America is getting more hateful.
That's the conclusion of the latest Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) report on U.S. hate and extremist groups, which found the number of such organizations grew by 14% in 2015 amid a more toxic political environment.
The figures stunned senior fellow Mark Potok, who authored the report and has worked with the civil rights nonprofit for 30 years. "Only very rarely, if it all, have we seen a year like this year," he told reporters during a conference call Wednesday.
After years of declining numbers, SPLC researchers documented 892 active U.S. hate groups in 2015, up from 784 in 2014. The number of anti-government "patriot groups," which the SPLC describes as "armed militias and others animated by conspiracy theories," also rose by 14% from 874 to 998.
While white supremacist, neo-Nazi, and racist skinhead groups actually declined, the report found a "significant increase" in the number of rightwing Ku Klux Klan groups, fueled by the debate over the Confederate flag in the aftermath the deadly June shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.
"The Klan really saw that as a call to arms, and held many demonstrations and rallies around the country," Potok said.
Similarly, the number of leftwing black separatist organizations, many of which are anti-LGBT and anti-Semitic, also grew in response to national attention on killings of black people by police.
"That has invigorated real civil rights movements like the Black Lives Matter movement," Potok said, "but also black hate groups which choose to define their ideology in really hateful ways."
Most troubling for the SPLC, though, was the increase in violence committed by hate and extremist groups in 2015.
"The real story was the deadly violence committed by extremists in city after city,” Potok said. “Whether it was Charleston, San Bernardino, or Colorado Springs, 2015 was clearly a year of deadly action for extremists.”
In addition to these high-profile shootings, the SPLC documented a number of people arrested and convicted for plotting to attack courthouses, the military, or minority groups.
The SPLC said the rise separatist "patriot" groups — who believe in a government conspiracy to take away guns or land from the populace — occurred after the spring 2014 standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and federal authorities. Bundy and his son Ammon Bundy were arrested this month in connection with the militia takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge.
Much of the rage driving the increase in hate has been felt among working class, less educated white people, who are fueled by anger over racial/demographic, financial, and cultural/religious shifts across the country, the SPLC said.
The group noted these people were also "the very same groups that most vociferously support [Donald] Trump."
"We're living in an era of incredible political responsibility," Potok said. "Actual presidential candidates, serious candidates, are making statements that at almost any other time would have been considered extreme."
The SPLC's Intelligence Project director, Heidi Beirich, also said she found the report's findings troubling.
"This has been a pretty tough year," she said.