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White nationalist, anti-LGBTQ activity on the rise, annual hate report shows

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White nationalist, anti-LGBTQ activity on the rise, annual hate report shows

Jun 04, 2024 | 5:42 pm ET
By Ashley Murray
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White nationalist, anti-LGBTQ activity on the rise, annual hate report shows
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One of the hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” who marched during the “Unite the Right” rally Aug. 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported Tuesday that the number of white nationalist groups in the U.S. rose to a record high in 2023. (Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Emboldened by the mainstreaming of hard-right politics ahead of a presidential election cycle, white nationalist and anti-LGBTQ+ groups increased to record levels in the United States last year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s latest annual report on hate and extremism released Tuesday.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has published the annual report since 1990, documented 835 active anti-government groups, up 133 from 2022’s count, and 595 hate groups, an increase of 72 over the previous year’s figure.

Accounting for a large portion of the increase was a 50% surge in white supremacy hate groups in 2023, the highest jump ever recorded by the SPLC, growing to 165 over 109 in 2022. White power and neo-Nazi rallies across the U.S. totaled 143 in 2023, down from 191 in 2022.

SPLC saw a 33% rise in anti-LGBTQ+ organizations over last year, bringing the total to 86. The group said the growth was largely attributable to the anti-trans movement on the far-right.

“What we’re seeing now should be a wake-up call for all of us,” Margaret Huang, SPLC’s president and CEO, said on a call with reporters. “Our 2023 report documented more hate and anti-government extremist groups than ever before. With a historic election just months away, these groups are multiplying, mobilizing and making, and in some cases already implementing, plans to undo democracy.”

Hate groups have increased in-person events and leafleting, according to the report. The SPLC tracked nearly 7,000 flyering incidents last year, many including language derived from racist and antisemitic conspiracies.

The groups also launched campaigns to gain influence in mainstream politics, according to the report, namely through the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 manifesto that outlines aspirations for anti-abortion, anti-free press and anti-LGBTQ+ priorities should presumed GOP presidential nominee and former President Donald Trump win in November.

Nine of the anti-government and hate groups tracked by the SPLC are part of the coalition that supports Project 2025, the organization reports.

Florida a leader in anti-government, hate groups

Among the states leading in numbers of anti-government and hate groups are California, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Washington and Ohio.

California topped the list with 51 hate and 66 anti-government groups.

The SPLC recorded the second-most groups in Florida, which has become a leader in book-banning incidents and restrictive policies on teachers. The Sunshine State is home to 43 hate and 71 anti-government organizations, according to the report, and is the birthplace of recently influential “parental rights” group Moms for Liberty.

Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice was invited in March 2023 to testify before a U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary subcommittee then chaired by Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, who is now House speaker. 

The annual survey of hate groups tracked 116 hate-leafleting incidents in Florida, where the antisemitic groups rallied and flyered on multiple occasions, including over Labor Day when groups named the Goyim Defense League, The Order of the Black Sun and the Maine-based Blood Tribe marched in Orlando wielding flags with swastikas and making Nazi salutes.

Antisemitism, already on the rise, became more pronounced following Israel’s continuing offensive on the Gaza Strip following the Hamas-led terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023.

“Antisemitic conspiracies seeped into mainstream narratives at an alarming pace and 2023. Specifically after Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attack, the far right blurred the lines between legitimate criticism of the Israeli government’s actions and outright antisemitism,” R.G. Cravens, SPLC’s senior research analyst for its Intelligence Project, said during Tuesday’s call with reporters.

Following the Hamas attack, the so-called Goyim Defense League distributed a flyer online and in person that read “FREE PALESTINE,” as a “not-so-thinly-veiled attempt at stoking more antisemitism and using Palestinian people to further their own aims,” according to the report.

Christian ‘dominionism’

The SPLC report also cited the expanding influence of extreme Christian nationalism as a driver for the growing number of anti-government organizations.

The report expresses concern over the rise in the Republican ranks of Johnson, a former senior lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal advocacy group behind the U.S. Supreme Court case that precipitated the overturning of the federal right to abortion.

Johnson’s far-right politics, including his anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ positions and his advocacy to blur Christianity and the state, are well documented.

Spokespeople for Johnson did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

The Alliance for Defending Freedom describes SPLC as a “discredited” and “scandal-ridden group,” and denounces the organization’s “hate map.” The SPLC currently has an interactive U.S. map pinpointing locations of anti-government and hate groups.

“Eventually, their definition of hate included huge swaths of well-respected, mainstream, conservative America,” according to a post on the Alliance for Defending Freedom website.

The SPLC report specifically warns about the rise of the National Apostolic Reformation, a Christian movement made up of “dominionist leaders” that aim to “seize control” of seven areas of society, including government, education and business.

Decline in militias

One area in which the report documented a decline is in the militia movement, which suffered after the hundreds of Department of Justice prosecutions following the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The numbers of militias dropped to 52 in 2023, from 61 in 2022.

One of the most prominent militias, the Oath Keepers, significantly diminished its presence following the 2023 conviction and sentencing of its leader Stewart Rhodes for seditious conspiracy leading up to and during the Jan. 6 attack.

The Oath Keepers active militia chapters dropped to 10 in 2023 from 79 in 2022.