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Hate groups on rise in South Carolina, report finds, fueled partly by Trump rhetoric

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KKK Rally (copy for SPLC story)

Members of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan from Pelham, N.C., argue with members of the crowd at the Statehouse Saturday, July 18, 2015 in Columbia. A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center found the number of hate groups both in South Carolina and nationwide is on the rise. File/Staff. 

South Carolina saw its number of hate groups rise for the second year in a row, mirroring a national trend fueled by growing divides in the U.S. and rhetoric coming out of the Trump White House, a new report says.

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Wednesday released its annual "Year in Hate and Extremism" report, which documents the number and the types of hate groups operating nationwide.

In South Carolina, 14 hate groups were counted in 2017. It's a slight uptick from last year's findings when 12 hate groups were listed in the Palmetto State.

Groups in the state include white nationalists, black nationalists, neo-Nazi groups and others.

Nationwide, the report found the total number of hate groups operating in 2017 rose to 954 — a nearly 4 percent increase from the 917 active groups reported in 2016.

SPLC uses multiple methodologies to determine the activities of hate groups, which includes reviewing publications as well as reports by citizens, law enforcement, field sources and the media. The group also conducts their own investigations.

Heidi Beirich, the law center's Intelligence Project director, said the continued growth of hate groups in Southern states and nationally can be traced to the actions of President Donald Trump's administration. She points to how Trump initially cast blame on "both sides" for the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and his most recent comments about African countries.

"President Trump in 2017 reflected what white supremacist groups want to see: a country where racism is sanctioned by the highest office, immigrants are given the boot and Muslims banned," Beirich said in a statement accompanying the report.

"When you consider that only days into 2018, Trump called African countries 'shitholes,' it’s clear he’s not changing his tune," she said. "And that’s music to the ears of white supremacists."

The SPLC said as a result, these actions from the Trump administration have given rise to black nationalist groups, which grew from 193 chapters in 2016 to 233 last year.

"Black hate groups have usually risen in eras in which civil rights are under attack like they are today," Beirich said, noting that black hate groups are not associated with groups like Black Lives Matter, which are working to eliminate systemic racism.

S.C. Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick scoffed at the correlation between the Trump administration and the rise of hate groups.

"Bottom line, they're a liberal activist group in the fundraising business of defaming their conservative political enemies. This is how they raise money — and it must be fundraising season," McKissick said in a statement provided to The Post and Courier.

Meanwhile, Ku Klux Klan chapters fell by nearly half, from 130 to 72. Beirich said this shows a new generation of white supremacists are rejecting the old-school ways of the Klan but embracing the alt-right's "hipper rebranding" of racist ideologies. 

"Hate is making its way into the mainstream," Beirich said.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

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