At least 858 extremist groups were active in the United States last year, an increase of 6 percent from 1995, according to an organization that tracks hate crimes.
But Klanwatch, a branch of the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center, stresses the rise should not frighten people.
“Some groups have terrorist agendas and when people are afraid, they’ve won half the battle,” Klanwatch spokesman Richard Baudouin said Wednesday.
Klanwatch released a study this week titled “Two Years After: The Patriot Movement Since Oklahoma City.”
The study found that so-called patriot groups, including 380 armed militias, have improved their intelligence-gathering networks and the ability to share information through a sophisticated communication network.
Klanwatch defines patriot groups as militia organizations, common-law courts, Christian Identity churches, radio broadcasters, publishers and others who identify themselves as patriots.
The groups were found in all 50 states. Some groups such as the John Birch Society and the U.S. Taxpayers’ Party exist in many states.
The report said at least 101 groups advance white supremacist or anti-Semitic messages and 112 common-law courts - courts created by groups that deny the legitimacy of the court system - were in operation last year.
In addition, more than one-third of the arrests made for extremist activity in 1996 were related to explosives, a trend the group said indicated the pervasive effect the Oklahoma City bombing has had on extremist groups.
Klanwatch points toward factors such as the continuing drop-off in voter turnout as evidence of increasing dissatisfaction with federal institutions.
Klanwatch Director Joe Roy said the Oklahoma City bombing also caused less-enthusiastic members of extremist groups to drop out, leaving the more volatile true believers.