Number of Hate Groups Rising, Report Finds

AP, March 10, 2008

Anti-immigrant sentiment is fueling nationwide increases in the number of hate groups and the number of hate crimes targeting Latinos, a watchdog group said Monday.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, in a report titled “The Year in Hate,” said it counted 888 hate groups in its latest tally, up from 844 in 2006 and 602 in 2000.

The most prominent of the organizations newly added to the list, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, vehemently rejected the “hate group” label, and questioned the law center’s motives. FAIR said the center was using smear tactics to boost donations and stifle legitimate debate on immigration.

“Their banner may be ‘Stop the hate’ but it’s really ‘Stop the debate,”’ said FAIR’s president, Dan Stein. “Apparently you can’t even articulate an argument for immigration reform without being smeared.”

The law center’s report contends there is a link between anti-immigrant activism and the significant rise in hate crimes against Latinos in recent years. According to the latest FBI statistics, 819 people were victimized by anti-Latino hate crimes in 2006, compared with 595 in 2003.

“The immigration debate has turned ugly and the result has been a growth in white supremacist hate groups and anti-Latino hate crime,” said Mark Potok, director of the law center’s Intelligence Project. {snip}

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Critics of the law center, including FAIR, contend that the periodic reports on hate groups exaggerate the threat to public safety and inflate the total by including entities that are little more than Web sites or online chatrooms.

Potok acknowledged that some of the groups may be small and said it is impossible for outsiders to gauge the membership of most of the groups.

Among the largest categories of hate groups, Potok said, are neo-Nazi, white nationalist, racist skinhead and those with links to the Ku Klux Klan.

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The law center said its decision to designate FAIR a hate group was based in part on the ideology of various people who established it, worked for it or donated to it over its nearly 30-year history. The center has issued a detailed report outlining its allegations, although little of that report deals with FAIR’s recent activities.

The center’s critique of FAIR was endorsed by a major Latino group, the National Council of La Raza. The council’s vice president for advocacy and legislation, Cecilia Munoz, said FAIR’s leaders were polished in public forums, but represented “a very unsavory set of views.”

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Both FAIR and law center are relatively well known in the ranks of advocacy groups. The law center, which started as a small civil rights group in 1971, has amassed an endowment fund totaling $200 million as of October and it received nearly $29 million in grants and contributions in fiscal 2007.

FAIR claims more than 250,000 members and reported more than $4 million in contributions in 2006.

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