Raymond Duda, FBI Special Agent in Charge in Seattle, speaks during a news conference at a podium at left, Wednesday, Feb. 26,…
Raymond Duda, FBI Special Agent in Seattle, speaks during a news conference, Feb. 26, 2020, about charges against a group of alleged members of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division for cyber-stalking and mailing threatening communications.

WASHINGTON - The number of hate groups in the United States fell in 2019, but white nationalist outfits continued to grow in number, a leading advocacy organization said Wednesday.   

The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center said the number of hate groups in America decreased by about 8% to 940, driven by the collapse of two major neo-Nazi organizations: the National Socialist Movement and the Traditionalist Workers Party. The number of hate groups had increased each of the previous four years, reaching a record high of 1,020 in 2018.   

As a result, despite last year’s drop, 156 more hate groups operated in the United States in 2019 compared with five years ago. And the number of groups espousing white nationalism continued to edge higher, rising from 148 to 155, an increase of 55 percent since 2017, while anti-LGBT organizations jumped from 49 to 70, an increase of nearly 43 percent.   

“Make no mistake: We have a crisis of hate and extremism in our country — and the toxic ideas propagated by these hate groups not only lead to violence but erode the very foundations of our democracy,” said Lecia Brooks, a spokesperson for SPLC.  

Groups pose 'a real danger'

Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the explosion in the number of anti-LGBTQ groups “poses a real danger” to LGBT people.  Exacerbating the threat, Minter said, is that a growing number of state legislatures have taken up draconian bills targeting sexual minorities. 

“Now more than ever, we must push back against these hateful narratives and call on elected officials and others to stand up for our common humanity,” Minter said.  

White nationalists were behind several hate-inspired attacks in 2019, including a shooting rampage at a synagogue in Poway, California, in April, and a massacre of Hispanic shoppers in El Paso, Texas, in August.    

White extremists weren’t the only perpetrators of violence. In December, two members of a black separatist movement attacked a kosher restaurant in New Jersey, while a machete-wielding African American injured six people at the home of a rabbi in Monsey, New York.     

The SPLC defines a hate group as an organization with "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people." The center says its annual tally of hate groups – now in its 30th year – is one barometer of hate and extremism in the country. While widely used by advocates and mainstream media, the designations have been challenged by some groups that say they've been unfairly labeled.  

The report comes amid a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. In New York City, home to the country’s largest Asian American population, police have recorded at least five anti-Asian hate crimes in recent weeks. In the latest incident, on Monday, a 35-year-old woman was jumped and spat on by a stranger who blamed her for the virus.  

Surge of violence against Asians 

The SPLC has not identified anti-Asian hate groups in America. But Brooks and other advocates said during a call with reporters that they were concerned about the sudden surge in violence targeting Asians. Eric Ward of the Western States Center warned that anti-Chinese rhetoric could encourage attacks on Asian Americans.   

“At a time of great panic and fear, that will only lead to physical violence being expressed,” Ward said.  

Among the report’s other findings:  

— The number of anti-immigrant groups rose from 17 to 20.

— The number of anti-Muslim hate groups fell from 100 to 84.

— KKK, America’s oldest and most familiar hate group, continued to decline in popularity, with chapters falling from 51 to 47. 

— The number of black separatist groups, many of which are anti-white, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ, remained unchanged at 255.