March 3, 2010 -- Anti-government sentiments in the U.S. have reached levels so high they could result in another attack like the Oklahoma City bombing, according to a report released Tuesday by an organization that tracks right-wing extremists – and the authors of the report place part of the blame on Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Rep. Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin.
In a statement to ABC News, Lou Dobbs hit back at the director of the group that prepared the report, calling him "paranoid."
A host of recent attacks on law enforcement, plots against President Obama, and a shooting at Washington, D.C.'s Holocaust museum are "signs of the times," said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit group that monitors militias, white supremacists, and other extremist activity. Potok made his comments during a teleconference with reporters to promote the SPLC's latest annual report on hate-group activity.
"We've seen more threats and actual attacks in the past 18 months than we've seen at any given period over the past 15 years," claimed Potok.
Potok said he blames some public personalities and conservative politicians for inciting fear.
Potok cited talk-show host Glenn Beck for stoking fears that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is running concentration camps, former CNN host Lou Dobbs for incurring fears about supposed Mexican plots to take over the southwestern U.S., Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., for making statements about secret political reeducation camps, and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin for referring to Obama "death panels" during the health care debate. Bachmann and Beck are also cited by name in the SPLC's report, but Dobbs and Palin are not.
"These people help to bring completely groundless conspiracy theories from the margins into the mainstream," said Potok.
In a phone interview, Dobbs scoffed at the report. "It's sad that Mr. Potok insists upon maintaining his paranoia, and I hope that he recovers."
"Beyond that, I have nothing to say about the man," said Dobbs.
'Another Oklahoma City Is Very Much a Possibility'
A spokesperson for Beck declined comment. Spokespersons for Bachmann and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin did not respond by press time to requests for comment.
Bachmann and Beck are discussed in the report itself as possible sources of anger, while Potok cited Palin and Dobbs in separate articles accompanying the report.
The latest annual SPLC report, "Rage on the Right," claims there has been a startling rise in numbers of extremist groups, particularly in the Patriot movement and militias, the paramilitary branches of these Patriot groups. Patriot groups see the federal government as their primary enemy and adhere to extreme antigovernment doctrines, frequently believing in groundless conspiracy theories.
According to the SPLC's figures, the number of active Patriot groups grew from 149 to 512, an increase of 363 groups (244 percent) in 2009, and the number of militia groups grew from 42 to 127, an increase of 85 groups (200 percent) in 2009.
The number of nativist vigilante organizations that go beyond advocating strict immigration policy and actually confront or harass suspected immigrants grew from 173 to 309, an increase 136 groups (almost 80 percent) in 2009, the report said.
The number of hate groups based on racism, anti-Semitism and anti-gay sentiment grew from 926 to 932 in 2009. SPLC said this increase caps a decade in which the number of hate groups surged by 55 percent from 2000 to 2009 (602 groups to 932).
Potok says the expansion of hate groups in 2009 would have been much greater if not for the demise of the American National Socialist Workers Party, a key neo-Nazi group whose founder, Bill White, was arrested in October 2008. The group had 35 chapters.
Taken together, these three radical strands -- antigovernment Patriot groups, nativist extremist groups and hate groups -- increased their numbers by approximately 40 percent in 2009, according to Potok.
Potok said one of the main fears is that these radical groups are infiltrating mainstream groups like the Tea Party movement because of cross pollination of individuals who attend radical group meetings and more mainstream gatherings.
Potok said he thinks that the climate today matches that of the 'white hot' tension among anti-government groups prior to the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 150 people in 1995.
"Another Oklahoma City is very much a possibility," said Potok.