously wounded his wife and killed other people around her, including a 9 year old girl. However, I didn't do it and that pontificating blow-hard has no right to trample on the constitution. What a worthless turd.

    So, to Mark Kelly: I don't give a damn that crazy person shot your wife. I don't care. I'm sick of it. Stuff it. If you don't like living in a country with a right to keep and bear arms, THEN GET THE FUCK OUT OF IT.

  • ernie1241||

    None of our Constitutional rights is absolute. For example, we have freedom of speech but there are also libel and slander laws, and laws regarding obscenity and pornography.

    Similarly, we have second amendment rights but no serious person believes that gun ownership is an absolute right not subject to reasonable restrictions.

    Significantly, professional law enforcement organizations which routinely endorse the most conservative political candidates have publicly associated themselves with reasonable restrictions.

    You have publicly declared that you "don't care" what crazy people do. That means you are not mentally stable enough or morally fit to be a gun owner.

  • ernie1241||

    Jesse Walker is correct to point out the inherent problems with attempting to create a numerically accurate list of radical groups of any kind. There is also a matter of carefully defining what views should legitimately be considered "extremist" -- as opposed to mindless defenses of the status quo.

    For example: Former Cong. Ron Paul has endorsed the John Birch Society and he has spoken at its events. However, it is manifestly false to describe Cong. Paul as a Bircher nor should he be listed as an extremist.

    In fact, it is not even known if Cong. Paul is aware of the full scope of what the JBS believes, i.e. the poisonous underlying predicates of JBS ideology. Significantly, for example, Cong. Paul has described Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks as two of his heroes whereas the JBS considers them both to be Communists or Communist agents!

    The problem with the "numbers game" is that numerical summaries regarding the number of "extremist" groups in existence does not capture more important aspects such as the degree to which extremist arguments are helping to shape public policy debates or influencing public perceptions about our national leaders and institutions.

  • ernie1241||

    All political extremists exploit targets of opportunity, i.e. they constantly seek issues or controversies to exploit in order to bring angry, fearful, or concerned Americans into their ranks, especially during times of economic, political, or social stress.

    Many issues which the JBS exploits are genuine problems or concerns which deserve attention. But the JBS doesn't just offer an alternative (although bizarre) interpretation of those issues or propose some unorthodox remedy. The JBS brings into every discussion a poisonous world-view which the overwhelming majority of Americans would reject if they understood the underlying JBS argument.

    Example: principled conservatives (such as Barry Goldwater) opposed 1964 civil rights legislation, but they did NOT associate themselves with the JBS predicate that our civil rights movement was begun by, was staffed by, and was controlled by Communists, and "served only Communist purposes".

    Most Americans (including Ron Paul, Tea Party Movement adherents and most Republicans) probably do not agree with this statement which was published in the May 2008 JBS Bulletin:

    "Just as the JBS showed in the 1960's that the communists basically ran both the civil rights movement and the KKK, the strategy was nothing new." ...

    Nevertheless, it is very common for people to claim that the JBS is the same as the Tea Party or that today's GOP is the same as the JBS.

    Definition of terms (and proper use of those terms) should be the first priority.

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