MSNBC's Chris Jansing, referencing a report by the liberal Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on "active U.S. hate groups," asked Wednesday if the rise of radical right-wing groups coincided with the motives behind Jared Loughner's assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
When asked about the "hate groups" report, guest Mark Potok of the SPLC immediately pointed to the rise of "radical right-wing groups" and attributed the rise to "resentment over the changing racial demographics," "frustration over the lagging economy," and "mainstreaming of conspiracy theories."
"The economy since the fall of 2008, of course, has really played into this in terms of unemployment, anger with the bailouts, and so on," added Potok. "It's really ginned-up anti-government feeling, in many ways."
Jansing then tried to pin the widespread angst with Loughner's motives. "Now obviously, it does seem as though this guy has some serious mental health issues. But beyond that he also did talk about his extreme hatred for the government. You have a state where immigration issues have been boiling for quite a while. Do you see those kind of direct connections?" she asked Potok.
Potok backed away from the assessment, though, and turned to more specific examples of domestic terrorism. "Well I wouldn't make the connection too directly in the case of Jared Loughner," he carefully assessed before citing examples of radical extremists planning to carry out domestic terrorism before they were caught.
The liberal SLPC's "hate map" includes the social-conservative Family Research Council on its list, for being "anti-gay." The report also labels as "hate groups" the Traditional Values Coalition (anti-gay), Federation for American Immigration Reform (anti-immigrant), and various "radical traditional Catholicism" groups.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on February 23 at 10:23 a.m. EST, is as follows:
CHRIS JANSING: Hate groups across America are growing, both in number and in hatred of the federal government. A new report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center puts the number of active U.S. hate groups at more than 1,000 – that's the first time ever. The report also shows a 60 percent spike in anti-government patriot groups, and there's a growing fear that these extremist movements could produce more homegrown acts of terrorism. Mark Potok is the intelligence project director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. Good morning, thanks for being with us.
MARK POTOK, intelligence project director, Southern Poverty Law Center: Good morning, Chris. Thanks for having me.
JANSING: As you looked into this, it's a pretty extensive report. What did you find out? What's going on here? Why the increase?
POTOK: Well, basically what we found was really quite an enormous expansion in radical right-wing groups in general, of both hate groups and nativist groups, and especially anti-government patriot groups, what we used to call the "militias" back in the 1990s. You know, I think basically there are three things driving this growth. They are the changing racial demographics of the country, and that's reflected in a number of ways, in non-white immigration and very much sort of a patheocisized in the person of Barack Obama. So there's a lot of anger and angst among some people about that. And there's a reaction. In addition, the economy since the fall of 2008, of course, has really played into this in terms of unemployment, anger with the bailouts, and so on.
Fueling the Hate:
– Resentment over the changing racial demographics.
– Frustration over the lagging economy.
– Mainstreaming of conspiracy theories.
POTOK: It's really ginned-up anti-government feeling in many ways. And I think the third major factor is the move of right-wing propaganda, of conspiracy theories, into the political mainstream. So you know we have ideas that originate on the far-right like the theory that Mexico is secretly planning to re-conquer the American Southwest. And those ideas have essentially moved into the political mainstream. So you'll now often hear them on cable news television, on radio talkshows –
JANSING: Well let's talk the specifics if we can, because obviously what's in everybody's mind most recently is Jared Loughner and what happened with the tragedy in Tucson and Gabby Giffords. Now obviously, it does seem as though this guy has some serious mental health issues. But beyond that he also did talk about his extreme hatred for the government. You have a state where immigration issues have been boiling for quite a while. Do you see those kind of direct connections?
POTOK: Well I wouldn't make the connection too directly in the case of Jared Loughner, although it's certainly true that he had adopted a number of anti-government ideas, and of course Gabby Giffords, the congresswoman he tried to assassinate, was the leading representative of the government, of the federal government in his reach. You know, I think maybe another way of looking at this is to think of another – an 11 day period in the same month that this occurred, in January, we saw three essentially major domestic terrorist plots. A man named Jeffrey Harbin, a well-known neo-Nazi, was arrested on his way to the border in Arizona. He had manufacured, allegedly, 12 IEDs – improvised explosive devices – that a prosecutor described as built to maximize human carnage. We don't know exactly what he was up to, but a few days later, three days later, in fact, a very large anti-personnel weapon, bomb, was found along the route of a Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, Washington.
Growing Voice of Hate:
Ku Klux Klan: 221 Groups
Neo-Nazis: 170 Groups
Black Separatists: 149 Groups
White Nationalists: 136 Groups
Racist Skinheads: 136 Groups
Neo-Confederate: 42 Groups
POTOK: And then just another seven days after that, we had a man arrested in car filled with explosives parked right outside a mosque – a very large mosque – in Dearborn, Michigan, apparently planning an attack. So there's a lot going on out there.
JANSING: Yeah, it's a very sobering report. Mark Potok, thanks so much for coming on to tell us about it.