California is No. 1 haven for hate groups, claims controversial report

UPDATE: The Southern Poverty Law Center has come under increasing criticism from both the left and the right for some of the 
organizations it's labeled as hate groups. For example, one of the
organizations labeled as a hate group, the Family Research Council, is blasting the SPLC as irresponsible. "The Southern Poverty Law Center is a fraud and nobody should treat them as responsible actors,” the conservative, family-values organization said Thursday on its website. The organization also noted that five years ago, after the SPLC labeled the FRC as a hate group, a gunman attacked its Washington, D.C., offices, injuring a security officer.

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The states with the highest number of hate groups may not be the areas of the country that many people would assume.

California ranks highest among the 50 states, with nearly 80 different hate groups calling the Golden State home, says a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Most of the groups are concentrated in Southern California, the San Francisco Bay area and the Sacramento region, the report says.

Data show the western half of the U.S. has significantly fewer hate groups than the East Coast, the report says, but California -- the nation's most populous state -- easily has the highest number of hate groups operating within its borders.

The “Hate Map” report shows 917 hate groups operating across the country. It includes data not only on white supremacists, but Black Separatist organizations and anti-LGBT groups as well.

“The credibility of the SPLC is widely disputed, not only by conservative and Christian groups that promote traditional family values, but also by prominent progressives. Ken Silberstein, in a 2010 article for Harper’s, wrote that the SPLC “shuts down debate, stifles free speech, and most of all, raises a pile of money, very little of which is used on behalf of poor people."

“[The SPLC] are not a neutral arbiter that is calling balls and strikes," Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council said on “The Todd Starnes Show.” They are on the field – playing. They are pushing an agenda and anyone who opposes them – they slap a label on them. They (SPLC) are inciting violence and it needs to stop.”

An SPLC spokesperson was not immediately available for comment on the criticisms.

The SPLC report also cites numbers from 2016 that show 130 Ku Klux Klan groups and 193 Black Separatist groups active across the county. The SPLC also notes there has been a nearly 200  percent increase in anti-Muslim groups since 2015.

In 2011, the total number hit its peak with over 1,000 groups operating. That number dropped to 784 just three years later, but there has been a steady increase since then. The SPLC also says in its report that the country has seen an unprecedented rise in hate groups since the turn of the century. In 1999 when there were only 457 documented groups in the country.

Florida ranks No. 2 with 63 hate groups, and is No. 1 on the East Coast.

Ranking third is New York state, home to 47 hate groups. Pennsylvania is not far behind, with 40 groups.

States with the lowest numbers of hate groups lie mostly in the Midwest and West. Iowa has only four groups in operation, while Wyoming and New Mexico have two apiece and North Dakota and Vermont have one each.

Data for the “Hate Map” list was compiled using hate group publications and websites, citizen and law-enforcement reports, sources from the field and news reports, the SPLC says.

Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych