Radical anti-government “patriot” groups and militias, galvanized against gun control, will continue to grow even as the number of groups operating in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2012, a report Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center finds.
The center tracked 1,360 radical militias and anti-government groups in 2012, an eightfold increase over 2008, when it recorded 149 such groups. The explosive growth began four years ago, sparked by the election of President Barack Obama and anger about the poor economy, the center says. That growth is likely to continue as the groups recruit more members with a pro-gun message, the center’s senior fellow Mark Potok said.
Obama’s second term and a gun control movement bolstered by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School is intensifying anti-government rage and will lead to more growth for the groups, Potok said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil-rights advocacy group based in Montgomery, Ala., defines the patriot movement as groups of people who believe the federal government is conspiring to confiscate Americans’ guns and curtail liberties to create a socialist government or “new order.” Most are non-violent citizens groups. Some groups also include militias, which arm themselves and conduct military-style training, the center said.
Conservative critics say the center uses its rhetoric to undermine right-wing and conservative groups.
The Southern Poverty Law Center uses its extremism report as a way to raise funds, says Bill Hahn, a spokesman for the John Birch Society, a conservative, anti-communist group based in Appleton, Wis, that advocates limited government. The group is on the center’s list of anti-government groups.
The 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 written statement. “The SPLC will continue to utilize fear to fill their bank accounts.”
The John Birch Society opposes violence and urges its members to take action to restore and preserve constitutional freedoms, Hahn said.
Everett Wilkinson, whose Florida-based National Liberty Federation is not listed in the report, says many of the groups simply engage in peaceful rallies and letter-writing campaigns aimed at promoting free markets, fiscal responsibility and limited government.
“The Southern Perversion Law Center is a liberal organization that likes to spread propaganda about right-wing and conservative groups,” Wilkinson said.
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