ATLANTA The number of U.S. militia groups that oppose government expansion and conduct para-military training grew rapidly in 2010, an organization that monitors hate groups said on Wednesday.
The number grew to 824 groups in 2010 from 512 the previous year, an increase of 61 percent, said the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which is based in Montgomery, Alabama.
Frustration over the economy, resentment over the country's changing demographics and fear that President Barack Obama's government aims to curb gun freedoms helps explain the growth in patriot militia groups, said SPLC spokesman Booth Gunter.
"Part of what we are seeing is the mainstreaming of anti-government propaganda in the media, the more widespread dissemination of conspiracy theories and ideas ... (and) this demonizing of the government," Gunter said in an interview.
While the groups are legal, Gunter said they had a "corrosive effect on democracy", promoting false propaganda that can appeal to unstable people prone to act out of rage.
Separately, the report said the number of hate groups now stood at 1,002, up 7.5 percent from 2009.
Most constitutional or patriot militias, which advocate small government and low taxes, oppose hate groups such as white supremacists, according to authorities and analysts.
The SPLC made its name partly by winning lawsuits against violent white supremacists. But conservatives criticized it last year when it labeled the Christian conservative Family Research Council as a "hate group".
Mike Vanderboegh, a militia veteran in Alabama who runs the influential blog called Sipsey Street Irregulars, said the SPLC lacked authority to comment on militia groups.
"There's always a big rise in militia groups whenever SPLC is trying to raise money. Do I think it's (the report) true? Certainly I think it's true, but not for the reasons they are positing," Vanderboegh said in an interview.
(Editing by Greg McCune)