KKK groups dwindle as white nationalism becomes 'hip' in 2017: Report

The Southern Poverty Law Center is out with its latest numbers.

ByABC News
February 21, 2018, 1:33 PM

— -- The number of hate groups in America rose slightly in 2017 with some of the biggest shifts coming in areas relating to white supremacy and racism.

There are 954 hate groups in the U.S., an increase of 4 percent from the year before, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit watchdog organization that tracks such groups.

While the number of Ku Klux Klan groups dropped from 130 in 2016 to 72 in 2017, the number of white supremacist groups increased from 99 in 2016 to 121 in 2017.

"In 2017, being a white nationalist suddenly seemed hip. No longer was it just a movement made up of old men wearing Klan robes or swastika armbands. Now it was young men wearing 'fashy' haircuts, khakis and polo shirts," the SPLC report said.

White nationalists Richard Spencer and Nathan Damigo of Identity Evropa speak to the media in Alexandria, Va., Aug. 14, 2017.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The largest expansion was among black nationalist groups, up from 193 chapters in 2016 to 233 chapters in 2017.

The SPLC attributes increases in black nationalist hate groups to a "reaction to white racism" and noted that while the black nationalist chapter increase was numerically more than white supremacist groups, their total is still dwarfed by the more than 600 hate groups that practice some form of white supremacist ideology.

"Trump not only energized white supremacists, he provoked a backlash among the Nation of Islam and small, fringe black nationalist groups that see in him a powerful reassertion of the same centuries-old racism that has always fueled their desire to break away from white America," the report states.

KKK members gathered at a park in Charlottesville, Va., July 8, 2017, to protest a city action that would affect Civil War memorials in city parks.
Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The White House did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment on the report.

Specifically, the growth among white supremacist groups was most dramatically seen in groups "most closely aligned with the new president," the report states, giving examples like Patriot Front, the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights and Identity Dixie.

White nationalists carrying Identity Evropa flags pass a militia member as the they arrive for a rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017.
Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Identity Evropa, which is responsible for nearly half of all white supremacist propaganda found on college campuses in the past year, according to the Anti-Defamation League, was a group that the SPLC claimed "latched on to Trump" and "flourished." The report said that Identity Evropa grew from one chapter in 2016 to 15 chapters in 2017.

An Identity Evropa flier posted to a cork board is seen in an image shared on the group's Twitter account on Feb. 17, 2018, with the text, "Sheridan College, Sheridan, WY."

One faction whose growth continues to be steady is anti-Muslim groups. There were 114 anti-Muslim chapters in 2017, the most ever, SPLC said.

As this group increases its presence, "its connections to more hardline racist groups have also grown stronger," SPLC noted.

Members of the Ku Klux Klan arrive for a rally calling for the protection of Southern Confederate monuments, in Charlottesville, Va., July 8, 2017.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images, FILE

The SPLC has been criticized by some for the way it labels groups, including by some groups that reject the “hate group” label awarded to them by the SPLC, but it is widely seen to be a leader in the field.

According to the SPLC data, 2017 had the fourth-highest number of hate groups in the country since 1999. The overall number had been decreasing from its peak of 1,018 groups in 2011, dropping to 784 groups in 2014, but has been increasing steadily since.