The Recession and the Klan

The total number of hate groups operating in the U.S. has increased by more than half since 2000, according to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (S.P.L.C.).


The report, and subsequent news coverage of it, blames this distressing trend on the deteriorating economy and the election of Barack Obama.

But economic downturns don’t necessarily stoke racial tension or violence. In fact, most economic research finds no correlation at all between hate crimes and the economy.

A 1998 study of economic motivations for hate crimes examined crime statistics for New York between 1987 and 1995, and found no correlation between the city’s unemployment rate and prevalence of bigoted violence. That same study, by a team of researchers at Yale, also found no significant economic link to patterns of lynchings in the pre-Depression American South.

Another study, by Swarthmore economists Philip Jefferson and Frederic Pryor, studied S.P.L.C. data on hate groups in 3,100 U.S. counties, only to find, again, no correlation between economic conditions and the presence or absence of operational hate groups.

Princeton economist Alan Krueger marshaled these studies and others in his analysis of poverty as a driver of terrorism. Finding that economic hardship was not a strong predictor of terrorist activity, Krueger finds terrorism, like hate crimes, to be “more accurately viewed as a response to political conditions and long-standing feelings of indignity and frustration that have little to do with economics.”

Then there’s the fact that most of the growth in hate groups noted in the S.P.L.C. study occurred not during the recession of 2001, or the crash of recent months, but in the boom times of the middle 2000’s.

If it’s unlikely that the recession has been fueling hate-group growth, then what about political considerations? The S.P.L.C. study notes a significant uptick in the number of Ku Klux Klan chapters through 2008, during then-Senator Obama’s presidential campaign. But over all, 2008 doesn’t seem to have been a particularly strong growth year for hate groups in America, according to S.P.L.C.’s data. Regardless, since Obama wasn’t even inaugurated until after the time period included in this study, it seems a little soon to measure the impact of his election on the white supremacist movement.

So if the bear market isn’t driving people to start up hate groups, and since these growth trends far predate Obama’s campaign for and election to the presidency, what explains this expansion of hate?


My own theory is the perception that the Secularists and the Divine Totalitarians are going to have a final showdown. The KKK are Christian Dominionists just as much as they are racists. They'd be just as happy to hang liberals as blacks if they thought they could get away with it.

gareth plummer

Does the arrival of the Internet have anything to do with it?


I was toying around with the SPLC data on hate groups for fun one day and one of the larger correlations between number of hate groups was population (r=0.857). So maybe a demographic trend 15-20 years ago? The only other simple correlations I could get of any strength were percent white (r=-0.46), percent voting for parties other than Democrat and Republican in 2004 (r=-0.43), and predictably number of hate crimes (r=0.61). I am somewhat mathematically illiterate so I have not tried more advanced statistics and got sidetracked with other projects/work to track down a measure of education, but the raw data can be found here:


The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, Benjamin Friedman details out how there is a lag effect between lack of economic growth and social intolerance.

Worth reading.

Gareth plummer

This is almost like the Long Tail of hate crimes!

It could really be a number answers. The new hate groups could less violent or more violent off springs of then existing hate groups who disagree with tactics of older groups. It could so be down to government infiltration of the larger hate groups.


One thing not mentioned in this particular blog post is the report's correlation between the rise in the number of hate groups and the legislative battle surrounding comprehensive immigration reform.

Federal and local anti-immigrant measures such as 287(g) and E-Verify were introduced from 2004-2007, correlating with the rise of the Minute Men Project, the KKK, and other groups. Hate groups effectively message and subsequently grow when there is an obvious scapegoat. Notice the huge uptick from 2004-2007 and its correlation to the introduction of anti-immigrant legislation in cities and states.

I wonder why this particular blogger failed to highlight this if they read the SPLC's report? The third variable identified was immigration reform.


I wonder how many of those "new" hate groups are just a couple of idiots with a web site and a poster?

"Total number of hate groups" does not specifically mean "there are more people actually joining hate groups." From the SPLC's report, much of the activity among the better-known ones like the Klan or the Skinheads was based around consolidating failed chapters, not gaining new ones.

From the report, it seems that a lot of the increase came from "hey, there's two guys with a banner - must be a new hate group!"

Cara (

I think that L might be onto something with the demographic trend. The millenials (or whatever you want to call Gen Y, etc) starting hitting their teenage years at about the beginning of the 2000s and many are in their teens and 20s now. I would imagine that teens and twenty-somethings make up a large percentage of new recruits to hate groups. Just the bump in population of young white males may have been enough to show an uptick in hate group subscribership.


Education, perhaps. Culture wars, maybe. The 2000s thus far have been marked by "us" vs. "them" in politics and pop culture. Hate groups feed on this sense of "us" defined by race/ethnicity.


I'm with #2, web 2.0, social networks, myspace, ning, etc makes it alot easier to find people that hate something...

Caca Fuego

The SPLC considers just about any social conservative a hate group. Their brush is too broad to be meaningful or helpful.

(Ok, my brush is too broad in characterizing their work too, but you get the idea.)


I think theres a significant problem with what the SPLC classifies as a hate group and what an average person considers a hate group to be and do.


#6 N.

How is opposition to illegal immigration considered "HATE"?


I thought there was a court decision against the KKK that meant any group calling themselves KKK would be responsible for paying? Anyone know anything about that?

Also, anyone else heard the story about how Superman brought down the KKK? Something about a radio show. An informant inside the KKK fed the radio show writers real secret codes and passwords from KKK meetings and they used them on the air.


The thing that allows hate groups to flourish is the subtle permission for those groups to exist, given by religious groups, law enforcement, political groups, and so forth.

It relates back to the effect shown by that teacher many years ago who told her students that children with blue eyes were better than children with brown eyes - and found she had to end the experiment within an hour. As soon as one gives permission for a group to consider another group to be inferior, for whatever reason, humans jump on the opportunity.

The Bush Administration subtly allowed for any number of groups to feel superior to other groups. Rich people should feel superior to poor people; white people should feel superior to everyone else; and Everyone should feel superior to Arabs and homosexuals. One can argue that Judeo-Christianity encourages this, through their belief that they are the Chosen People, and thus Better Than Everyone Else. I don't find it surprising at all that the hate groups felt emboldened enough to come out of the closet during the past eight years.

The real question is what we're going to do now. Are we going to tolerate these groups, or make them go away again? And just how do we do that?



"The report, and subsequent news coverage of it, blames this distressing trend on the deteriorating economy and the election of Barack Obama."

Well, this quote doesn't seem to say that the increase should be blamed on the economy ALONE. This is a conjunction. It's also not sufficient to just offer evidence that 'Q' doesn't hold with the initial hypothesis being more robust than a 'P & Q' claim.

There isn't enough evidence to where you can make substantive headway since we (according to a Bayesianistic standpoint) don't have any prior probabilities to which we can base this claim. last time I checked, this is the first time that there has been a demographically based minority who has held office.

Also, just because this predates his run for office doesn't mean that they weren't thinking about his impending or probable run for office. Fear of that alone could help.

In short - way too many factors to try to sift out.



The post 911 culture of fear...?
It may not have been directed exactly to groups within the US, but Americans have been taught to fear what they don't know over the last decade. Fear leads to hate.

I also think the internet thing makes a lot of sense. As it became more prevalent it would have given people inclined to this kind of thinking a way to organize.

Mr T.

A moral question.

If I hate everything that the KKK stands for (murder, intimidation, hatred of non Aryans, etc) is it OK to litter the section of Highway they look after?


#15 - "The thing that allows hate groups to flourish is the subtle permission for those groups to exist..."

There is no "subtle permission". If hate groups existence weren't protected by the Constitution, then Liberals wouldn't be allowed to bash Republicans as openly as they do.

Nathan Fiala

Like other commenters, I don't see how an increase in hate groups means there are more people that hate. Perhaps we are in fact seeing a fracturing of hate groups, which is probably a positive sign.