The economy is driving people crazy, literally, when it comes to the growing number of hate groups in this country. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights organization that monitors the activities of such groups, reports that the worsening recession, soaring public debt, bailouts for bankers, and misinformation -- death panels, really? -- over President Obama's attempts at health care reform are fueling the radicalism. Good thing South Carolina charges only $5 for these subversive groups to register!
"Already there are signs of ... violence emanating from the radical right. Since the installation of Barack Obama, rightwing extremists have murdered six law enforcement officers," says the report, according to the leftish English newspaper, the Guardian. "Racist skinheads and others have been arrested in alleged plots to assassinate the nation's first black president. One man from Brockton, Massachusetts – who told police he had learned on white supremacist websites that a genocide was under way against whites – is charged with murdering two black people and planning to kill as many Jews as possible on the day after Obama's inauguration. Most recently, a rash of individuals with anti-government, survivalist or racist views have been arrested in a series of bomb cases."
The SPLC says it hasn't seen this level of activity since the 1990s, when the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 left 168 dead, including 19 children.
Last month, Joseph Stack, the pilot who flew his plane into the Internal Revenue Service office in Austin, Texas, posted this message online hours before killing himself and injuring dozens: "Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer."
Familiar names on the right: Fox News, Fox's Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann are blamed for encouraging this sentiment. The conservative meeting CPAC counted the extreme John Birch Society, which believes that President Eisenhower was a communist, as a sponsor. Some militias are printing their own money.
The SPLC report also says that anti-immigration vigilante groups are up 80%, growing by 136 new groups in 2009, begging the question -- why can't y'all take up yoga instead of trying to hurt people?
There is a silver lining to this hate rash. A group of people in the Richmond, Virginia-area raised $10,000 for the four Jewish organizations targeted by the protests of the hate-group Westboro Baptist Church. They were inspired by a synagogue in New York that raised $10,000 when Westboro staged a 50-minute protest outside.
Last June, Walletpop's Bruce Watson asked whether the recession is making us nicer, citing the rise in volunteerism. I still want to believe, overall, that it is, and that it's only a tiny minority of vicious freaks making noise. If only they didn't have a powerful cable network to help them.
UPDATE: Historically, violence surges in economic downturns, and that violence ranges from political--violent threats in protest signs, loaded firearms at protests or where President Obama is speaking, a suicide pilot and Pentagon shooter--to domestic. Politically, fringe groups on the right and left are responsible for recent acts of violence against the government. The Pentagon shooter shot and killed yesterday distrusted the government over 9/11 conspiracies and strict marijuana laws--does that make him liberal or conservative fringe or just plain fringe? No one fully knows yet. What's alarming is that, as the study by the Southern Poverty Law Center points out, the rise in hate groups from the radical right is a disturbing trend with mainstream support within the conservative party. No party or leader or protester should condone violence of any kind.