Report: Right-wing extremist groups ‘coalescing’ in Pa., nationwide, but are harder to track | Tuesday Morning Coffee

February 9, 2021 7:06 am

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Far right-wing extremist groups are “coalescing into a broad-based, loosely affiliated movement,” but hate groups are becoming ever harder to track, presenting an “imperfect” barometer of hate activity in the United States, a new report concludes.

Overall, the number of white nationalist groups decreased from 155 to 128 in 2020, the Southern Poverty Law Center concludes in its ‘Year in Hate and Extremism’ report. But that decrease “may reflect the fact that these groups, like neo-Nazi groups, are becoming more diffuse and difficult to quantify as they proliferate online and use encrypted platforms.”

But one thing is certain: The groups were emboldened by former President Donald Trump’s five years in public life, four of them in a White House that pursued xenophobic policies, and by a chief executive who trafficked in unfounded conspiracy theories and lies. And there’s no sign that its impact has diminished, as evidenced by the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by anti-government white nationalists and pro-Trump extremists.

“The insurrection at the Capitol was the culmination of years of right-wing radicalization but more recently the product of Donald Trump’s support for and encouragement of radicalized individuals and groups to buy into conspiracy theories about a ‘stolen election,’” Susan Corke, the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, said in a statement. “Trump may no longer be in the White House, but the white nationalist movement he emboldened and incited is not going anywhere – and may grow more dangerous to our country.”

(Image via The Southern Poverty Law Center)

All told, the SPLC tracked 838 hate groups nationwide in 2020, with 36 of them in Pennsylvania.

The groups active in the Keystone State included the Pittsburgh-based Act for America, which the SPLC classifies as anti-Muslim; the Blood and Honour Social Club, a skinhead organization that operates statewide; the York-based Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, and The Soldiers of Odin, which also operates statewide.

But as the SPLC notes, those numbers don’t tell the full story.

“The proliferation of extremist internet platforms allows individuals to engage with potentially violent movements like QAnon and Boogaloo without being card-carrying members of a particular group,” the report reads. “This phenomenon has blurred the boundaries of hate groups and far-right ideologies, helping coalesce a broader but more loosely affiliated movement of far-right extremists who reject the country’s democratic institutions and pluralistic society.”

The fight against these groups has been complicated by the hard right’s success, abetted by Trump, in framing an alternative — and fact-free — narrative that shifts focus away from white nationalism and onto such groups as Black Lives Matter, drawing false equivalencies.

“This fight over the frame of reality has polarized American society further and fundamentally ruptured trust in institutions and information,” the SPLC’s report concludes.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: A pro-Trump mob breaks into the U.S. Capitol on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

But the report also offers some solutions and a path forward

“Because of the widespread radicalization that has taken place in recent years, the Biden administration faces dual challenges,” the document reads. “Not only must it reverse the damage to civil rights done by Trump and his allies but also must do the harder work of exposing and dismantling the engines of entrenched, systemic white supremacy that have always threatened inclusive democracy in the U.S.”

And while that seems like a heavy lift, “an effective opposition to this antidemocratic movement must dismantle the symptoms of white supremacy culture that justify it and give it fuel,” researchers conclude, adding, “All of us must play a role in this fight. And there is no time to waste.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
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Stephen Caruso surveys the 2022 field now that Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has officially entered the race for U.S. Senate. Plenty could play in the western Pa. pol’s favor. But plenty could play against him as well.

To fight food insecurity in higher education, state officials confirmed Monday that SNAP eligibility has been expanded to include college students, Cassie Miller reports.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw recounts the good, the bad, and the ugly of her first year at the helm to our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune.

On our Commentary Page this morning, the state House and Senate fixed a pricey mistake by scheduling two special elections for primary day, opinion regular Mark O’Keefe writes. And opinion regular Ana White says the search for Harrisburg’s next mayor is a real-life tale of two cities.

U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, a member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, voted ‘yes’ on Friday for articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump (Office of U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean)

Two Montgomery County residents
U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, and former District Attorney Bruce Castor will be facing off as ex-President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial gets underway today, the Inquirer reports. Dean is a House manager, while Castor is representing Trump.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto wants the Wolf administration to prioritize teachers for the COVID-19 vaccine, the Post-Gazette reports.
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A decade after it happened, a deadly gas explosion in downtown Allentown continues to reverberate, the Morning Call reports.
Former state Rep. George Hasay, of Luzerne County, has died, aged 73, the Citizens-Voice reports.
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Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:


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City officials in Philly are partnering with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to get teachers vaccinatedWHYY-FM reports.
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explains how Donald Trump is planning for a reemergence — and retribution — after his impeachment trial.

What Goes On.
The House Appropriations and Education committees hold a joint hearing at 1 p.m. in Room 140 Main Capitol on the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s budget request. The same committees in the Senate hold the same hearing — only earlier — at 10 a.m.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Philadelphia political operative Ben Waxman, and to PennLive’s Teresa Bonner, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day, friends.

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Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
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And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.