Conservative groups are rejecting as "anecdotal and exaggerated" a report out of the Southern Poverty Law Center that claims the election of a black president has fanned the flames of a resurgent anti-government "militia movement."
The SPLC report cited a recent rash of ideologically driven violent crimes, rising gun sales, a reported rise in the number of militia groups and level of activity and stern warnings from law enforcement officials about the potential for violence in concluding that "there are unmistakable signs of a revival" since the 1990s.
The assessment said Latino immigration, and particularly the election of President Obama, have injected a "strong racial element" into the opposition movement.
But right-leaning groups say the evidence of a distinct rise in militia activity is spotty and that the SPLC is unfairly lumping isolated extremists in the same category as those who are protesting the administration's economic and social policies, under the umbrella term "militia."
They add that the racism charge is bunk.
"I think it's utter nonsense to say it's racial," said Carter Clews, spokesman at Americans for Limited Government. Clews said Obama's "doctrinaire socialistic approach to government" has triggered a populist backlash, but "it's inappropriate to use the word militia."
The SPLC report came just four months after the Department of Homeland Security issued a controversial report on "right-wing extremists." That assessment carried many of the same themes and warnings as the new "militia" report, also warning that the election of the first black president could be exploited as a recruiting tool.
According to data ALG obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the DHS relied in large part on news articles, questionable Web sites and several already-public SPLC reports -- not official government sources -- in writing its "right-wing extremists" report.
William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, said the latest SPLC report suggests that DHS and the law center are relying largely on the same pool of information to make their claims about the rise in right-wing extremism.
"They are attempting to brand all right-of-center protesters as potential domestic terrorists or extremists," he said. "They are painting whole swaths of people as hate groups and extremists."
As for the purported rise in "militia" groups, which SPLC includes as part of the broader anti-government "Patriot" movement, Gheen said: "We're just not seeing it."
The SPLC assessment says that in fiscal 2008, the U.S. Marshals Service reported that 1,278 "threats and harassing communications" were made against officials like judges and prosecutors -- a number that SPLC said had more than doubled in the past six years. One unnamed law enforcement agency found 50 new militia training groups over the last two years, SPLC reported.
"I don't think it's at all isolated. We've got not only reports, all kinds of evidence of these groups," Mark Potok, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project, told FOX News. He cited accounts of militia types training in the woods. "This is a kind of convergence of factors that are driving these groups."
He said it was "hogwash" to accuse his group of crying wolf, and that the report was not trying to undermine legitimate government criticism.
The report quoted a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who said anti-government sentiment is "bubbling." Another unnamed law enforcement source said he hadn't seen this much growth in activity in over a decade.
"All it's lacking is a spark. I think it's only a matter of time before you see threats and violence," the official is quoted saying, according to the report.
The study cited a rash of incidents, several of which have gotten heavy media attention, since late 2008. It listed 75 "plots, conspiracies and racist rampages" since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing -- 12 of them having occurred since 2008. The offenders include James von Brunn, the white supremacist charged with fatally shooting a security guard at Washington's Holocaust Memorial Museum in June, and Scott Roeder, the man charged with killing Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in May.
But Clews said it's "absolute paranoia" to connect such incidents to a movement.
Critics also objected that the report linked the militia mentality to mainstream conservative figures and groups.
The study cited Texas Gov. Rick Perry's suggestion that Texas could secede from the U.S.; the controversial commentary of media hosts like FOX News' Glenn Beck and CNN's Lou Dobbs; the sovereign message of the anti-tax tea parties; and the anti-gun control posture of the National Rifle Association. The report said gun shows are "major venues for militia-like ideology."
Asked for comment on the report, NRA spokeswoman Rachel Parsons wrote in an e-mail to FOXNews.com: "It has zero accuracy."
NRA lobbyist Chris Cox issued a statement saying his group is a "patriotic organization of law-abiding American citizens."
"The individual, fundamental right of firearm ownership is deeply embedded in American history and supported by a broad cross-section of American society," he said.
Critics of the report said it also lacks hard data beyond the recent high-profile examples of clearly ideologically driven plots and attacks.
While asserting that 50 new militia groups have been identified, the SPLC report did not provide comparative figures to support its suggestion that the activity has spiked recently and has something to do with Obama.
According to SPLC's own statistics, the number of active hate groups and hate sites, not the same as militia groups, has been steadily on the rise since the start of the Bush administration.
The DHS had no comment on the law center's report.
The FBI released a general written statement on the dangers of domestic extremism, but did not provide public statistics to back up the claims in the SPLC report.
"It is important that law enforcement continues to gain the strongest possible understanding to allow us to better assess the domestic terrorism threat and identify those who would go beyond hateful rhetoric and extremist views to commit violent, criminal acts," Michael Heimbach, FBI assistant director for counterterrorism, said in the statement.
Heimbach said a big challenge remains finding the "so-called lone offenders."