Bomb threats to Alabama synagogues, attempted book bans among incidents in new SPLC hate report

By Savannah Tryens-Fernandes

The number of hate and extremist groups nationwide rose to a record high last year, as Alabamians faced dozens of instances of threats, intimidation and harassment, according to a new report.

The Southern Poverty Law Center recorded 1,430 hate and anti-government extremist groups in the United States in 2023. That’s an increase of more than 200 groups from 2022, according to SPLC’s annual hate and extremism report released today.

The SPLC reported that it recorded more active anti-LGBTQ and white nationalist groups last year than any other year since it began documenting hate groups in 1990.

“What we’re seeing now should be a wake up call for all of us. Our 2023 report documented more hate and anti-government extremist groups than ever before,” said Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Montgomery-based SPLC. “With a historic election just months away, these groups are multiplying, mobilizing, making, and in some cases already implementing, plans to undo democracy.”

In Alabama, SPLC reported 12 extremist groups as being active in the state. Whil the number of groups remained relatively small compared to other states, they represent a range of neo-conederate, white nationalist and anti-government ideologies, according to SPLC.

The report lists several incidents that targeted libraries and LGBTQ, Black and Jewish Alabamians in 2023:

  • 120 instances of groups or individuals posting flyers or hanging banners with hate messages, known as hate flyering.
  • 12 attempts to ban public library books, including 74 titles
  • Multiple Jewish houses of worship in Montgomery, Dothan, Auburn, Mobile and Birmingham received bomb threats last October
  • Masked members of the group Patriot Front targeted Prattville’s first-ever Pride picnic with hate signs and chants last June
  • Members of Patriot Front last summer hacked a road sign on Interstate 65 near Clanton with hate slogans
  • In August, speakers from white nationalist groups that support anti-black eugenics gathered for the second annual neo-Confederate conference in Wetumpka

This year, the SPLC report put a particular focus on the Deep South — Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana — calling the region “an organizing hub for anti-student inclusion groups in the anti-government movement.”

Researchers referred to children’s hospitals being targeted because they provided healthcare to transgender youth and attacks on drag story hours. SPLC called those story hours community literacy programs that “provide public goods, helping people overcome barriers to literacy and building connections that produce thriving, resilient and democratically engaged communities.”

Research analysts at SPLC said lawmakers have “built [legislation] on many of the conspiracies of these far-right ideologies,” referencing trans healthcare bans, laws banning public drag performances and new restrictions on school curriculum, all of which have been passed or proposed in Alabama.

Abortion bans, like the one passed in Alabama in 2022, were also listed as an example of hate groups influencing legislation. The SPLC for the first time began tracking ‘male supremacy groups’ which “share a belief in men’s perceived right to dominate and enforce strict gender norms onto women, trans men and nonbinary people.”

According to the report, during the year Roe was overturned, the National Abortion Federation documented a 913% increase in incidents of stalking, a 538% increase in clinic obstructions and a 133% increase in bomb threats targeting abortion providers and clinics in states that continued to protect abortion rights.

“With the emphasis on halting immigration at the southern border, denying rights to LGBTQ people, denying teachers the ability to talk about difficult topics like racism, and eliminating access to abortion, the mainstream right is pursuing a policy agenda that is very much in line with what the White Power movement would like to see enacted. And that movement really feels empowered right now,” Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the SPLC said.