2015 marked a year "awash" in hate, according to an analysis by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), as the number of extremist groups in the U.S. grew significantly, matching the rise of discriminatory and hateful rhetoric from mainstream political figures.
The civil rights group's annual census (pdf) found that in the past year the number of hate groups operating in the U.S. increased 14 percent, growing from 784 groups in 2014 to 892. Even more troubling, according to the report, was the explosion of extremist violence in 2015.
"While the number of extremist groups grew in 2015 after several years of declines, the real story was the deadly violence committed by extremists in city after city," said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the SPLC and editor of the group's quarterly investigative journal, Intelligence Report. "Whether it was Charleston, San Bernardino or Colorado Springs, 2015 was clearly a year of deadly action for extremists."
Potok lists off some of the lesser-known cases of what he describes as "political violence":
A West Virginia man was arrested for allegedly plotting to attack a courthouse and murder first responders; a Missourian was accused of planning to murder police officers; a former Congressional candidate in Tennessee allegedly conspired to mass-murder Muslims; a New York white supremacist blew his own leg off as he built bombs; and three North Carolinians were accused in a plot to attack the military.
There’s more. A Pennsylvania man who ran a "White Church" pleaded guilty to manufacturing 20 bombs; a New Yorker allegedly collected heavy weapons to murder Jews and African Americans; three Georgia militiamen went to prison for plotting to attack utilities and start a war with the government; a West Virginia “sovereign citizen” was accused of attempting to over - throw the state government; two white supremacists in Virginia were charged with buying explosives from undercover agents in order to attack black churches and synagogues; and a racist Minnesotan was arrested for shooting five Black Lives Matter protesters.
"The demonization of Muslims, Latinos, immigrants and others became commonplace in 2015," SPLC states.
Neo-Nazis, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, Klansmen, and black separatists are included in the report's classification of "hate groups," as well as those that target LGBT people, Muslims, or immigrants, or specialize in producing racist music or propaganda.
At the same time, the number of anti-government "Patriot" groups—such as the Bundy family's gang of armed militants that occupied an Oregon wildlife refuge—also rose 14 percent in 2015, from 874 to 998.
Meanwhile, the country's leaders, particularly those on the far right, did little to rebuke the violence or rhetoric. Instead, Potok argues, they fanned the flames, igniting the ire of the white working class already frustrated by stagnating wages, unemployment, and overall economic inequality.
"After seeing the bloodshed that defined 2015, our politicians should have worked to defuse this anger and bring us together as a nation," Potok said. "Unfortunately, the carnage did little to dissuade some political figures from spouting incendiary rhetoric about minorities. In fact, they frequently exploited the anger and polarization across the country for political gain."
The report specifically singles out the Republican party's controversial frontrunner for fueling "a presidential race that grew more ugly by the month, beginning with Donald Trump’s description of undocumented Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers and culminating, arguably, with his call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration."
All of this adds up to a "sense of polarization and anger across the country," which the SPLC says "may be unmatched since the political upheavals of 1968."