Immigration issues are fueling a rise of hate groups in the United States, with their numbers increasing 40 percent in six years, according to a report released this week by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.

The number of hate groups – known to promote animosity and hostility toward persons based on their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or ethnicity/national origin – grew to 844 in 2006 compared to 602 in 2000. A 5 percent increase was reported from 2005 to 2006.

“If you look at this nationally, there are 100,000 to 200,000 people involved in a fairly direct way with these groups,” said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The trend shows a very significant growth in hate groups and that growth is largely driven by immigration issues.”

California, with 63, and Texas with 55, have the highest numbers of reported hate groups in the country.

Groups include white nationalists, neo-Nazi and neo-Confederate groups, Ku Klux Klan and black separatists, Potok said.

One of the most popular groups in the country, Council of Conservative Citizens, denounces its label as a hate group, said Gordon Lee Baum, a spokesman for the organization, which has active chapters in 28 states.

The SPLC report said the country has seen a rapid rise of the right-wing anti-immigration movement, with many of these groups popularizing conspiracy theories, such as an alleged Mexican plot to annex the American Southwest.

The report also said there were signs that the neo-Nazi movement was becoming disorganized, with splintering skinhead alliances.

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