The number of hate groups across the country grew in 2017 for the third year in a row, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported. The legal advocacy group counted 19 in Maryland, up from 18 the year before.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Alabama, counted 954 active hate groups nationwide, a 4 percent increase over 2016.
Most of the growth occurred in neo-Nazi, anti-Muslim and black nationalist groups, the center said. It attributed the growth to white supremacists energized by the presidency of Donald Trump and black nationalist groups rising in response.
“The world allows you to spread propaganda like never before, and Trump has heightened the hate,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the center’s Intelligence Project and overseer of its yearly count of hate groups.
The Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as an organization that “based onits official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities — has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” The center tracks groups through their publications, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources, news media and its own investigations.
The center identified eight hate groups in Baltimore. It classified four as black nationalist groups: Great Millstone, Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge and the Nation of Islam.
The other four were the Right Stuff, which the center classified as a white nationalist group; Label 56, a record label it said produced “Hate Music”; Maryland State Skinheads, which it classified as a racist skinhead group; and Jamaat al-Muslimeen, a Muslim group it accused of general hate.
Five groups were statewide: Be Active Front USA, which the center classified as a racist skinhead group; Identity Evropa, which it called a white nationalist group; the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; Vanguard America, which it called neo-Nazis, and the Virginia Christian Alliance, which it said was anti-Muslim.
The Baltimore Sun reached out to all 19 Maryland groups the center identified for comment. Five responded.
“SPLC has never contacted us,” wrote Kaukab Siddique ofJamaat al-Muslimeen. “We are against Israel and SPLC is for Israel and decided to give us a label.”
A representative of Vanguard America told The Sun that the group believes the Southern Poverty Law Center “exists to only serve the Jewish population.”
The representative, who responded to a Sun inquiry by email and did not provide a name or number, said the group has roughly a dozen members in Maryland, and is beginning to help needy white families with clothing and supplies.
Vanguard members marched in the deadly white supremacist rally last year in Charlottesville, Va. On its website, Vanguard says the United States was created for “free white men of European descent” and should prohibit immigration from countries that do not have the same “ethnic and racial backgrounds.”
A representative of the Council of Conservative Citizens said the Frederick County group is not a “hate group.” The representative, who did not provide a name, called the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center the “premier hate associations on the planet.”
Beirich said the Council of Conservative Citizens has a record of racism that goes back decades, and that its website was visited and followed by Dylann Roof before he shot and killed nine people at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
In an archived online manifesto, Roof describes finding the Council website and “pages of these brutal black on White murders.” After seeing it, he wrote, he has “never been the same.”
Chris Barker, Imperial Wizard of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in North Carolina, told the Sun that he believes there are more than 19 groups in Maryland, including “lone wolf groups.” Barker said he does not worry about being labeled as a hate group.
“The SPLC labels anybody not with their beliefs as a hate group,” he said.
Don Blake, chairman and president of Virginia Christian Alliance, told the Sun that his organization is not in Maryland and is not a hate group.
“We’re as opposite as you can get from a hate group,” Blake said.
The group’s website links to articles such as “Fear of Muslims is Not a Phobia, but Rational” and “Islam Is Satanic, Says Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress.”
“We’re pro-Christ and pro-Bible. We aren’t anti-anything,” Blake said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says the number of hate groups in the United States has more than doubled since 1999, driven mostly by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment.
The Baltimore Sun is partnering with newsrooms around the country in a ProPublica-led project to collect recent and reliable data on hate crimes in the United States. If you have been the victim of a hate crime, please use this form to contribute to this database.