Hate groups proliferate in America under Trump, watchdog says

WASHINGTON, Feb 21 (Reuters) - The number of U.S. hate groups expanded last year under President Donald Trump, fueled by his immigration stance and the perception that he sympathized with those espousing white supremacy, the Southern Poverty Law Center said on Wednesday

There were 954 hate groups in the country in 2017, marking a 4 percent increase over the previous year when the number rose 2.8 percent, the civil rights watchdog said in its annual census of such groups.

Since 2014, the number has jumped 20 percent, it said.

Among the more than 600 white supremacist groups, neo-Nazi organizations rose to 121 from 99. Anti-Muslim groups increased for a third year in a row, to 114 from 101 in 2016, the report said.

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A member of the Ku Klux Klan gestures as he marches during a rally at the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina July 18, 2015. A Ku Klux Klan chapter and an African-American group planned overlapping demonstrations on Saturday outside the South Carolina State House, where state officials removed the Confederate battle flag last week. REUTERS/Chris Keane
A member of a white supremacy group gives the fascist salute during a gathering in West Allis, Wisconsin, September 3, 2011. Neo-Nazi demonstrators gathered for a "rally in defense of white America" in response to an incident that Milwaukee Police Chief described as racially charged violence outside the Wisconsin state fair on August 4, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Hauck (UNITED STATES) REUTERS/Darren Hauck (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST SOCIETY)
A member of a white supremacy group shouts during a gathering in West Allis, Wisconsin, September 3, 2011. Neo-Nazi demonstrators gathered for a "rally in defense of white America" in response to an incident that Milwaukee Police Chief described as racially charged violence outside the Wisconsin state fair on August 4, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Hauck (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST SOCIETY)
A member of a white supremacy group stands behind a flag with a swastika during a gathering in West Allis, Wisconsin, September 3, 2011. Neo-Nazi demonstrators gathered for a "rally in defense of white America" in response to an incident that Milwaukee Police Chief described as racially charged violence outside the Wisconsin state fair on August 4, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Hauck (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST SOCIETY)
A member of the Ku Klux Klan who says his name is Gary Munker poses for a photo during an interview with AFP in Hampton Bays, New York on November 22, 2016. Munker says his local branch of the KKK, which has recently placed recruitment flyers on car windshields on Long Island, has seen around 1,000 enquiries from people interested in joining since the election of Donald Trump. / AFP / William EDWARDS (Photo credit should read WILLIAM EDWARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of a white supremacy group give the fascist salute during a gathering in West Allis, Wisconsin, September 3, 2011. Neo-Nazi demonstrators gathered for a "rally in defense of white America" in response to an incident that Milwaukee Police Chief described as racially charged violence outside the Wisconsin state fair on August 4, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Hauck (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST SOCIETY)
A supporter of the Ku Klux Klan is seen with his tattoos during a rally at the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina July 18, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane
A member of the Ku Klux Klan gestures as he listens to the crowd while carrying a Confederate flag during a rally at the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina July 18, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane
A member of the Ku Klux Klan yells during a rally at the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina July 18, 2015. A Ku Klux Klan chapter and an African-American group planned overlapping demonstrations on Saturday outside the South Carolina State House, where state officials removed the Confederate battle flag last week.REUTERS/Chris Keane
Members of the Ku Klux Klan yell as they fly Confederate flags during a rally at the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina July 18, 2015. A Ku Klux Klan chapter and an African-American group planned overlapping demonstrations on Saturday outside the South Carolina State House, where state officials removed the Confederate battle flag last week. REUTERS/Chris Keane? TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Last year brought "a substantial emboldening of the radical right, and that is largely due to the actions of President Trump, who's tweeted out hate materials and made light of the threats to our society posed by hate groups," Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, told reporters.

Trump, who took office in January 2017, was elected in November of the previous year. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, founded in 1971, defines hate groups as organizations with beliefs or practices that demonize a class of people. In the past, some groups have criticized the Alabama-based organization's findings, with skeptics saying it has mislabeled legitimate organizations as "hate groups."

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In August, Trump came under under fire for saying "both sides" were to blame for violence at a white supremacist rally in Virginia where a counter-protester was killed.

The Republican president was also criticized for a string of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim comments, including using a vulgar term to describe Haiti and African countries last month.

In a backlash to Trump, the number of black nationalist groups such as the Nation of Islam increased by 20 percent last year, to 233, the non-profit's report said. It added two male supremacy groups to its census for the first time.

A separate investigation by the group showed that people linked to the alt-right killed 43 people in the last four years, including 17 in 2017. The alt-right movement believes that white identity is under attack by multicultural forces.

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The report identified 689 groups associated with the anti-government "Patriot" movement, with about 40 percent of them armed militias.

SPLC acknowledged that its report likely failed to capture the full extent of hate-group activity. It said many of them, especially from the alt-right, operate mainly online. (Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Frank McGurty and Tom Brown)

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