(WASHINGTON – JUNE 15: Richard Hale (L) of Port Angeles, Washington, and Dianne Blank of Sherman, Connecticut, joined about 30 people on the National Mall near the Washington Monument during an anti-immigrant rally sponsored by the Minuteman Project June 15, 2007 in Washington, DC. The Minuteman Project is a group of volunteers who work to “enforce existing immigration laws.” “The government is making war against the average citizen,” Blank said. “People are out of work in our area because they’re employing illegal aliens. We need another revolution.” (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images))

Report: Hate groups on the rise while anti-immigrant militias wane

Richard Hale of Port Angeles, Washington, and Dianne Blank of Sherman, Connecticut, joined about 30 people on the National Mall near the Washington Monument during an anti-immigrant rally sponsored by the Minuteman Project in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a report on Thursday which showed a staggering 755 percent growth in patriot groups – anti-government organizations who believe the federal government is part of a conspiracy to harm them. Hate groups rose as well. Somewhat surprisingly — “nativist extremist” groups — groups whose members harass people they suspect to be undocumented immigrants, fell 42 percent in 2011, a figure that is believed to be fueled by immigration laws enacted by states last year.

“It’s quite remarkable how the nativist/extremist groups have fallen by about half,” says Mark Potok, a senior fellow for the SPLC’s intelligence project. “Their issue has been taken from them by state immigration laws that are as draconian as any laws these groups ever contemplated.”

One of the most high profile instances of an anti-immigrant militia group attacking immigrants was on May 30, 2009, when a minutemen group in Arizona stormed the house of Juan Flores, shooting and killing him and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia Flores. Shawna Forde was convicted of leading the minutemen group and was sentenced to death.

Justin Danhof, general counsel for conservative think tank, The National Center for Public Policy Research, raises doubts about the credibility of a report from the SPLC.

“The SPLC began with a somewhat noble mission as a public interest law firm that would take cases others would not,” he says. “Now it’s much more about reports to make everyone think their neighbor is in an extreme hate group so they can make money fundraising.”

According to the FBI, hate crimes in 2010 — the most recent year for when statistics are available — which were based on ethnicity or national origin, were disproportionately aimed at Hispanics, at 65.5 percent. Race-based attacks are considered separately from ethnicity-based incidents.

Israel Ortega, spokesman for the conservative Heritage Foundation, says he takes issue with an SPLC report that talks about anti-immigrant groups because he feels the term should be defined.

“The whole question is how do you define an anti-immigrant group?” he says. “If you are a group that is against illegal immigration, are you against all immigration? Groups like this paint organizations with a broad brush. As conservatives we are for legal immigration.”

Stephen Nuño, a political science professor at Northern Arizona University, says nativist extremist groups exist for similar reasons as stringent immigration laws.

“Part of reason nativist groups exist and descend into violence like that of Shawna Ford is because they have a deep sense of entitlement to power that they feel has been violated,” he says.

“Anti-immigrant laws may help restore this sense of loss among people who are likely to otherwise join these groups. That doesn’t justify these laws in any way, but they are a good illustration of the deep need by all people to feel validated by their government.”

ADRIAN CARRASQUILLO, NBC LATINO STAFF

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