According to a new SPLC report, several factors are contributing to the uptick, including the still-terrible economy; the prospect of another four years of the Obama administration; "a proliferation of demonizing conspiracy theories"; and the way many groups have successfully played on fears of "non-white immigration." The Austin-based Alex Jones outfit InfoWars is cited by many patriot groups as an inspiration or a factual authority for various claims about the tyranny of the feds.
The SPLC has tracked an astounding growth of 755 percent among patriot groups since 2008. And since 2000 or so, they say, U.S. hate and extremist groups as a whole seem to be growing substantially. Anti-gay groups, anti-Muslim ones, "sovereign" citizen groups -- who don't believe they're obligated to pay taxes or follow U.S. laws -- and even the Ku Klux Klan, long considered somewhat irrelevant, have all seen growth in the past year.
Only "nativist extremist groups," who the SPLC says "harass and confront" undocumented immigrants, have seen their numbers fall dramatically. The SPLC believes that decrease may be due in part to the fact that their agenda has been co-opted by a number of state legislatures, including Alabama and Arizona.
Mark Potok of the SPLC, who authored the report, told the New York Times that as a whole, anti-government groups aren't solely a right-wing phenomenon. ""They represent both a kind of right-wing populist rage and a left-wing populist rage that has gotten all mixed up in anger toward the government," he told the paper. (The Occupy movement isn't listed because the SPLC doesn't consider its members to be extremists, he said.)
Patriot organizations, too, can't be characterized as either racist or hate groups, the center says. Instead, their distrust of the federal government takes many forms. In Texas, the groups listed by the SPLC range from the mild to the militant. On one end there are political action organizations like Get Out Of Our House, which has a Dallas chapter and describes itself as a non-partisan attempt to replace all 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and "get the money out of politics."
But there are also groups like the now-infamous Republic of Texas, a secessionist organization that became well-known after an armed stand-off between the group's founder, Richard McLaren, and the feds back in 1997. It's quietly remained active since, and still insists that Texas can't properly be considered as part of the U.S.
Texas also maintains a substantial presence on sites like Well-Regulated American Militias, a sort of dating site for those wishing to find like-minded patriots for "small unit light infantry combat training." One group, the Texas Militia, is conducting rifle training this coming weekend in Conroe, open to "rifle owning patriotic USA citizens." Their site explicitly insists they aren't racist, with "Black, Hispanic and Jewish members besides White Christian members."
We emailed the Dallas City Troop to see how they feel about being classified as an extremist group. An unnamed spokesperson emailed back several hours later with a link to a scathing Harper's article from 2000 that criticizes the SPLC's fundraising and calls its solicitations for cash "flagrantly misleading." It had been reprinted on a far-right website called American Patrol. The spokesperson added: "No further comment is necessary."