The number of white supremacist hate groups increased significantly in 1991, especially in Florida and four other regions, according to a private non-profit group that monitors such activity.
The annual report by Klanwatch, based in Montgomery, Ala., noted that the trend was accompanied by more violent oratory from the newer and more militant groups. At the same time, the Klanwatch report said that many of the more traditional groups were stressing political action in some of their new appeals and avoiding talk of hatred and violence.
The study prepared by Klanwatch, an arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center, found a 27 percent increase in the number of white supremacist groups, mainly in northern Georgia, Florida, Southern California, along the Northeast corridor and around Chicago.
There were 346 groups with mailing addresses or publications or involved in sponsoring meetings or demonstrations across the country, said Klanwatch's director, Danny Welch, adding that there may be more. Last year the study showed there were 273 such groups.
Several researchers involved in the study said the increase in such groups was largely due to the discontent caused by the recession.
But the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, a highly regarded intelligence-gathering agency of the state police, says it is skeptical of Klanwatch's conclusions.
"The problem is that every Klan member wants to be a Klan leader and so they break off and start their own groups, but the numbers of people involved overall changes very little," said John Bankhead, a bureau spokesman. "It might be accurate to say the number of groups increased, but it might not be accurate, based on what we see in Georgia, to conclude that the number of people involved in the groups has increased."
In recent years there has been a leveling off in the number of Klan-type groups, said Welch, as younger people rejected the robes and ritual in favor of paramilitary type groups like skinheads and neo-Nazis.
But more recently, Welch said, the two groups have converged as the skinheads have aged and the Klan groups have adapted their message.
In the last year, said the report, Thom Robb, the head of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, repeatedly asserted that the group did not hate anyone but "loved the white race."
The Florida leader of the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a different group, urged his members in that group's newspaper to "become a group known for hating evil, instead of being a group known for hating Negroes," while his North Carolina counterpart in the same organization barred violent neo-Nazis from its gatherings.