Fueled in part by President Donald Trump's flame-throwing speeches, the number of hate groups in the United States rose for the second year in a row, according to a new analysis released last week by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
Perhaps unsurprising in Trump's America, anti-Muslim groups lead the pack, nearly tripling from 2015 to 2016. Across the nation, there are now more than 100 such groups, many of whom operate under the guise of concern over "national security."
A number of those groups have roots right here in Florida. In fact, three of the state's four anti-Muslim organizations as identified by the SPLC are based in Palm Beach County, home to Trump's "Winter White House," Mar-a-Lago. They include:
- Lake Worth's the United West, a group founded by occasional Breitbart contributor Tom Trento, who co-authored the book Shariah: The Threat to America.
- Boca Raton's Citizens for National Security, whose founder, Bill Paxton, once told New Times Broward-Palm Beach that Muslims "are out to kill us" and "to sabotage our miserable nation."
- The Palm Beach chapter of Act for America, created by right-wing author Brigitte Gabriel, who has called Gold Star father Khizr Khan a liar and once declared that "every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim."
It's not the first time Palm Beach County has made news for anti-Muslim sentiment. Last summer, supervisor of elections Susan Bucher reportedly caved under pressure from registered voters who were angry their polling place was an Islamic center in Boca Raton. After the backlash, the polling place was moved to a nearby library.
In November, just a few days before the election, someone spray-painted "Fuck Islam" on signs outside the Al Amin Islamic Center in Boynton Beach.
As for the rise of anti-Muslim hate groups, SPLC editor Mark Potok tells New Times that Trump's fear-mongering over "radical Islamic terrorists" and "dangerous" refugees likely contributed to the upward trend.
"I think Donald Trump is certainly spurring the growth of anti-Muslim hatred and very possibly the anti-Muslim groups as well," he says. "This last year, they seemed to be coming to life, largely around the Syrian refugee crisis."
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The SPLC updates its hate map at the end of each year to make sure the groups that are included qualify as hate groups and are active. In the case of Act for America, for example, Potok says the SPLC had to research whether the group's claims of having 800 chapters were legitimate. Although Act says it has 11 chapters in Florida, the SPLC found that only four of them had group leaders and were holding meetings.
"Basically, it seemed to be an empty boast," he says. "We come at it from a place of not wanting to artificially inflate it with people's claims that are bogus."
Although three of the four anti-Muslim organizations have roots in Palm Beach County, Potok says there isn't a clear explanation for why. He does, however, point out that Palm Beach County is "very wealthy," which could be a contributing factor.
"Anti-Muslim hate groups are very, very well funded. They're easily the best-funded sector of the radical right," he says. "There's money in those hate hills."