The number of radical anti-government “Patriot” and militia groups in the U.S. soared to an all-time high last year, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The “Patriot movement,” according to the organization, “believes that the federal government is conspiring to take Americans’ guns and destroy their liberties as it paves the way for a global ‘one-world government.’”
The Southern Poverty Law Center — a left-leaning nonprofit that monitors groups it deems hateful and extremist, including the Ku Klux Klan, New Black Panther Party and Aryan Nation — tracked 1,360 such groups in 2012, up from 1,274 in 2011 and a meteoric surge from 149 in 2008.
That rise, according to the center, is due to the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president and anger over the economic downturn, and is likely to continue with the White House-led push for more gun control.
“We are seeing a real and rising threat of domestic terrorism as the number of far-right anti-government groups continues to grow at an astounding pace,” Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the center and the author of the report, said in a statement. “It is critically important that the country take this threat seriously. The potential for deadly violence is real, and clearly rising.”
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano sent Tuesday, the center asked for a government task force to assess the situation, likening it to the period before the 1995 Oklahoma City domestic terror bombing.
“As in the period before the Oklahoma City bombing, we now also are seeing ominous threats from those who believe that the government is poised to take their guns,” the letter stated. “Because of the looming dangers, we urge you to establish an interagency task force to assess the adequacy of resources devoted to responding to the growing threat of non-Islamic domestic terrorism.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the reaction to Obama’s push for new gun control has been similar to the 1994 assault weapons ban under President Bill Clinton, but has not triggered nearly the same number of groups, which peaked at 858 in 1996.
The center also attributed the movement’s rise to a backlash against immigration and the predicted loss of the “white majority.”
“For many, the election of America’s first black president symbolizes the country’s changing demographics, with the loss of its white majority predicted by 2043. … Now that comprehensive immigration reform is poised to legitimize and potentially accelerate the country’s demographic change, the backlash to that change may accelerate as well,” the report stated.
Bill Hahn, a spokesman for the John Birch Society, which is listed as one of the anti-government groups, dismissed the Southern Poverty Law Center as merely trying to discredit conservative groups and raise money while doing so. The John Birch Society is an anti-communist and limited government organization that describes itself as “dedicated to restoring and preserving freedom under the United States Constitution.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center “is very adept at creating the specter that armed groups will overthrow the government or that the continuously dying supremacy movement is lurking behind every rock,” Hahn said in a statement to USA Today. “The SPLC will continue to utilize fear to fill their bank accounts.”
You can view a list of the groups — including several Tea Party organizations — here.