The number of militias and other extremist movements in the Inland Northwest and across the country continues to rise, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The report, released Thursday by the Alabama-based nonprofit that tracks hate groups and extremists, said the number of militia and anti-government groups in the United States soared to 1,274 last year, from 149 in 2008. That includes 50 in Washington and 23 in Idaho.
Fueled by economic troubles and antagonism toward President Barack Obama, there has been a “dramatic expansion of the radical right” in recent years, said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the center.
“For many extremists, President Obama is the new symbol of all that’s wrong with the country – the Kenyan president, the secret Muslim who is causing our country’s decline,” Potok said in the report. “The election season’s overheated political rhetoric is adding fuel to the fire. The more polarized the political scene, the more people at the extremes.”
The case of two men in North Idaho who admitted last year to making grenades near Spirit Lake is an example.
Kenneth B. Kimbley Jr., 60, discussed bombing local bridges with an undercover federal agent and made threatening statements toward President Barack Obama, according to court documents. His lawyer countered that Kimbley never threatened anyone and was simply echoing his idol, Glenn Beck. Kimbley was sentenced in April to a year in prison, one year of home detention and three years of probation for the weapons collection found at his trailer on July 3, 2010.
Co-defendent Steven E. Winegar, 52, of Harpster, Idaho, was sentenced to eight months of house arrest and five years of probation.
In his recent report, Potok cited the arrest of Alaskan militia leader Schaeffer Cox, who is jailed on federal charges accusing him of stockpiling weapons and plotting to kill law enforcement officials. Cox was the featured speaker at a meeting of extremist groups at Post Falls’ Greyhound Park in December 2009.
Potok said this year’s presidential election could lead to an even greater increase in extremist groups. If Obama wins re-election, “the reaction of the extreme right, already angry and on the defensive as the white population diminishes, could be truly frightening,” Potok said.
The report notes that the groups listed in the report don’t all necessarily “advocate or engage in violence or other criminal activities” or racism.
The increase of those types of groups is steady but slower. The center counted 1,018 operating last year, up from 1,002 in 2010. The number has increased each year since 2000, when 602 groups were counted. In the Inland Northwest, the numbers include five anti-Semitic groups, one neo-Nazi group and one white nationalist group.
But the center did note a drop in what experts described as “nativist extremist” groups, or organizations that harass people believed to be illegal immigrants. The center counted 184 of those groups last year – a 42 percent drop from 319 in 2010.
Mentioned in the report was the Chillicothe, Ohio-based anti-Semitic group Crusaders for Yahweh, led by Paul Mullet, former leader of an Aryan Nations group in Athol, Idaho. Mullet attracted law enforcement attention when he distributed racist fliers and was ticketed for littering. The ticket was later dismissed.
Mullet moved to Ohio in summer 2010, according to the center.
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