Time to stem rise of hate groups

Hate groups are on the rise in America. This is a national problem, and we all should be concerned about it.

The number of such groups has exceeded 1,000 for the first time since the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization based in Montgomery, Ala., started compiling this information in the 1980s.

Hatemongers "have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics," the center says.

The organization also tracked two other related groups, made up of self-proclaimed nativists and patriots.

Nativist extremists go beyond advocating restrictive immigration policy and actually confront or harass suspected immigrants or their employers. Groups comprising such individuals barely showed any rise last year.

Patriot groups consist of antigovernment zealots and conspiracy theorists who see the government as the enemy. Such groups showed a 61 percent increase, with more than 300 new ones appearing over the last year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

There is some overlap here. One common sentiment is extreme hostility toward President Obama. He is a "lightning rod for many on the political right, a man who represents both the federal government and the fact that the racial makeup of the United States is changing, something that upsets a significant number of white Americans," the center's report says.

This sentiment is surfacing on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, as neo-Confederate groups are attracting attention for their celebrations of a time when African-Americans were slaves.

No part of the country is immune from hate. For example, Pennsylvania has 36 hate groups, compared to Alabama's 33, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. And with 68 such groups, California has more than Mississippi and Louisiana combined.

We are living in dangerous times. The economy is not doing well. The public discourse is rancid and rancorous. And a segment of our population is drifting ever further out into a kind of racist paranoia.

We need to defuse this hatred now before it consumes us.

Contact David A. Love, the executive editor of BlackCommentator.com, at pmproj@progressive.org.