Antigovernment ‘Patriot’ Movement Expands for the Fourth Year in a Row
Photo Credit: Southern Poverty Law Center
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Capping four years of explosive growth sparked by the election of America’s first black president and anger over the economy, the number of conspiracy-minded antigovernment “Patriot” groups reached an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012, while the number of hard-core hate groups remained above 1,000. As President Obama enters his second term with an agenda of gun control and immigration reform, the rage on the right is likely to intensify.
The furious reaction to the Obama administration’s gun control proposals is reminiscent of the anger that greeted the passage of the 1993 Brady Bill and the 1994 ban on assault weapons supported by another relatively liberal Democrat — Bill Clinton. The passage of those bills, along with what was seen by the right as the federal government’s violent suppression of political dissidents at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in the early 1990s, led to the first wave of the Patriot movement that burst into public consciousness with the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The number of Patriot groups in that era peaked in 1996 at 858, more than 500 groups fewer than the number active in 2012.
For many, the election of America’s first black president symbolizes the country’s changing demographics, with the loss of its white majority predicted by 2043. (In 2011, for the first time, non-white births outnumbered the births of white children.) But the backlash to that trend predates Obama’s presidency by many years. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of hate groups rose from 602 to more than 1,000, where the count remains today. Now that comprehensive immigration reform is poised to legitimize and potentially accelerate the country’s demographic change, the backlash to that change may accelerate as well.
While the number of hate groups remained essentially unchanged last year — going from 1,018 in 2011 to 1,007 in 2012 — the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) count of 1,360 Patriot groups in 2012 was up about 7% from the 1,274 active in 2011. And that was only the latest growth spurt in the Patriot movement, which generally believes that the federal government is conspiring to take Americans’ guns and destroy their liberties as it paves the way for a global “one-world government.” From a mere 149 organizations in 2008, the number of Patriot groups shot up to 512 in 2009, jumped again to 824 in 2010, and then skyrocketed to 1,274 in 2011 before hitting their all-time high last year.
Now, in the wake of the mass murder of 26 children and adults at a Connecticut school and the Obama-led gun control efforts that followed, it seems likely that that growth will pick up speed once again.
The Hysteria Mounts
Even before the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, gun and ammunition sales shot up in the wake of the re-election of the country’s first black president, the result of shrill conspiracy theories about Obama’s secret plans to confiscate Americans’ guns. When the killings actually did spark gun control efforts that clearly had not been in the Obama administration’s plans, the reaction on the political right was so harsh that it seemed to border on hysteria.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) proposed a law that would nullify any executive gun control actions by Obama, accusing the president of having a “king complex.” U.S. Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) said the president could be impeached for those actions. State lawmakers in Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee proposed laws that sought to prevent federal gun control from applying to their states.
Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff who sued the Clinton administration over the Brady Bill’s imposition of background checks on gun buyers, claimed that of 200 sheriffs he’d met with, most “have said they would lay down their lives first rather than allow any more federal control.” Matt Barber of the anti-gay Liberty Counsel said he feared that the nation, which he described as already on the brink of civil unrest, was headed for “a second civil war.” “Freedom ends. Tyranny begins,” tweeted Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes. “Get ready,” TeaParty.org said. “Right now government gun grabbing plans are being covertly organized.”