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September 01, 2016

As hate groups increase nationwide, six operate in Philadelphia

The Southern Poverty Law Center added White Lives Matter to its listing of hate groups earlier this month, describing it as a "radical counter-movement" that developed in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The addition underscores another trend noted by the SPLC — the growth of hate groups across the country.

The SPLC recognizes 892 hate groups operating within the United States — including six in Philadelphia and two others in the local suburbs. The Philly groups advocate a range of hateful ideologies, from white supremacy to religious extremism to black superiority.

The SPLC is the foremost U.S. non-profit organization monitoring the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists. It compiles its list by examining hate group publications, their websites, law enforcement reports and media stories. The organization defines hate groups as those having "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics." 

Hate groups increased by 14 percent in 2014, a dramatic rise following three years of decline. The SPLC counted 190 active Ku Klux Klan groups last year and found a 42 percent increase in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups.

The center expects the numbers to again rise when it calculates the latest figures, Senior Fellow Mark Potok said. 

"I think that Donald Trump has helped open up political space for these groups," Potok said. "They are absolutely thrilled with him and claim to be gaining new numbers as a result. The reality is hate groups exaggerate these things ... but, still, we've seen some evidence that that is true."

Yet, Potok said that black separatist groups are increasing, too. 

"A lot of groups like the New Black Panther Party have grown because they've benefited from all the attention from police violence against black people," Potok said. 

The SPLC said the following six hate groups are operating in Philadelphia:

Nation of Islam: The SPLC considers the NOI a hate group for its "bizarre theology of innate black superiority over whites," noting mainstream Muslims reject the belief system. The SPLC also cites "deeply racist, anti-Semitic and anti-gay rhetoric" spouted by its leaders, saying such rhetoric escalated under Louis Farrakhan's leadership.

As-Sabiqun: The SPLC classifies As-Sabiqun as one of many groups espousing "general hate." Founded in 1995, the movement calls for an Islamic revolution to replace the federal government, with a "paramount goal" to establish Islam as "a complete way of life in America." Based in Washington, the organization also has branches in Philly, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego and Sacramento, California.

Keystone State Racist Skinheads: A branch of Keystone United, a Harrisburg-based skinhead group founded in 2001. The group touts a white supremacy ideology while hosting various picnics, hikes and a music festival known as "Uprise." Though the group claims it seeks to break stereotypes of "alcoholic thugs and violent drug-addicted criminals," the SPLC notes group members have been convicted of violent attacks dating back to 1998.

Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ: The SPLC describes the group, headquartered in New York City, as a black separatist organization "obsessed with hatred for whites and Jews." The group is an extremist sect of the Hebrew Israelite movement, a black nationalist theology that considers African-Americans as God's true chosen people. The SPLC clarifies that most Hebrew Israelites are not explicitly racist or anti-Semitic, nor do most advocate violence.

Israelite School of Universal and Practical Knowledge: The SPLC considers the group a black supremacist rival to the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ. The group's leaders have declared that Jesus will return to enslave and destroy the white race. An old recruiting video features four Israelite School preachers verbally berating a Jewish man — to the point of tears — while outside Jefferson Station in Center City.

Traditional Rebel Knights of the Ku Klux Klan: The TRK is among various divisions of the KKK, listed by the SPLC as the oldest and most infamous hate group in America. Known for its history of violence toward blacks, the KKK has between 5,000 and 8,000 members nationwide, split among various factions. Two years ago, a Philadelphia Klansman was forced out of a Town Watch in Tacony for distributing KKK literature.

The SPLC recognizes the New Black Panther Party as a hate group, but it does not list any active chapters operating in Philadelphia. Yet, the SPLC's profile of the group notes that two Black Panthers appeared outside a Philadelphia polling station in 2008, an act that drew considerable media attention and resulted in civil charges of voter intimidation. 

The SPLC only counts groups that it believes are still active, Potok said. He did not know the status of Philadelphia's Black Panther party, but said it would need to include more than one member to be considered active. 

Elsewhere, the SPLC considers The Shoebat Foundation, in Newtown, Bucks County, and Catholic Counterpoint, in Broomall, Delaware County, as hate groups. The Shoebat Foundation is classified as an anti-Muslim group while Catholic Counterpoint is listed as a radical traditional Catholic group espousing anti-Semitism.

Throughout Pennsylvania, there are 40 hate groups operating, according to the SPLC. There are 21 in New Jersey.