Pennsylvania went against a national trend when the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report Tuesday demonstrating the Keystone State had more hate groups in 2013 than the previous year.
The number of hate groups, which the SPLC defines as having “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics,” rose in Pennsylvania to 41 from 35 the year prior, according to the report.
“Pennsylvania has a very long history of neo-Nazi groups,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Montgomery, Ala.-based nonprofit and author of The Year in Hate and Extremism essay. “Many people describe the area between Philly and Pittsburgh as the Alabama of the north.”
And other types of hate groups are popping up too, he said.
“There are quite a number of Black Nationalist groups in Philly specifically and Pennsylvania generally,” Potok said.
The list includes 10 Black Separatists groups, some of which can be difficult to gather information on because they do not have an online presence, he said.
“They recruit literally on street corners and sidewalks in the black community,” Potok said.
He cautions that the uptick in the number of groups in Pennsylvania is not necessarily cause for alarm.
“Our listings of hate groups are about their ideology, not about their violence,” Potok said.
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Police echoed his statements.
“We are keenly aware of the presence of hate groups in Pennsylvania,” said State Trooper Adam Reed. “They have existed in Pennsylvania for many years, so we don’t believe that the public should be concerned given the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report, which indicates an increase in these groups.”
The number of hate groups across the country dropped to 939 in 2013 from 1,007 in 2012, a trend that New Jersey followed. The figure fell to 44 from 51 in the Garden State, while Delaware remained flat year-over-year with four groups.
But again Potok emphasized the figure is not reflective of the likelihood of violence, although the sheer existence of these types of organizations is distressing.
“Just because the group count has gone down does not mean there is no longer a very real danger of terrorism and very real violence,” he said. “There is always a reason to be concerned about these groups… It is difficult to predict where violence is coming from.”