The number of U.S. hate groups increased for the third year in a row, the Southern Poverty Law Center said Wednesday, warning that neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups saw the most expansion last year under the presidency of Donald Trump, who is seen as sympathetic and tolerant toward their actions.
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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.
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.
"President Trump in 2017 reflected what white supremacist groups want to see: a country where racism is sanctioned by the highest office, immigrants are given the boot and Muslims banned."
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In just one year in office Trump ordered several travel bans, targeting several Muslim-majority countries, which are seen as his version of the “Muslim ban” he promised during his presidential campaign in 2016. Such orders are being challenged in the courts as several judges ruled the bans unconstitutional.
Trump is also notorious for using derogatory and vulgar language when talking about immigrants and refugees such as his recent comment describing Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries”.
In August, Trump came under fire for saying "both sides" were to blame for violence at a white supremacist rally in Virginia where Heather Heyer was killed after a white supremacist plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. "It's as if our culture has been infused by these ideas," Beirich said.
The report by the Southern Poverty Law Center also comes days after yet another shooting took place in the United States at a high school in Florida in which shooter Nicolas Cruz has reportedly said he wanted to kill Blacks and Latinos while photos showed him wearing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hat.
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The group also added two male supremacy groups to its census for the first time. The male supremacist movement "misrepresents all women as genetically inferior, manipulative and stupid and reduces them to their reproductive or sexual function," the SPLC said in its report.
Meanwhile the watchdog said that in backlash against Trump and the rise of white alt-right groups, Black nationalist organizations have increased by 20 percent, to 233, in 2017.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, founded in 1971, defines hate groups as organizations with beliefs or practices that demonize a class of people. The research center, however, 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.