Obama and the American fringe

March 16, 2012

The prospect of President Barack Obama winning another four-year term in November is swelling the ranks of anti-Muslim activists and groups on the extremist fringe of American society. Their growth has accelerated every year since Obama took office in 2009.

So says a new report by a civil rights organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center, that has tracked extremist groups for the past three decades and found that last year alone, the number of anti-Muslim groups tripled, from 10 to 30.

Between 2008 and the end of 2011, according to the center, there was an eight-fold increase in the number of militias and “patriot” groups whose members inhabit a parallel universe where the federal government wants to rob them of their guns and their freedom.

“What groups on the radical right have in common is the belief that Obama wants to destroy America,” Mark Potok, author of the report, said in an interview. “Fears that he will win again are now driving the expansion.”

How many Americans are on the right-wing fringe is not known. The Southern Poverty Law Center gives no estimate and neither does the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which also monitors such groups. But it issued a report last September on a sub-set of the far-right scene, “sovereign citizens” who believe that federal, state and local governments operate illegally and therefore have no right to collect taxes. The FBI called them domestic terrorists and “a growing threat.”

Some of the beliefs held by those on the fringe are too outlandish to influence the political discourse – the government is running secret concentration camps, Mexico plans to recapture the American southwest, there are plans for the United Nations to take over America – but others are not.

The notion that Obama is intent on turning the United States into a socialist country is regularly echoed in speeches by Republican presidential hopefuls.

And the myth that Obama is a Muslim lives on. A public opinion poll of Republicans taken a day before the March 13 primary elections in Alabama and Mississippi showed that 45 percent and 51 percent, respectively, thought he was a Muslim. The methodology of the survey, by a polling institute affiliated with the Democratic party, has been questioned. But even if you cut the percentages in half, they are remarkable and show how stubbornly Obama detractors cling to mistaken beliefs in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Those who think the president is a Muslim tend to harbor deeper suspicions. In September 2010, at the height of a shrill debate over the so-called Ground Zero mosque in Manhattan, a poll commissioned by Newsweek found that 52 percent of Republicans surveyed thought it was “definitely true” or “probably true” that Obama sympathized with the goal of fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world. Thirty percent thought he favored the interests of Muslim Americans over those of other Americans.


The Southern Poverty Law Center traced the rapid growth of anti-Muslim groups to the dispute over the planned Islamic cultural center and mosque, not far from the site of September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. Since that controversy, anti-Islam arguments previously confined to little-known web sites run by anti-Muslim zealots have gone mainstream.

The most prominent proponent of the radicals’ theory of “stealth jihad” is Newt Gingrich, one of the four remaining candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. He has termed Islamic law (Sharia) “a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and the world.” How so? Radical Muslims use political, societal, religious and intellectual tools to sweep away Western civilization and replace it with Sharia law.

The idea that Muslim Americans, who account for less than one percent of the U.S. population, could succeed in replacing federal and state law with Islamic law, strikes many legal scholars as absurd. But that has not prevented conservative legislators in a string of states from introducing bills to ban the use of Islamic law.

Such efforts look like a search for legislative solutions to a non-existent problem and have begun running out of steam, slowed by common sense and the efforts of such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. In the first half of March, five states withdrew anti-Sharia bills or let them expire.

That doesn’t mean the debate is over, nor is it the end of the right’s portrayal of Obama as a socialist foreign-born Muslim enemy of America as we know it. How persuasive that is to mainstream Americans will be clear on election day, November 6.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Update: Wyoming No Longer Considering Buying an Aircraft Carrier* – Coincidence? Or further evidence that the Sharia Socialists are winning?

* 2/28/2012 @ 4:34PM, the minute Freedom died – http://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinunderhi ll/2012/02/28/update-wyoming-no-longer-c onsidering-buying-an-aircraft-carrier/

Posted by TobyONottoby | Report as abusive

[…] Obama and the American fringe […]

Posted by News: U.S. regulators probe Google privacy breach: report | Delivering news 24/7/365 | Report as abusive

Now we are supposed to pretend that the Southern Poverty Law Center is something other than an Israeli front organization?

Sure they are concerned with anti-Muslim bigotry.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

Yes, they do report on antimuslim bigotry. They report on any hate crime incident, regardless of who inflicts it on whom.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive

The purpose of a “front” organization is to maintain the appearance of having a purpose other than its true purpose. Its primary real purpose is to oppose “anti-semitism” and those associated with it. All who oppose Israel are “anti-semitic”.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

you can drive a white supremacist to the library….

Posted by nieldevi | Report as abusive

The main thing about SPLC is that it isn’t a good source because what they really care about in life is raking in lots and lots of money. Maybe at one time they did something good, but they lost their credibility some time ago. Same with the Anti-Defamation League, except that it’s more of a political tool.

Posted by Calfri | Report as abusive

Liberals love to talk about the fringe on the right while the fringe on the left is twice in numbers and twice as violent. More lefty double standards every where you turn

Posted by Orlandojonn | Report as abusive

It’s just our old southern brother racism trying to masquerade as something else. For a black man to be president of the United States means for many in the South that the country has gone to worse than ‘the dogs’. They have maybe ‘larned’ better than to come right out and say so but that’s about as far as their ‘larning’ has gone. The good old South, always looking backwards.

Posted by lhathaway | Report as abusive

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you…

Posted by savannahmike | Report as abusive

Bernd – You portray yourself as the source of socioeconomic and cultural “truth”. Now, that’s a crackpot… One day our scientists will be able to give us the physiological reasons why about 50% of the highly educated would think your analytical rigor is so weak as to be embarrassing. It’s fascinating to see you do it…a type of morbid facination.

Posted by sarkozyrocks | Report as abusive

“Debusmann was shot twice in the course of his work — once covering a night battle in the center of Beirut and once in an assassination attempt prompted by his reporting.”

Hmmmm … interesting.

Posted by Caricommsteve | Report as abusive

The Problem lies not in the color of your skin or in
your peoples culture. The Two Blond Horse Hair Wig types with the bleached white power bone of the horse contrl
the entire world with their dominance. Untill they are
located and shut down, there willbe no peace on eart or good will toward all Mankind

Posted by Sonmyungmoon | Report as abusive

The Problem lies with the worlds sixth cruification of
the man child who was to rule all the Nations with a rod of iorn, but was caugth up to God and His throne.
Please world get with the program…

Posted by Sonmyungmoon | Report as abusive

I’m sorry, this is yet another ‘Obama is in trouble because of the red-necks’ story. Obama is actually in trouble because he was inexperienced, indecisive, and turned out to be incompetent. He also got punked by his own left wing.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people, therefore, are its only safe depositories. Thomas Jefferson
Guns in USA 223 million, Over 600,000 are bought every day. I guess we are all ” Fringe Right Wing Extremest Now”

Posted by DiogenesIII | Report as abusive

@diogenesIII: Arithemtic doesn’t appear your strong suit. Multiply 600,000 by 365 and what do you arrive at?

Posted by Komment | Report as abusive

Arithmetic, that should have been

Posted by Komment | Report as abusive

Arithmetic, that should have been

Posted by Komment | Report as abusive

[…] less Ms. Malkin protest otherwise, these smears are having their desired intent. A Newsweek poll found that 52% of Republicans surveyed thought it was “definitely true” or “probably true” […]

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