'A resurgence of white nationalism': Hate groups spiked in 2016

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Story highlights

  • The number of hate groups increased from 892 to 917 last year.
  • The number of anti-Muslim hate groups tripled from 34 to 101.
  • "The country saw a resurgence of white nationalism that imperils the racial progress we've made," the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote.

(CNN)Across the country, flyers are showing up on college campuses.

Some promote blatant neo-Nazi rhetoric, others are much more subtle.
"Protect your heritage." "Let's become great again." "Our future belongs to us." "White people, do something." "Serve your people."
    They represent a less extreme white supremacist movement targeting the young and educated.
    "They're racist, but they have fancy new packaging," said Brian Levin, director for the Center of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. "They learn to downplay the swastikas and get a thesaurus, so instead of white supremacy they use words like identitarian. It's just a repackaged version of white nationalism."
    On Wednesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based organization that monitors hate crimes across the country, released its annual report on extremism in America. The report says the number of groups across the country increased in 2016 to 917, up from 892 in 2015. In 2011, SPLC recorded 1,018 active organizations, the highest tally it found in more than 30 years of tracking hate groups. That number had fallen to 784 in 2014.
    The largest jump last year occurred in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups, which tripled from 34 in 2015 to 101.
    The report singled out Donald Trump's pledge to bar Muslims from entering the country, his harsh language around immigration from Mexico, his appearance on conspiracy-theorist Alex Jones's radio program, and his engagement with white nationalists on Twitter as key moments that encouraged extremist groups during the campaign.
    "Trump's run for office electrifed the radical right, which saw in him a champion of the idea that America is fundamentally a white man's country," wrote Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC. "Several new and energetic groups appeared last year that were almost entirely focused on Trump and seemed to live off his candidacy."
    "The country saw a resurgence of white nationalism that imperils the racial progress we've made, along with the rise of a president whose policies reflect the values of white nationalists," Potok noted.
    The White House did not respond to request for comment.
    Conservative critics have charged that SPLC targets right-wing groups based on their ideology. SPLC says on its website that it characterizes hate groups as those having "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics."
    One of the groups named in the report is Identity Evropa, run by Nathan Damigo, a 30-year-old Iraq war veteran and student at Cal State Stanislaus in northern California.
    Damigo told CNN that in the past 18 months, he's targeted 40 colleges across the country trying to bring younger people into his group. He says he's recruited about 60 college kids to join the group, which now measures in the hundreds.
    "Prior to 1965, America was a white country, a country for European people," Damigo told CNN when he sat down with us on the Stanislaus campus in December. "What's actually happening right now is that we're being replaced in our own country."
    "We want to combat the diversity cult that has propagated itself not only on college campuses but throughout much of America," he said.
    In 2007, Damigo was convicted of armed robbery for robbing and pointing a gun at a cab driver he thought was Iraqi.
    Damigo says it was before his views on race changed, and a result of PTSD.
    "I spent two years in Iraq," he said. "I had a lot of issues coming back and when that happened I was not unfortunately in the best state of my life. It's not something I'm proud of, it's not something I'm happy about but I been back from Iraq for a couple weeks and unfortunately I didn't know where I was, I flipped out on the guy and it was a terrifying thing, for him, it was a terrifying thing for me and it's something I have unfortunately something to live with for the rest of my life."
    He said he was sorry for what happened, but has not apologized to the victim.
    "Just like the middle ages, when armies would lay siege to a castle or an institution," he said.
    His Twitter handle is "Fashy Haircut," as in Fascist.
    For now, Identity Evropa, is relatively small.
    "Nathan Damigo is ... an extraordinary irritant, but nothing more yet," Levin said. "What will be interesting to see is whether he gets traction with his hit and miss and hit and run presentations and leafletting at campuses up and down the state."