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Identity & Community

Pennsylvania Ranks Near The Top In Hate Group Numbers

John Bazemore
In this Saturday, April 23, 2016 photo, members of the Ku Klux Klan participate in the cross burnings after a "white pride" rally in rural Palding County near Cedar Town, Ga.

Pennsylvania has the fifth most hate groups in the US—a title it’s now claimed for the second year running, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center study.

With 40 identified groups, it trails only California, Texas, Florida, and New York.

Though Pennsylvania’s number of hate groups has held steady, the full study shows an overall rise nationwide. As of the end of 2016, there are 917 active groups, up from 892 the year before.  

The center tracks these groups by monitoring local and national news, tracking groups’ self-released literature, and keeping a close eye on social media.

The groups are scattered in all regions of the commonwealth, and are predominantly of the “white power” strain that includes the KKK, Neo Nazis, and White Nationalists. The number also encompasses black separatists, Holocaust deniers, and anti-Muslim groups, among others.

The center’s Ryan Lenz said though Pennsylvania’s numbers are high, the commonwealth doesn’t fall in line with one of the most prominent current narratives around the US’s hate groups.

“Pennsylvania by and large doesn’t speak to the national trend going on right now, sort of the rise in hate groups that are focused on vilifying or demonizing Muslims,” he said.

Lenz said anti Muslim groups almost tripled from 2015 to 2016, something he attributes largely to the rhetoric Donald Trump and his supporters used throughout his campaign and into his presidency.

“It was a period defined by dog-whistles blown to the anti-Muslim movement,” he said. “These were things that resonated with a lot of hate groups.”

Although Pennsylvania hasn’t seen any measurable increase in anti-Muslim sentiment, Lenz said the state has seen a more general uptick in racial tensions related to a rise in migrant workers, and immigrants in general.