(CN) — Coinciding with President Donald Trump’s efforts to label the COVID-19 pandemic a “Chinese virus,” a nonprofit that studied all the hate crimes committed in 2019 reported Wednesday that the number of white-nationalist groups are on the rise.
Attributing the numbers at least in part to the rise of digital communications, the Southern Poverty Law Center found a 55% rise in white-nationalist hate groups, from 100 in 2017 to 155 last year.
“White supremacists, in fact, are increasingly congregating online, often not formally joining hate groups but networking, raising funds, recruiting and spreading propaganda that radicalizes young people and stokes violence against nonwhite immigrants, Jews, Muslims, Black people and others who belong to minority groups,” the report says.
One example of this trend occurred this time last year when a white supremacist who opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51, live-streamed the first part of his attack.
The law center, which is based in Montgomery, Alabama, notes that some members of the hate groups have secured high-ranking government positions in the Trump administration.
“These political moves will far outlast this administration, as Trump and his allies in the U.S. Senate have pushed through hundreds of new federal judges, many of whom are hostile to civil rights concerns and will serve for decades,” the 48-page report states.
Although the number of groups dedicated to white nationalism rose in 2019, the law center also found that the total number of hate groups has decreased 8%, dropping from a record 1,020 in 2018 to 940 last year.
This decline, however, “does not reflect a significant diminishment of the radical right or a fundamental shift in the general trend of the last several years,” according to the report.
In addition to white-nationalist groups, the law center counted a higher number of organizations dedicated to vilifying immigrants and the LGBT community.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Wednesday that the administration hasn’t seen the law center’s report but that the law center is a “far-left smear organization” focused on smearing President Donald Trump.
“President Trump has repeatedly condemned racism, bigotry, and violence of all forms and his policies have reduced violent crime and made communities safer,” said Deere, according to a report by The Associated Press.
“Their comments are disgusting, particularly while the president demonstrates unprecedented leadership to contain and mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Deere continued.
That same afternoon at a COVID-19 press briefing, Trump refused to back down on his references to the “Chinese virus,” despite reports that Asian men and women are facing hate crimes connected to the coronavirus association.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported that Trump’s first presidential campaign fueled white nationalists who “saw him as an avatar of their grievances and their anxiety over the country’s demographic changes.”
“A growing sector of white supremacists, who call themselves ‘accelerationists,’ believe mass violence is necessary to bring about the collapse of our pluralistic society,” Wednesday’s report states.
The law center has drawn fire over the years over the system it uses to classify hate groups.
While a federal judge threw out one lawsuit by the Center for Immigration Studies over its hate-group designation, the London-based group Quilliam won a $3.4 million settlement in 2018 after saying the center had falsely labeled it as an anti-Muslim extremist group.