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Anti-Muslim hate groups tripled across the U.S. in 2016

DEARBORN, MI – JANUARY 23: Anti-Muslim graffiti defaces a shi’ite mosque at the Islamic Center of America January 23, 2007 in Dearborn, Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

2016 an ‘Unprecedented Year for Hate’

The number of anti-Muslim hate groups across the United States nearly tripled in the last year, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The organization, which works to combat social and economic injustice through litigation and education campaigns, released the results of its annual census of hate and extremist groups on Wednesday. The number of hate and extremist groups emerging across the United States rose for the second straight year; those deemed anti-Muslim hate groups swelled from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016.

The report states that this continued rise can be directly attributed to the anti-Muslim rhetoric that peppered the presidential campaign and election of President Donald Trump.

“There is something going on in our country and it’s fairly dramatic,” said Mark Potok, SPLC senior fellow and the editor of the report. “Trump has really unleashed [a kind of] right-wing hate in the country that is difficult to remember.”

This resurgence was marked not only by a proliferation of hate groups, but also by an uptick in crimes targeting Muslim communities. According to the FBI, hate crimes against Muslims spiked 67 percent in 2015 — higher than any other major category of hate crime.

Redesigning Racism

Since 1999, the SPLC’s “Hate Map” has tracked the growth of hate entities in the U.S., which grew from a total of 457 in its first reporting year to 917 now. Groups chronicled in the report range from black separatist to anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, and Holocaust denial groups, anti-government fringe movements, and white nationalists.

But 2011 saw the highest number of extremist groups operating in the country, at 1,018. Wednesday’s latest figures are just 101 shy of that number.

The rise of the radical right has heavily contributed to this latest boom, which was “electrified” by Trump’s campaign and election, Potok says. Trump, whom Potok and the SPLC claim championed the idea that “America is fundamentally a white man’s country,” also helped galvanize a new class of right-wing extremists and usher in what they called a “rebranding of white supremacy.”

That reenvisioning is a shift from the right-wing extremism or white nationalism of the past, many agree, which was probably best represented by overt terrorism waged by the Klu Klux Klan. Gone are the robes and burning crosses, for the most part, but they have been replaced by more organized and sophisticated hate action online. “Trump has co-opted many of the issues of the radical right,” Potok says. “At least four major groups grew entirely on the strength of cheering Trump’s behavior.”

These groups he mentions — Identity Evropa of California; The Right Stuff, based in New York; American Vanguard, and The Daily Stormer, which calls Trump “Our Glorious Leader” — all rose in prominence in the past year.

Resisting the Radical Right

Despite this radical growth of hate groups filled with anti-Muslim ideologues who have been celebrating Trump’s rhetoric and actions, there is massive resistance pushing back against them and the administration.

After Trump’s controversial executive order barring individuals entry from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Americans nationwide flooded the country’s major airports to protest the action. Then, the order was overturned by a federal appeals court. And that pushback doesn’t appear to be fizzling out soon.

Advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the federal government over the order, have seen a dramatic increase in donations and membership sign-up — a signal that many enraged by the rhetoric pushed by the Trump administration are engaged in and willing to support action opposing his policy.

While this may warm the hearts of optimists, the SPLC warns that extremist organizations could continue to grow, and quickly. Potok advises against dismissing the growth of internet hate groups, which he says sometimes start “brick and mortar” branches and clubs.

These groups might seem benign, Potok says, or appear like they are merely “trolling” others on the web — “except when the moment comes to start shooting.”