Where hate groups operate now.
It’s been a little over a month since the election of Donald Trump, and reports of hate crimes keep on coming.* Across the nation, more than 900 incidents of hate-related intimidation or harassment were reported in just the first 10 days following the election, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
But to what degree do the existence of hate groups actually track with support for Trump? And what other factors might be playing into the specific places where hate groups are on the rise in the U.S.?
To get at this, we look at the current geography of hate using the SPLC’s detailed data base of hate groups. The SPLC 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.” Its database, which culled from websites and publications, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports, identifies 892 active hate groups across the 50 states.
The map below, from Taylor Blake of the Martin Prosperity Institute, shows the geography of hate groups in America today based on the number of them per million people across the 48 continental states. We exclude Washington, D.C., which has a large number of national headquarters of hate groups, as opposed to representing their actual geographic origin.
The map reveals the basic geography of hate groups in America. Hate groups are most highly concentrated in the South and the northern Plains states (the tallest states on the map). Arkansas (7.4), Mississippi (6.4) and Tennessee (6.2) have the largest concentrations of hate groups, followed by South Dakota (5.8), Montana (5.8), and Delaware (5.3).
Hate groups are less concentrated in the Northeast, Great Lakes, and the West Coast. Connecticut has the smallest concentration of hate groups (0.6), followed by Utah (1.0), Minnesota (1.1), Washington (1.1), Nevada (1.4), New Mexico (1.4), Massachusetts (1.5), Maine (1.5), Wisconsin (1.6), Iowa (1.6), Kansas (1.7), California (1.7), Illinois (1.8), and Michigan (1.9).
But beyond their locations, what other factors are associated with hate groups?
To get at this, my colleague Charlotta Mellander ran a basic correlation analysis between hate groups and the key economic, political, and social factors associated with America's geographic divide, including votes for Trump vs. Clinton, socioeconomic class, and religion. As usual I note that correlation does not imply causation, but simply points to associations between variables. Nonetheless, the patterns we discerned were robust and distinctive enough to warrant reporting.
First of all, the geography of hate reflects the geography of the 2016 vote and the broader Red state/Blue state divide. Hate groups were positively associated with Trump support (with a correlation of 0.48)—one of the very highest correlations in our analysis.
Conversely, hate groups were negatively associated with Clinton votes (with a correlation of -0.42).
Hate groups are more highly concentrated in more working-class states, with a significant correlation to the share of workers in blue-collar working class jobs (0.42).
The geography of hate follows the broader geography of poverty, being positively associated with the share of the population that lives in poverty (0.43) and negatively associated with level of income (-.53). Hate groups are also positively associated with states where African Americans make up a larger share of the population (.36).
Hate groups also hew across religious lines. Higher concentrations of hate groups are positively associated with states where individuals report that religion plays a very important role in their everyday lives (a correlation of 0.43).
The geography of hate also follows the geography of guns and jail, being positively associated with death rates by gun (.40) and the rate of incarceration (0.35).
What Mitigates Hate?
On the flip side, higher levels of education appears to act against hate. Hate groups are negatively associated with the percentage of adults holding a college degree (-0.34).
Hate groups are less likely to operate in places with more knowledge-based economies, with a negative association to the share of the workforce in knowledge, professional and creative occupations (-0.33) and with a state’s overall level of science and technology sectors (-0.42).
Diversity can also serve to mitigate hate. Hate groups are negatively associated with several key indicators of diversity: the percentage of state residents who are Asian (-0.45 ), Hispanic-Latino (-0.34), immigrants (-0.47), and who are gay and lesbian (-0.29).
Urbanization also appears to mitigate hate. Hate groups are negatively associated with the share of a state’s population that lives in urban areas (-0.49)—and this is one of the strongest correlations in our analysis.
Ultimately, the geography of hate in the U.S. follows from the more general lines of class division and the underlying sorting of America by ideology that flows from that division. It is worth pointing out, as I did back in 2011, that the presence of hate groups does not necessarily lead to hate crimes. A 2010 study found no statistical association between the two: Even as hate groups increased between 2002 and 2020, the number of hate crimes fell slightly. Its conclusions also provide insight into the connection between hate and the rise of Trumpism, finding that hate tends to rise in line with economic adversity.
“When people endure economic hardship they get frustrated," the authors of the study write. "They take their frustration out on vulnerable social groups, such as ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities." Trump and Trumpism appears to have played a role by giving voice to this sort of backlash and frustration.
Even if hate groups are not directly connected to hate crimes, they arise from the same underlying economic factors that are dividing Americans by class, ideology, and politics. The geography of hate in America reflects and reinforces its deepening geography of class.
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included an anecdote about a particular alleged hate crime that has since been discredited. We’ve removed that passage from the story.