The number of hate groups in America is on the rise, according to a much-debated report by an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

During 2010, the number of hate groups topped 1,000 for the first time since the 1980s, when the Southern Poverty Law Center first started counting. In the past decade, the number of hate groups has nearly doubled. Including hate, anti-immigrant and anti-government groups, the organization counted 2,145 active organizations.

This "explosive" expansion is "driven by resentment over the changing racial demographics of the country, frustration over the government's handling of the economy, and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and other demonizing propaganda aimed at various minorities," the report declares.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights group that gained notoriety for weakening the Klu Klux Klan with civil lawsuits, labels Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce a "nativist" and his push to deny the American-born children of illegal immigrants citizenship an "extremist idea."

"We're not in any way suggesting that these groups should be outlawed or free speech should be suppressed," said Mark Potok, who edited the Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report. "It's kind of calling out the liars, the demonizers, the propagandists."

On its web site Southern Poverty Law Center displays an interactive map that illustrates where hate groups are located. In Utah, the map indicates, there are two Neo-Nazi groups, two Ku Klux Klan groups and one anti-gay group. The Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints in Hildale are labeled as a "general hate group."

Conservative critics argue that the report is exaggerated, however, because Southern Poverty Law Center has defined hate too broadly, CBS News reported.

Last year the group lumped the social conservative group the Family Research Council in with groups like the Aryan Nations because of its opposition to gay marriage.

The Washington Times called the Southern Poverty Law Center "a small, hard-left political activist outfit" that has "become an extremist wolf in 'watchdog' clothing."

In December, 22 Republican lawmakers, three governors and a number of conservative organizations took out ads in Washington papers accusing the Southern Poverty Law Center for "character assassination," the Christian Science Monitor reported. Last week, the prominent national human rights group Stop Islamization of America, vowed to fight the Southern Poverty Law Center over the list.

"It's time for some reality check on this sort of thing, beginning with the very concept of hate," said Donald Livingston, an Emory University philosophy professor and a former member of League of the South, which Southern Poverty Law Center calls a hate group. "The SPLC has a political agenda and they vilify people, that's what they do. There's very little in the way of an empirical examination of groups that might pose a threat to civil order. There's almost nobody left in the Klan, so what they do is they find respectable groups or high-profile people and they say, 'X is linked to Y, who is linked to a hate group.' That's what McCarthy did."

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