When Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election and became the first African-American president in the nation’s history, it set off a rise in the number of radical extremist and white supremacy groups in the nation, a trend that has been increasing and is expected to escalate even more with his re-election.
A perfect social illustration of just how angry some people were when Obama was declared the victor on election night was displayed at the University of Mississippi. Shortly after midnight, several hundred mostly white students held an angry protest in which they threw rocks at passing cars and shouted racial epithets. Campus police broke up the crowds, and fortunately there were no reported injuries or arrests. “Ole Miss” just happens to be the site of riots 50 years ago when the federal government forced the racial desegregation of the school in 1962.
“We’ve seen a tremendous growth in radical extremist groups, specifically with Patriot Movement groups,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It started in 2008 and 2009, and coincided with the rise to political power of Barack Obama. What we’re seeing are changing population demographics across the nation. In 2009, the Census Bureau predicted that by 2050, whites would no longer be the majority population of the United States, and some people are having a meltdown behind that. This has fueled large numbers of people into these groups.”
According to a new report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors radical political and social groups, there has been a steady rise in their number of what the government calls extremist groups. And the SPLC warns that with Obama’s re-election, these groups may become even more dangerous.
“The radical right grew explosively in 2011, the third such dramatic expansion in as many years,” Potok wrote in the report, The Patriot Movement Explodes. “The growth was fueled by superheated fears generated by economic dislocation, a proliferation of demonizing conspiracy theories, the changing racial makeup of America, and the prospect of four more years under a Black president who many on the far right view as an enemy to their country.”
According to last year’s SPLC statistics, the organization documented 926 active hate groups operating in the United States, a 54 percent increase from the year 2000. It continues a trend that Potok said is now a decade old. The Patriot movement started in 1994 and peaked in 1996, a year after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. The number of groups declined, but resurged in 2008.
“The truly stunning growth came in the anti-government Patriot movement, conspiracy-minded groups that see the federal government as their primary enemy,” said Potok. “The movement came roaring back beginning in late 2008, just as the economy went south with the subprime collapse and, more importantly, as Barack Obama appeared on the political scene as the Democratic nominee and, ultimately, the president-elect. Even as most of the nation cheered the election of the first Black president that November, an angry backlash developed that included several plots to murder Obama. Many Americans, infused with populist fury over bank and auto bailouts and a feeling that they had lost their country, joined Patriot groups.”
According to Potok, the number of Patriot movement groups shot up from 149 in 2008 to 1,274 in 2011.
“We don’t have the 2012 numbers yet, but I can say that these groups have been getting angrier and even angrier over Obama’s re-election,” Potok said. “The fury we’re seeing is a reflection of the radical right’s perception that they’re losing the battle. We could seal the borders tomorrow and not allow another immigrant into the country, and whites would still no longer be the majority. They perceive they’re losing, and their fury is rising. Basically, there are major changes in the country and some people can’t stand it. It’s a small percentage - and some of them might become violent.”