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The Organizational Dynamics of Far-Right Hate Groups in the United States: Comparing Violent to Non-Violent Organizations

The Organizational Dynamics of Far-Right Hate Groups in the United States: Comparing Violent to Non-Violent Organizations


There is empirical and anecdotal evidence that far-right hate groups pose a significant threat to public safety. Far-right extremists commit many violent attacks, and some scholars conclude that far-right extremists, especially groups motivated by religious ideology, are strong candidates to commit future acts using weapons of mass destruction (Gurr & Cole, 2002; Tucker, 2001).  Research analyzing data from the Extremist Crime Database has shown that active members of far-right extremist groups have been involved in over 330 homicide incidents in the last 20 years (Freilich, Chermak, Belli, Grunewald & Parkin; Gruenewald, 2011).  Similarly, a national survey of State law enforcement agencies concluded that there was significant concern about the activities of far-right extremist groups, and that more states reported the presence of far-right militia groups (92%), neo-Nazis (89%), and racist skinheads (89%) in their jurisdictions than Jihadi extremist groups (65%) (Freilich, Chermak & Simone, 2009). Despite these important concerns, few projects have empirically studied far-right hate groups in the United States. This study aims to address this research gap by exploring the factors that distinguish violent far-right hate groups from non-violent far-right hate groups. 

We used the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) annual Intelligence Report and Klan Watch publications to produce a list of hate groups in the United States.  We identified over 6,000 hate groups, and, from that baseline focused analysis on groups that were in existence for at least three consecutive years.  We sampled over 50% (N = 275) of these organizations and then studied them in-depth. Each organization was systematically researched to uncover all publically available information on it.  We then categorized each group as violent or non-violent: Groups whose members had committed at least one ideologically motivated violent crime were categorized as violent, and groups whose members had not were coded as non-violent.  Our research revealed that 21% of the 275 far-right hate groups included in the study had members who had committed at least one violent criminal act. In addition, if a group’s members had committed six or more violent crimes, we categorized the group as having committed extreme violence. We categorized these organizations as violent groups.

We tested findings from previous research on factors that differentiate violent and non-violent hate groups. We studied a number of factors, clustered into four categories: (1) Organizational capacity, (2) Organizational constituency, (3) Strategic connectivity, and (4) Structural arrangements. We also examined a number of additional characteristics of these groups.   

Based on findings from a number of statistical models, several indicators appear to be related to a group’s propensity for violence even when controlling for other significant predictors. First, of the organizational capacity variables, age and size were related to a group’s propensity for extreme violence and age was related to group violence.  That is, as groups increased in the number of years in existence or in the number of their members, the likelihood of them being involved in violence increased.  This result makes sense as groups have an opportunity to learn over time. The significance of group size may be that simply having more members increases the odds at least one individual will be linked to a violent act.  Larger organizations also have a more diverse body of members who bring different skills and expertise and this diversity may allow them to evade capture for a period of time and thus provide the opportunity to commit more violent crimes. 


Publication Information

Full Citation: 

Chermak, Steven M., and Joshua D. Freilich, Michael Suttmoeller. “The Organizational Dynamics of Far-Right Hate Groups in the United States: Comparing Violent to Non-Violent Organizations,” Final Report to START. College Park MD: START, December 2011.