From a white power record label in Burbank to an Aryan motorcycle club in Canton, there are 32 active hate groups in the state of Illinois, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center—a nonprofit advocating against extremism.
While the nation’s history is wrought with examples of racism and bigotry, groups like the SPLC are sounding the alarm over current events—such as the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. A 32-year-old woman was killed and 15 people were injured after a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Another nonprofit, the Anti-Defamation League, expressed concern ahead of the so-called “Unite the Right” rally and said it was possibly the largest white supremacist gathering in a decade.
Illinois is no stranger to such demonstrations. In 1978, a neo-Nazi group planned to march in Skokie where a large Jewish population, including Holocaust survivors, resides. The Nazis instead marched in Marquette Park in Chicago where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once lived.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was among those rallying against the Nazis at the time, called it a “political awakening” in a recent statement rebuking President Donald Trump’s failure to squarely blame white supremacists for Virginia’s spate of violence.
The SPLC’s digital “Hate Map,” an interactive feature on its website cataloging what it calls extremist and fringe groups, has been circulated widely on social media in recent days in response to the events in Charlottesville.
SPLC officials did not respond to request for comment. On its website, the organization details why it has included the groups on its map.
Lonnie Nasatir, the Midwest regional director for the ADL, says hate groups in Illinois today are fluid, often quickly dissolving and hard to track.
“They’re very hard to quantify,” he said in a phone interview, adding that the 32 listed by the SPLC is a good “ballpark” number.
The ADL says white supremacists and extremists have renewed attempts to “insert their hatred in a number of towns and cities across the country,” placing much of the blame on rhetoric coming from the Trump White House.
The president has faced heavy criticism since his insistence that the Charlottesville violence was stoked by “both sides,” though he has denounced Nazis, the KKK and white supremacists in scripted comments. Trump’s statements, however, have garnered the praise of former KKK grand wizard David Duke and white nationalist icon Richard Spencer.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get the denunciation we were looking for from the president,” Nasatir said. “My fear is that they’ve (white supremacists) again been emboldened and are feeling empowered to go to the next rally.”
Nasatir said groups like the ADL and SPLC are staying vigilant in the fight against extremism and hate. He said his organization is communicating with law enforcement about its findings “all the time.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation says it does at times investigate domestic hate groups but does not actively track them.
“Our focus is not on membership in particular groups or adherence to particular ideologies or beliefs but on criminal activity,” said FBI spokeswoman Diane Carbonara. “The FBI cannot initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of the First Amendment or other Constitutional rights, and we remain committed to protecting those rights for all Americans.”
In interviews given since the chaos in Charlottesville, some marchers said they were only there to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee—while others openly professed their racist beliefs.
Still, not everyone agrees with the SPLC’s findings. The village of Gurnee, reportedly home to a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, has requested to be removed from the Hate Map.
Gurnee police told the Lake County News-Sun there has been no record of Klan activity in the area since 1987.
The American Family Association, a conservative advocacy group “defending natural marriage and resisting the aggressive, radical, homosexual agenda,” vehemently denied it is a hate group in a statement Thursday.
Organizations like the AFA, which has two facilities in Illinois, have also said the SPLC lumps right wing organizations in with hate groups.
Nasatir says, citing ADL analysis, a majority of recent extremism-related deaths in America are a result of conservative fringe group activity, but concedes left-leaning organizations are capable of violence and hate as well.
“There’s no question there are left forces that are dangerous and we need to be mindful of that,” he said. “You can’t just focus on one.”