(NEW YORK) — A civil rights group that tracks extremist organizations in the United States says the number of anti-government groups is at an all-time high.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit civil rights advocacy group based in Montgomery, Ala., says it has seen an 800 percent rise in so-called “patriot” groups in the last four years. Senior Fellow Mark Potok says in 2008, there were 149 patriot organizations, but by 2012, that number reached 1,360 groups.
Potok says it’s the fourth straight year of explosive growth on the part of anti-government patriots groups, and he believes the fervor is fueled by the re-election of President Obama and the current debate on gun control.
The center says patriot groups are made up of people who believe the federal government is conspiring to confiscate Americans’ guns and curtail liberties to create a socialist government or “new order.” Most are non-violent citizens groups, but the center says there are some militias, which arm themselves and conduct military-style training.
“The whole situation seems to me reminiscent to the run-up to Oklahoma City and the terrible bombing that took the lives of 168 people in 1995,” Potok declared.
Conservative critics say the organization uses rhetoric to undermine right-wing and conservative groups.
Cornell University law professor William Jacobson is skeptical of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s findings and Potok’s opinion.
“I think to say that it’s a run-up to another Oklahoma City, I think, is highly irresponsible and it’s simply the Southern Poverty Law Center playing politics,” Jacobson says.
He adds, “The notion that asserting one’s constitutional right to bear arms in accordance with Supreme Court decisions somehow renders you dangerous, I think, represents a political outlook of Mr. Potok and the Southern Poverty Law Center.”
Jacobson says he believes people who represent a true threat of violence should be identified and monitored, but “to turn it into a political vendetta against, quote the ‘right wing’, I think is very irresponsible.”
He says the Southern Poverty Law Center is making the claim simply to “justify its continued existence and to try and drum up contributions.”
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Julia Horowitz, CNN
AJ Willingham, CNN
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Sarah Jorgensen and Nicole Chavez, CNN