The Geography of Hate
America’s racist groups concentrate in certain regions — and their presence correlates with religion, McCain votes, and poverty
Since 2000, the number of organized hate groups — from white nationalists, neo-Nazis and racist skinheads to border vigilantes and black separatist organizations — has climbed by more than 50 percent, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Their rise has been fueled by growing anxiety over jobs, immigration, racial and ethnic diversity, the election of Barack Obama as America’s first black president, and the lingering economic crisis. Most of them merely espouse violent theories; some of them are stock-piling weapons and actively planning attacks.
But not all people and places hate equally; some regions of the United States — at least within some sectors of their populations — are virtual hate hatcheries. What is the geography of hate groups and organizations? Why are some regions more susceptible to them?
The SPLC maintains a detailed database on hate groups, culled from websites and publications, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports. It defines hate groups as organizations and associations that “have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics,” and which participate in “criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.” As of 2010, the SPLC documents 1,002 such hate groups across the United States.
The map [above], by Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute, graphically presents the geography of hatred in America today. Based on the number of hate groups per one million people across the U.S. states, it reveals a distinctive pattern.
Hate groups are most highly concentrated in the old South and the northern Plains states. Two states have by far the largest concentration of hate groups — Montana with 13.8 groups per million people, and Mississippi with 13.7 per million. Arkansas (10.3), Wyoming (9.7), and Idaho (8.9) come in a distant third, fourth, and fifth.
But beyond their locations, what other factors are associated with hate groups? With the help of my colleague Charlotta Mellander, I looked at the social, political, cultural, economic and demographic factors that might be associated with the geography of hate groups. We considered a number of key factors that shape America’s geographic divide: Red state/Blue state politics; income and poverty; religion, and economic class. It is important to note that correlation does not imply causation —we are simply looking at associations between variables. It’s also worth pointing out that Montana and Mississippi are fairly extreme outliers which may skew the results somewhat. Nonetheless, the patterns we discerned were robust and distinctive enough to warrant reporting.
First of all, the geography of hate reflects the Red state/Blue state sorting of American politics.
Hate groups were positively associated with McCain votes (with a correlation of .52).
Conversely, hate groups were negatively associated with Obama votes (with a correlation of -.54).
Hate groups also cleave along religious lines. Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, higher concentrations of hate groups are positively associated with states where individuals report that religion plays an important role in their everyday lives (a correlation of .35).
The geography of hate also sorts across economic lines. Hate groups are more concentrated in states with higher poverty rates (.39) and those with larger blue-collar working class workforces (.41).