Perspective 71. Hate and Extremism in the United States: Declining?
Recent data show that the number of hate groups in the United States has actually declined over the last three years. Is this a sign that the tide has turned in the battle against bigotry and xenophobia?
No. To the contrary, it seems to be an indication of how extremists are now operating in the mainstream rather than through isolated fringe organizations. They are part of the new hard right that threatens to dominate the Republican Party.
In perspective, the threat to American democracy is greater than at any other moment in recent history. This is amply documented in the 2021 annual report on "The Year in Hate and Extremism" from the Southern Poverty Law Center, long the outstanding source for reliable information on extremist groups in the country.
The SPLC counts 733 active hate groups in 2021, down from the all-time high of 1021 in 2018. But ideas associated with these groups have indeed gone mainstream as state after state passes laws designed to suppress voting among minorities, forbid educators from discussing racial issues, and intimidate election officials who could find no fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
The hard right has popularized the kooky "great replacement theory": the paranoid fantasy that there is a grand conspiracy to replace white Americans with immigrants and other undesirables. Often this is no more than coded antisemitism, with hints that a Jewish elite is behind it all. "Jews will not replace us" was the chant at the infamous 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
Tucker Carlson, the racist Fox broadcaster with the largest audience on cable news, has plugged the great replacement theory in over 400 episodes, according to a New York Times exposé. David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, urged Trump to choose Carlson as his running mate in 2020. Another leading white supremacist called Carlson "literally our greatest ally."
Signs of the times: half of all likely voters agree with the extremists that those jailed for their violence on Jan. 6, 2021, are "political prisoners." And 30 percent of Republicans agree that "true American patriots might have to resort to violence in order to save our country."
So what was once disreputable has become respectable. Why organize as a fringe group when you can, with the endorsement from Mar-a-Lago, win Republican primaries and gain access to the levers of power?