The weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, underscored the re-emergence of white supremacy and nationalist groups in the United States, some experts say.
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Racist hate groups have been a part of U.S. history for much of the country’s existence, but their recent revival has reached a startling point, according to one expert.
“Since the era of formal white supremacy -- right before the Civil Rights Act when we ended [legal] segregation -- since that time, this is the most enlivened that we've seen the white supremacist movement,” said Heidi Beirich, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a legal advocacy organization that monitors such extremist groups.
The Alabama-based nonprofit’s statistics for hate groups in 2017 are not yet available, but it reported finding 917 of the groups across the country last year.
The SPLC breaks down the groups by category, noting that there were 99 neo-Nazi groups, 130 outposts of the Ku Klux Klan, 43 neo-Confederate groups, 78 racist skinhead groups and 100 white nationalist groups. Various other groups – those classified as anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, Christian identity or general hate groups – could also share some ideology with white supremacist or white nationalist groups.
The overall number of U.S. hate groups jumped about 17 percent in 2016 from 784 in 2014, according to SPLC research.
Beirich noted that there has been “massive growth” in recent years, and pointed to the expansion of groups that are associated with neo-Nazi news website the Daily Stormer.
“The Daily Stormer went from one chapter in 2015 to about 30 in 2016,” she said, noting that many of the new groups were having in-person meetings and not just communicating online.
The Associated Press reported Monday that GoDaddy, the web hosting company, notified the Daily Stormer that it had 24 hours to find a new domain hosting service after the site mocked the woman who died at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally when a car rammed into a crowd of counterprotesters.
The Daily Stormer then switched to Google, which canceled the site’s “registration with Google Domains for violating our terms of service,” according to a Goggle statement.
The website, which is no longer accessible online, has not issued a public response but a cached version states that, “We here at the Daily Stormer are opposed to violence.”
Beyond the groups, a number of self-described white supremacists such as Richard Spencer and David Duke, a former Louisiana lawmaker who was once imperial wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, have re-emerged in the spotlight since last year’s presidential campaign. Both were in Charlottesville this weekend, and Duke spoke about how many attendees of the “Unite the Right” rally felt emboldened by the election of President Donald Trump.
"This rally represents a turning point for the people of this country,” Duke said in Charlottesville Saturday. “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That's what we believed in, that's why we voted for Donald Trump because he said we're going to take our country, back and that's what we got to do.”
Trump disavowed Duke last year but only after criticism of the president’s initial statement that he needed “to look into” Duke’s group before distancing himself from the former lawmaker’s endorsement.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism, said the difference this year is that white supremacists and nationalists seem to sense that “this was a moment of opportunity to move from the margins to the mainstream.”
“Trump harnessed this movement and also injected energy into it,” Greenblatt told reporters on a call Monday.
Greenblatt alleged that Trump has been “sort of winking and nodding to them with tweets and racist statements.”
Trump’s campaign raised questions about the state of the KKK in the United States after neo-Nazis and white supremacists were sometimes spotted at his events and a white nationalist super PAC not associated with the Trump campaign made robocalls on Trump's behalf, among other incidents.
Trump received criticism from a number of Republicans and Democrats over the weekend after he initially condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” on Saturday. Two days later, Trump made more forceful comments.
"Racism is evil,” he said in remarks from the White House Monday. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”