The number of militias and radical anti-government "patriot" groups operating in the USA reached an all-time high in 2012, a report Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center finds.
The center tracked 1,360 radical militias and anti-government groups in 2012, an eightfold increase over 2008 when the center recorded 149 such groups, the report says. The explosive growth began four years ago, sparked by the election of President Obama and anger about the poor economy, the center says.
"As President Obama enters his second term with an agenda of gun control and immigration reform, the rage on the right is likely to intensify," the center's senior fellow Mark Potok writes in the report.
The rhetoric and threat of domestic terrorist plots mirror the mood observed in the six months before the Oklahoma City bombing, a domestic terror attack in 1995 by anti-government militia sympathizer Timothy McVeigh that killed 168 people, center President J. Richard Cohen says in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
"In the last four years we have seen a tremendous increase in the number of conspiracy-minded, anti-government groups as well as in the number of domestic terrorist plots," Cohen writes. "We now also are seeing ominous threats from those who believe that the government is poised to take their guns."
The number of anti-government groups grew 7% from 1,274 in 2011 to 1,360 in 2012, while the number of hate groups dropped slightly from 1,018 in 2011 to 1,007 in 2012.
The latest count surpasses the record number of groups formed in the 1990s in response to the 1993 passage of sweeping gun-control measures in the Brady Bill and the ban on assault weapons in 1994. In 1996, the number of "patriot" groups peaked at 858, the center reports.
The center predicts the ongoing gun-control debate will continue to fuel anti-government anger and swell the ranks of the radical groups. The groups generally believe the federal government is conspiring
to confiscate all guns and curtail personal liberties, the center says. Some of the groups have threatened politicians who have proposed gun-control measures, the report says.
The report cites examples of groups that predicted civil war and tyranny after Obama's executive orders on gun control, including Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes who tweeted, "Freedom ends. Tyranny begins." and ConservativeDaily.com's Tony Adkins, who wrote, "Martial law in the United States now a very real possibility."
The center quotes the United States Patriots Union, which, in a letter to state legislators, called the federal government "a tool of International Socialism now, operating under UN Agendas not our American agenda." The group said states should defend freedom and liberty "or we are headed to Civil War wherein the people will have no choice but to take matters into their own hands."
"Their rhetoric is a barometer of the rage that is building in certain quarters," Cohen says.
Donna Leinwand Leger, USA TODAY