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Southern Poverty Law Center: Hate groups on decline but extremism now more mainstream

The cover of the Year In Hate report from the SPLC.
Southern Poverty Law Center
The cover of the Year In Hate report from the SPLC.

The number of active hate groups in Tennessee and across the country has declined, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. But the organization says that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Instead, they say fewer people are becoming card-carrying members of hate groups because extremist ideas became more mainstream.

“Hate and extremist ideas are operating more openly in the mainstream,” says Susan Corke with the SPLC. “With those subscribing to those beliefs running for office and school boards, becoming law enforcement and judges, and leveraging social media to manufacture misinformation.”

In their annual Year in Hate & Extremism report, the SPLC cites the insurrection on Jan. 6 as an example of how misinformation was widespread online and on TV, spurring many people into action.

Among the extremist ideas becoming more mainstream are anti-LGBTQ sentiments. The Southern Poverty Law Center identified 65 anti-LGBTQ groups in 2021, including several in Tennessee.

“[M]ost of them are focused on the state level on creating state level legislation to ban trans-inclusive curriculum, to deny gender-affirming care and to criminalize people who are providing that care,” says Cassie Miller of SPLC.

Tennessee was one of many southern states that introduced legislation targeting trans youth last year. And state lawmakers are still debating proposals that would limit what information or reading materials about race or the LGBTQ community should be allowed in schools.

There were 28 active hate groups in Tennessee last year, according to the SPLC — more per capita than its neighboring states.

Paige Pfleger is a reporter for WOSU, Central Ohio's NPR station. Before joining the staff of WOSU, Paige worked in the newsrooms of NPR, Vox, Michigan Radio, WHYY and The Tennessean. She spent three years in Philadelphia covering health, science, and gender, and her work has appeared nationally in The Washington Post, Marketplace, Atlas Obscura and more.
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