How strong is the white supremacist scene in the US?

It is unclear if Wade Michel Page was a part of the bigger group. But Sikh temple shooter was a member of the neo-Nazi scene.

Questions:

Is it possible to say how strong is the white supremacist scene in the US? How capable are  these groups of carrying of bigger attack? And BTW, what drives their ideology recently? Islamophobia?

Answers:

Ryan King, Associate Professor of Sociology, University at Albany, SUNY

With respect to the white supremacist scene, I can only answer in a relative sense.  There are over 1,000 known “hate groups” (mostly racist organizations, many of which are quite small).  This number is only meaningful to me when compared to past years, and we’ve seen a sizeable increase in these groups since 2000.  This increase is probably attributable to a combination of factors, including a poor economy, rising immigration from Mexico over the past decade, the legacy of 9/11 and the threat of terrorism from Islamic groups, and surely the election of a black president. Radical right-wing groups fear the increasing diversity in this country, especially when non-whites hold positions of power (which is obviously the case with Obama as president).  What is interesting to me is that these groups have not been particularly violent during the past 10 years.  Our best data indicates that right-wing and racist groups were more violent between 1990 and 2000 than between 2000 and 2012.  They have committed about three lethal attacks per year since 2002, compared to eight per year from 1990-2000.  So I would characterize the number of racist and neo-Nazi sympathizers as growing, but the number of lethal attacks has not been growing at the same rate.

These groups are certainly capable of bigger attacks, and to my knowledge the FBI has done a pretty good job of forestalling attempted attacks in the recent past.  Some of these groups have stockpiles of weapons and COULD do serious harm, but again, they seem to have been more active in the 1990s then they are today.  I’m not sure why, and I hope this recent attack is not the beginning of a wave of right-wing violence.

What is curious to me is the timing.  Sikhs were attacked rather frequently after the 9/11 attacks (e.g., in October of 2001) because many Americans did not distinguish between Muslims and Sikhs.  But I know of no triggering event this week that would have ignited anti-Sikh or anti-Muslim sentiment.  There was no terrorist attack, and the Sikh community generally keeps to itself and is very peaceful (and the Temple that was attacked has been there for 15 years).  It will be interesting to learn whether Mr. Page had something happen in his personal life or whether he had a grievance against a person associated with that religion that made him commit such a horrible crime at this point in time.

J. M. BergerInvestigative Journalist, Specialist on Homegrown Extremism, Author of Jihad Joe

White supremacist ideologies in the US still have thousands of adherents, but the strength of the organizations appears to be less than it was 10-20 years ago. Some of their organizing has moved online, which seems to have resulted in more people getting involved virtually and fewer getting involved in the real world. The movement has also splintered considerably over the last 20 years, whereas in the past it used to be more unified. Many right-wing extremists in the US now explicitly renounce racism, as opposed to the 1990s when most of those groups considered themselves to have common cause. Of course, we have learned in recent years that even a single person can carry out very damaging and lethal terrorist acts, so there is still much cause for concern. But it’s my impression that the popularity of ideological racism is on the decline here.

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