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I-TEAM: Hate groups rise nationally and in Georgia, South Carolina

Published: Jan. 18, 2021 at 6:15 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - On the day we celebrate civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., our I-Team has learned white nationalist hate groups are on the rise in Georgia and South Carolina.

Nationally, these groups have grown by 55 percent in just three years, and they’re on the radar of law enforcement everywhere after some participated in the capitol riots.

At first glance, it all looks like good news as recent data shows the number of all hate groups has decreased overall, but the I-Team took a closer look.

Look what happens when you filter by type of hate group: we aren’t the only ones to notice a spike in white nationalist groups. The director of the GBI says it’s also on his radar.

When we look back at the Capitol riots, some of the images are almost too heavy for words.

Never before has the Confederate flag flown in our nation’s capital. Then, there were others captured wearing anti-Semitic messages.

Their message was clear: they didn’t see the people’s house as a house for all people.

The FBI is still working to identify the people and groups responsible, but with threats now mentioning Atlanta, Columbia, and all other state capitols, the I-Team went to work looking for hate groups that could be at work here.

“I will tell you, without any hesitation, that those type of groups that are existing in this state, are in fact being looked at and monitored by this by this agency,” Dr. Vic Raynolds said.

Reynolds is the director of the GBI. He couldn’t talk to us about the capitol riots because the FBI and D.C. Police are handling that. But he could talk to us about monitoring hate groups in Georgia.

“Our intelligence units, monitor groups like that every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Reynolds said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a bipartisan non-profit that has tracked hate groups in the United States since 1990. Currently, there are 38 hate groups in Georgia and 17 in South Carolina.

A hate map created by the SPLC shows us most exist in metro Atlanta and North Georgia. The SPLC also found a 55 percent increase in white nationalist groups across the country since 2017.

Drilling down further, the I-Team found there are six groups that identify as “white nationalist” in Georgia, three more neo-confederate hate groups, one anti-Semitic hate group, and one anti-immigrant hate group.

We asked Dir. Reynolds if there were any in the CSRA, the Augusta-Richmond county area, Columbia, Burke, or McDuffie County areas.

“That’s not an area that my intelligence units have indicated to me is how the radar about that area of concern,” he said.

While that may feel like a bit of good news, one thing to remember is the role social media plays in radicalizing people, people who can live anywhere and travel anywhere.

“It allows groups, no matter what the objective is, to organize, mobilize quickly. Is that something that comes into play?” I asked.

“Years ago, the first thing you would do in a murder scene is to canvass a neighborhood. Now, what you do is collect phones. And so that’s the way it’s changed over the year,” Reynolds said. “So, social media certainly plays a major, major part in groups of that nature, the way they operate, the way they function, the way they plan and certainly the way they communicate.”

“Do you think that COVID has played a role in more people going down that internet rabbit hole and becoming more radicalized?” I asked.

“Sure, I think it has. I think just the lack of everyday social contact that makes us who and what we are, you know, humans are social animals,” Dir. Reynolds explained.

Isolation, morphing into radicalization, and possibly violence. But Reynolds remains hopeful Georgians are safe, and the country will heal.

“I hope and pray every day that this country begins the healing process, and that we have leaders, elected officials, who will put the welfare of this country ahead on anything and everything else,” he said. “And I think if we have men and women who will step up and do that, regardless of what party they belong to, we’ll do that then we can begin the healing process, but we certainly have a ways to go here.”

Something important to note: you may have heard a lot about Qanon and Antifa and their alleged involvement in the riots at the U.S. Capitol. The FBI Director says they are not hate groups because they aren’t considered organizations. They are considered ideologies.

As for hate groups, we have decided not to name them. That can be seen as a validation of sorts, and we don’t want to give them any additional fuel.

If you would like to find more information about radicalization, and how it can happen, the FBI has provided an online guide to countering violent extremism.

The FBI has provided an online guide to countering violent extremism.
The FBI has provided an online guide to countering violent extremism.(Source: FBI)

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