WASHINGTON – The U.S. has seen an "explosion" in the number of extremist groups and armed militias which advocate radical anti-government doctrines and conspiracy theories, a recent report has found.
The number of active "Patriot" groups nearly tripled last year to 512 from 149 in 2008, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks the activities of hate groups.
Some 127 of those groups were paramilitary militias, up from 42 a year earlier.
"We saw a real explosion in militias and the larger anti-government patriot movement," said Mark Potok, who directs the group's Intelligence Report.
"This is a movement that sees the government as the primary enemy and is completely eaten up with all kinds of conspiracy theories," Potok said in a video accompanying the report published Tuesday.
"They really believe the government is part of an evil scheme to do in Americans."
The Patriot movement last rose to national prominence in the mid 1990's following the death of 76 Branch Davidians during an FBI raid on their Waco Texas ranch. A significant amount of violence was linked to the movement, most notably the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead.
But the groups had largely disappeared from public view after apocalyptic warnings about a 'Y2K' collapse of computing systems and society at large on January 1, 2000 proved unfounded.
Potok traces the recent rise in patriot groups to anger over racial changes in the population - most notably the election of the first black president - rising public debt, the bank bailout and an array of initiatives by President Barack Obama's administration that are seen as "socialist" or "fascist."
"The economy being in shambles, and so many people unemployed has left a lot of people hurting, frustrated, angry and looking for a reason why they are in the place they are in," Potok said.
"There's a great deal of anger and frustration and that is being channeled sometimes by conspiracy theories or by scapegoating certain groups into this kind of rage we are seeing all across the country."
The concern, Potok said, is that so many people appear ready to "take action" and so many mainstream politicians and pundits are adopting anti-government stances.
There has also been a sharp increase in the amount "cross-pollination" between different sectors of the radical right, Potok said, as racist rants infuse the Patriot movement and anti-government ideas are adopted by anti-immigrant groups.
The number of "Nativist," anti-immigrant vigilante groups also grew sharply from 173 in 2008 to 309 in 2009.
The total number of hate groups in the United States climbed to a new high of 932 in 2009, the report found. That's only up six from a year earlier largely because of an implosion of the neo-Nazi movement.
© AFP 2013