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"A volatile mix of bigots and heavy arms"

June 16, 2006 | Page 7

MARK POTOK of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project spoke to Socialist Worker about the recent growth of far-right groups, including the vigilante Minuteman Project and the factors that caused it.

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THE INTELLIGENCE Project has documented a 33 percent increase in far-right hate groups since 2000. What do you attribute this to?

LET ME start by saying that the number counts initially weren't very reliable. In the 1990s, we went through some technical changes and tightened up our statistical information.

That said, though, hate groups have been steadily and significantly growing since 2000. In 2000, we documented 602 of these groups operating. By 2005, that number had increased to 803.

The single biggest reason for the growth in hate groups overall, both politically and economically, is globalization. You have large chunks of the working class being affected by companies going overseas, and when combined with the economic impact, it can breed contempt for other nationalities that are getting these jobs.

I'm not saying that you shut down a steel mill, and everybody goes and joins the Klan, but it economically opens the door.

Politically, what you also have going on is this rush of nationalism. For example, what we're seeing with the anti-immigrant movement--you get a rush of people identifying themselves with a nation-state and its borders, combined with immigration, and it can be a bad mix.

It isn't happening just here, either. Sweden, which you would think of as moderate and neutral, has a burgeoning, healthy, neo-Nazi white-power movement. Globalization is the primary factor. You have a country that is predominately white, but in recent years has seen a demographic change so that the country now has a significant Black population that can be scapegoated.

Likewise, the British National Party--which by our definition is a hate group and by constitution only allows whites--has doubled its seats in local government from 24 to 50.

IMMIGRATION ISSUES have clearly been polarizing the political debate in this country. How has this issue in particular contributed to the rise of the right?

THERE'S NO doubt that immigration issues have helped these groups to grow. It really is an issue ready-made for hate groups.

The extremely rapid growth of the Minuteman Project since April 2005 has already inspired 60 new spin-off groups. This is a prairie fire that is burning out of control--you have open white supremacists and bigots with plenty of heavy arms and a conspiracy theory to subscribe to. That is a volatile mix.

It is very similar to the militia groups. I don't want to be an alarmist, but there have been 60 major terrorist plots formed by the radical right since the Oklahoma City bombing, and unfortunately, the FBI and the authorities aren't doing as much as we would like them to.

About five years ago, we saw a lot of white supremacist organizations start to adopt the Minutemen rhetoric, saying things about Hispanics and immigrant rights. Unrobed Klansmen and neo-Nazis were attending Minutemen meetings. I'm not necessarily saying the Minutemen were endorsing this, though they weren't doing anything to stop it.

Clearly not everybody who has a strong position on immigration is a racist. However, the fact remains that these are vigilante groups that have no place in a democracy.

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