02/25/2014 06:26 pm ET Updated Feb 25, 2014

Hate Groups Declined In 2013 According To Southern Poverty Law Center


The radical right, which was was infused with vim and vigor by President Obama's election, experienced its "first significant decrease" in 2013 since Obama took office, according to a study released today.

The drop in the overall number of hate groups and anti-government "Patriot" groups measured by the Southern Poverty Law Center was not necessarily an indication that extremist views are on the decline. Mainstream politicians adopted portions of the far-right agenda, such as fighting gun control legislation and pushing anti-LGBT equality.

"We're not trying to paint a rosy picture of what's going on out there," said SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok during a conference call with journalists. There's "a leaner and meaner and arguably more frightening movement out there."

Hate groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, dropped by 7 percent to 930 groups across the country in 2013. Patriot groups steeply fell 19 percent to 1,096, according to the SPLC's annual count.

While hate groups are characterized by a favoritism of a race, religion or ethnicity over another, patriot groups represent a wide range of anti-government factions, according to the SPLC.

Hate groups marginally decreased in 2012 after increasing every year since 1999. Patriot groups exploded in growth after Obama's 2008 presidential victory.

Both types remain near record highs and approximately double the number of the 1990s when anti-government militias were in the limelight, according to the report titled "The Year in Hate and Extremism 2013."

The number of members in these groups is impossible to determine, Potok said.

A number of high-profile cases displayed the potential for mayhem by individuals aligned with the radical right.

Suspects in the killing of Colorado's prison chief in April were members of a white supremacist prison gang.

In August, a sting foiled a supposed plot to kidnap and execute Las Vegas cops. The suspects were sovereign citizens, a movement under the Patriot group umbrella who affirm a right to reject any law.

A Seattle gay bar crowded with 750 patrons on New Year's Eve was evacuated after an arsonist allegedly attempted to light it on fire. No one was injured. The suspect might be charged with a hate crime.

A plot was also revealed in the Bismarck Tribune to turn a small North Dakota town into a white supremacist enclave by buying up property.

Among black separatist groups, the New Black Panther Party experienced a burst of attention, by offering a $10,000 bounty for the citizen's arrest of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Trayvon Martin but was found not guilty of his murder.

Tracking the Ku Klux Klan and its 163 klaverns, or chapters, could prove trickier as the report's authors found that various branches of the notorious group abandoned their Internet presence. Elements within the KKK want to regain the secrecy that was historically one of the white supremacist group's well-known traits.

The SPLC, which was founded at the tail end of the civil rights era in 1971, doesn't closely monitor the far left. The report's authors said that left-wing threats are insignificant.

"What we are struggling with is not left-wing terrorism," said Potok. "It's a very significant and revived right."

Bucking the overall decline noted by the SPLC was a slight rise in the number of anti-LGBT groups from 34 in 2012 to 40 last year. With the passage of same-sex marriage to 18 states and court rulings widening protections for same-sex couples, the SPLC, however, concluded that the influence of homophobic groups is on the wane.

Researchers pointed to several factors contributing to the reduction in hate groups and anti-government groups prone to conspiracy theories of a looming socialist world takeover.

Conservative Republicans at the local, state and federal level incorporated elements of the far-right's platform, such as opposition to gun control legislation. Potok said this co-opting was "one of the primary reasons" for the drop.

Obama's reelection in 2012 deflated the far-right, too, which is ironic because his historic election as the first African-American president was a galvanizing force just a few years ago.

"It was a reaction of real dismay," said Potok. "It took the wind out of their sails."

Law enforcement have effectively broken up many far right groups, too, the researchers concluded.

The FBI in 2011 labeled the sovereign citizens movement as a "growing domestic threat."

The massacre of six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012 by neo-Nazi Wade Page intensified the undeclared crackdown on hate groups, Potok said. Since that attack, Volksfront, a racist skinhead group, disbanded its 17 chapters.

"None of this is to suggest that the radical right in America does not remain highly dangerous," the report warned. "The weakening of groups often has the effect of fostering, rather than retarding, followers’ decisions to finally act out violently."