By Dave Stancliff/For the Times-Standard
While most of the country follows the presidential campaign this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is following a trend that should concern all Americans; a spike in hate groups.
So-called patriot groups, militias, and hate groups are preparing for a civil war if President Obama gets re-elected. These anti-government groups numbered 149 when Obama took office. There are over 1,200 today, an increase of 755 percent, according to SPLC, a nonprofit civil rights organization.
“The reality is that many of these groups are more and more fearful that Barack Obama will win re-election. You can see the anger rising along with that fear," said Mark Potok, editor-in-chief of the SPLC report.
Last week, ten members of a white supremacist skinhead group called American Front, which authorities described as a militia-styled, anti-Semitic domestic terrorist organization, were arrested in Florida.
The felony arrest charges include paramilitary training, attempting to shoot into an occupied dwelling, and evidence of prejudices while committing an offense. The last charge falls under Florida's hate-crimes law.
Once based in California, most of the groups activities and most of its members, are in Florida, according to what Potok wrote on the center’s Hatewatch blog.
The reason these anti-government and hate groups are fearful and preparing for war can be attributed to a variety of factors; radical propaganda, anxiety over the re-election of a black president, a sluggish economy, and an irrational fear the government will take away their guns.
I say irrational fear, because President Obama hasn’t passed one anti-gun law during his term thus far. The only people whose guns are taken away are criminals. The numbers of militia/hate groups have continued to grow, jumping from 824 in 2010 to 1274 this year, according to the SPLC report.
President Obama has actually been criticized for failing to crack down on gun proliferation. Last summer, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., led an investigation into an ATF gun-tracking operation and said the Obama administration has been less stringent than the Bush in gun-law enforcement.
In 2009 Obama drew criticism from the left for signing a bill that allowed gun owners to carry concealed weapons into national parks.
Some militias say exercising their constitutional right to bear arms does not mean they are committed to revolution. The poster boy for the militia movement is 20 year veteran, Ed LeStage .
When he found out his militia group, the 63rd Battalion of Lightfoot Militia, was listed in the SPLC report, LeStage’s reaction was to deny his group was a danger to anyone unless they were communists or socialists who attacked them.
That in itself is troubling, as his group believes socialists and communists are already running the government. The implication is obvious. LeStage claims militias come from U.S. citizens’ desire to restore the country to its constitutional roots.
"He’s been after our guns," LeStage said. "Obama’s been the best gun salesman there ever was," he said in an interview with the Murrow News Service. There it is again. That fear of losing guns. I don’t see any basis for that fear, as I mentioned earlier.
On LeStage’s website he says we will probably lose our republic and turn into another socialist country if Obama is re-elected.
"Nov.8th should be the start of the next civil war," a member with the username "Thunder" wrote in January on LeStage’s website. "May GOD guide us safely," the member added.
There’s also been a steady rise in the number of hate groups, from 604 in 2000, to more than 1,000 last year, according to the SPLC report. Those include anti-gay groups, anti-Muslim groups, black separatists and "Christian Identity" groups, who hold racist and anti-Semitic views that overlap neo-Nazi beliefs.
One of the things that bothers me is the misuse of the word “patriot.” Too many hate groups co-opt the word. I consider myself a patriot, but don’t see the need to arm myself and prepare for a civil war because I want change. I have concerns about the government invading our privacy, and have written numerous columns on that subject.
Still, my reaction isn’t violence. I trust the power of the written word. I believe another civil war is not the answer, and preparing for one is unpatriotic. We must not let propaganda from hate groups steer us into a war no American can win.
This year’s presidential election is already so toxic I can’t help thinking the rhetoric will get worse now that Mitt Romney has emerged as the once and future candidate for the GOP.
As It Stands, not so quietly behind the scenes, hate groups and militias are preparing for a homegrown war if President Obama is re-elected.