Anti-government extremism has been alive and well in the United States for decades. From the birth of the John Birch Society, stemming from opposition to communism in the 1950s, to the more recent emergence of QAnnon, anti-government groups have their own specific ideological niche – while sharing many commonalities.
Generally, these groups are anti democratic and align with far-right ideologies. They are often united by conspiracy theories and belief that the federal government is an illegitimate, tyrannical, and oppressive force. Notable incidents involving anti-government extremism include the Ruby Ridge Standoff in 1992, the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, and, more recently, the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. (Here is a look at 25 far-right hate symbols and what they mean.)
According to the hate group watchdog and civil rights advocacy group Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 488 extreme anti-government groups in the United States in 2021, down from 566 in 2020. The decline is the continuation of a longer-term trend, as the number of these groups peaked in the 2010s.
But while the number of anti-governments has declined, their activity has not. Anti-government ideology and conspiracy theories have surged in recent years amid COVID-19 lockdowns, the rollout of 5G cellular networks, and the “Big Lie” surrounding the 2020 presidential election.
Outrage among anti-government groups over these and other grievances, real or imagined, have had real world consequences. In October 2020, for example, members of two anti-government groups were arrested for plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and over two dozen rioters charged with crimes stemming from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol were members of known anti-government organizations. (Here is a look at the politicians who got behind the stolen election lie.)
Though anti-government extremist groups are active in each of the 50 states, their presence is far more pronounced in some parts of the country than others. Using data from the SPLC, 24/7 Wall St. identified the states with the most anti-government groups.
In each state on this list, there were at least three active anti-government groups in 2021, and at least two active anti-government groups for every 1 million state residents. Population data came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey, and data on government employment is for 2021 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Active groups in the states on this list include militias and conspiratorial media outlets. Many of the names these groups have chosen for themselves include references to the constitution, patriotism, and liberty – an apparent betrayal of the very basis for their existence.
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