PHOENIX (Reuters) - The number of right-wing “Patriot” groups that see the U.S. government as their enemy more than doubled in the last year, fanned by anger over the economy and a backlash against the policies of President Barack Obama, according to a study published this week.
The report by the Southern Poverty Law Center said 512 anti-government Patriot groups were active in the United States last year, a leap from 149 in 2008.
The “Rage on the Right” report (www.splcenter.org) found that militias, the paramilitary arm of the Patriot movement, accounted for a large part of the increase, rising to 127 in 2009 from 42 a year earlier.
The militia and Patriot movement first came to attention in the mid-1990s in response to what the groups saw as a tyrannical government bent on curbing individual freedoms. Most notorious was Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in a bomb attack on a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
The study said some of the ideas of Patriot groups raging at the federal government in the 1990s have now become more mainstream, taken up by groups including some “Tea Party” grassroots conservative activists who are hoping to make a splash in November’s congressional elections and beyond.
“The anger seething across the American political landscape — over racial changes in the population, soaring public debt and the terrible economy, the bailouts of bankers and other elites, and an array of initiatives by the relatively liberal Obama administration that are seen as ‘socialist’ or even ‘fascist’ — goes beyond the radical right,” the report said.
“The ‘tea parties’ and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism.”
Growing disillusionment with the Democratic Party, which controls the White House and Congress, and the opposition Republican Party has been captured in recent opinion polls.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in December found 41 percent of respondents had a very or somewhat favorable view of the Tea Party movement, compared with a 35 percent positive rating for the Democrats and 28 percent for the Republicans.
The SPLC said the number of hate groups in the United States grew by 54 percent between 2000 and 2008, “driven largely by an angry backlash against non-white immigration and, starting in the last year of that period, the economic meltdown and the climb to power of an African American president.”
The SPLC said the number of hate groups rose again slightly last year to 932 from 926 in 2008 “despite the demise of a key neo-Nazi group” — the American National Socialist Workers Party, which had 35 chapters in 28 states.
The SPLC study gave several examples of what it said was “violence emanating from the radical right” since Obama took office last year.
These included the murders of six law enforcement officers by right-wing extremists and the arrests of “racist skinheads and others” in alleged plots to assassinate Obama.
Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by John O'Callaghan