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The civil rights watchdog group the Southern Poverty Law Center says the number of hate groups in the U.S. is growing. The center attributes the rise to what it calls hysteria around the changing demographics of the country. NPR's Leila Fadel reports.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: The annual "Year In Hate And Extremism" report from the Southern Poverty Law Center says last year, the number of hate groups rose by 7 percent. It's part of a four-year trend that has seen a 30 percent increase. Heidi Beirich, who heads the group's Intelligence Project, says the majority of these groups are driven by white supremacist ideology.
HEIDI BEIRICH: The other thing that we have seen in recent years is a wave of racist and anti-Semitic violence break out across the country at levels that we hadn't seen prior.
FADEL: She points to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, among others. The report states that this rise of hate groups is being driven by the president's rhetoric and right-wing media that plays on fears of a less white country.
BEIRICH: The words and imagery coming out of the Trump administration, and from Trump himself, are heightening these fears. These images of foreign, scary invader - this is fearmongering, and it's making people feel like this country is changing in a dangerous direction.
FADEL: The report points out there is a reaction happening - the growth in black nationalist movements with extremist views. The key difference, though, the report says, is they have little support or political sway.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has been a stalwart of civil rights work for decades. But lately, it's been the subject of controversy. Critics question whether it's blurring the lines between its role as a watchdog and political activism. In 2018, the center's president, Richard Cohen, apologized to British activist Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation for including him on a list of anti-Muslim extremists.
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RICHARD COHEN: Although we may have our differences with some of the positions that Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam have taken, they are most certainly not anti-Muslim extremists. We'd like to extend our sincerest apologies.
FADEL: It paid a settlement of $3.4 million. The Southern Poverty Law Center is also being sued by three organizations on the hate group list, including the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank that advocates for restrictive immigration policies. Beirich says she stands by the decision to include groups that she says disseminate hate speech.
One of their new report's key findings is that some of the fringe groups that felt emboldened by the rise of President Trump are starting to lose faith in him. She warns that if these groups don't feel there is a political path, more people could turn to violence. Leila Fadel, NPR News.
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