"It is not merely the person of Barack Obama, but the change that he represents," Potok said. "The Census Bureau predicts non-Hispanic whites will lose their majority in the country by 2043. This is animating a remarkable level of anger, fear and discomfort.
"Some 20 states are considering laws that would nullify any national gun control," he said. "About 500 sheriffs, mainly in the western United States, are saying they will not implement any federal gun control measure," Potok said.
"What these states and these sheriffs are proposing is unconstitutional. It is not legal. If the federal government passes gun control laws, they must be obeyed."
There could be 200,000 to 300,000 people involved in hate groups today, Potok believes, as well as 300,000 to 400,000 in militia groups or "sovereign citizen" movements.
Today's hate groups, he added, "are not particular to the Deep South. They exist from sea to shining sea. You don't find militias in New York City or San Francisco. But you do find anti-black groups and skinheads there.
"Overall, no geographic area is particularly worse or better than any other area."
Morris Dees, who co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971, spoke at the annual W.E. "Ned" Chilton III Leadership Lecture Series in Charleston in November 1995.
On its website, the SPLC offers an interactive map of hate groups in all 50 states at www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map. Potok's new article, "The Year in Hate and Extremism." is available at www.splcenter.org/home/2013/spring/the-year-in-hate-and-extremism.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.