Southern Poverty Law Center Finds Fewer Far-Right Groups, Warns Us To Be Worried Anyway

America reacts to a new SPLC report.Every year the Southern Poverty Law Center lists
all the organizations it can assign to one “extremist” category or
another. I’m not a fan of the resulting report. (You can see some
of my past criticisms of its methodology and conclusions here,
and in my book The United States
of Paranoia
.) But I’m always interested to see the spin
that the group puts on its findings—particularly
this year
, when the center’s census shows substantial
declines in both of its major categories. According to the SPLC’s
new figures, the number of hate groups dropped in 2013 for the
second straight year, sliding from 1,007 to 939. And
anti-government “Patriot” groups plunged from 1,360 to 1,096, a
shrinkage that not only reversed 2012’s
heavily hyped growth
in the category but fell below the number
for 2011. How do you cry crisis about that?

The SPLC’s Mark Potok adopts a two-punch strategy. One reason
extremist groups are less popular, he claims,
is that “many issues championed by the radical right have been
adopted by purportedly mainstream politicians.” (His first example:
Some elected officials believe conspiracy theories about
. Of course, that was true when the list was longer,
too.) Meanwhile, as erstwhile extremists exit the movement, the
reduction in the hard core’s numbers “often has the effect of
fostering, rather than retarding, followers’ decisions to finally
act out violently.” The result, he says, is “a
leaner, meaner radical right

I especially enjoyed the second half of that argument. When the
Patriot count was going up last year, Potok
that “the movement and its violence will spurt ahead
yet again.” Now the count is going down, but it turns out that
also means violence is liable to rise. Apparently, Potok
is going to see a swelling threat no matter which way the numbers
that he’s touting are moving. For years I’ve been saying
that the size of the SPLC’s list is not a very good guide to the
size of the threat of domestic terrorism. Who knew that Mark Potok

from Hit & Run

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