Report says hate groups dropping in number but becoming nastier

WASHINGTON — While the number of hate groups declined by 15 percent in 1999, those remaining are consolidating into tougher organizations and turning to neo-Nazism, a new report shows.

"The count is down so it sounds encouraging, but it's not," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based human rights group.

Independent groups have joined larger, established organizations, making the overall hate movement a much more dangerous one, the center shows in its annual "Intelligence Report," released in mid-March.

Examples of this new trend include the neo-Nazi National Alliance, which lost three chapters in 1999 but saw its membership increase by half to about 1,500. The skinhead movement is rapidly becoming more violent, and the Hammerskin Nation, the largest coalition of neo-Nazi skinheads in the world, has added several chapters.

A Nazification of the white supremacist movement is helping to bring about increased targeting of Jews and a rise in Holocaust denial, Potok said.

At the same time, groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization that includes Southern lawmakers, are mainstreaming radical right issues such as race-based IQ theories.

Jewish groups ought to be vigilant and informed — and they should work with law enforcement and the government to make it more difficult for hate groups to proliferate, said Gail Gans, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Civil Rights Information Center.

The report also identifies a new convergence of radical left and radical right movements that may form the new extremism. The groups share a common enemy, globalism, and unite to fight it. According to Potok, the new alliance has the potential to draw millions and form a very dangerous mass movement.

"Hate has its reasons — there are real social conditions behind it," he said. "It's important to understand what's driving these movements."

The hate groups' increasing use of the Internet concerns the Southern Poverty Law Center as well. The Internet expands the propaganda reach of hate groups, energizes the movement and helps produce an environment for domestic terrorism, Potok said.

The number of Internet hate sites increased from 254 in early 1999 to 305 in early 2000, but Potok says this growth rate is about the same as that for the Web overall.

The ADL has developed a computer filter that automatically redirects a user who lands on an Internet hate site to the ADL page that contains information about hate groups.

The filter is not meant as a censorship device, said Gans, but as a tool for parents to help them talk about hate with their children.

Potok says censoring Nazi groups or trying to legislate them out of existence doesn't work.

"We have to shine a light on these groups," he said, adding that parents must talk to their children about racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.