By Rusty Surette, NEWS 9

The FBI reports the number of hate crimes is increasing. Police said there were 7,722 crimes targeting victims or property because of bias against race, religion, sexual orientation or disability in 2006, an increase of 7.8 percent from the previous year. The crimes included murder, rape and assault.

Groups centered on hateful messages like the Ku-Klux-Klan, have long-existed in the Sooner State. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said membership has increased up to 40 percent in these hate groups over the last seven years. And in 2006, the SPLC listed 16 groups as active hate groups in Oklahoma. The Alabama-based group said it uses Internet postings, newspaper articles and traditional ground work to compile its report. The next list for Oklahoma is expected to be published in February 2008.

According to the SPLC list, the Brotherhood of Klans Knights of the KKK are the most widespread hate group in Oklahoma, with chapters in Atoka, Cement, Coalgate and Moyers. But some groups on the list disagree with their label as a "hate group" and claim they have changed their goals and mission over the years.

A man who calls himself "Stonewall" claims he is the Grand Dragon of the Oklahoma Bayou Knights chapter in the KKK. He posts videos of burning crosses and meetings of his hate group online on YouTube to help spread his message. He declined an interview with NEWS 9, but did write:

"Nazi's and skin heads are not affiliated with us. Because of our higher standard of members, we have a lot more influence in our communities."

Mark Potok, the Intelligence Project director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said videos like the ones Stonewall still posts, is just part of the reason he publishes an annual list of hate groups.

"I think it's important that Oklahomans and all Americans understand these groups do exist," said Potok. "These groups do, often, a great deal of damage up to and including mass murder."

But an assistant professor of criminal justice and sociology at Oklahoma City University disagrees.

"None of the groups in Oklahoma have done any kind of organized violence in years," said Julie Cowgill, assistant professor at Oklahoma City University. "It's not your grandfather's KKK anymore. You know, they are not using the violent strategies they used in the past and they are trying to work within the political system."

She doesn't argue that the groups exist, but said they're less active, less violent and their goals have changed over the decades.

A number of extreme groups we contacted agree. What was once a black and white issue is now slowly shifting to an immigration issue. Illegal immigrants are taking center stage and helping fuel the fire that keeps membership strong and passions burning.

"We do have members in Oklahoma," said Billy Roper, leader of the Neo-Nazi group White Revolution who has a chapter in Lawton. "We're interested in starting to work with the Oklahoma political process...with issues like immigration that affect both sides."

Roper won't say how many members are based in Oklahoma, but says his organization and others don't deserve to be labeled as a "hate group."

He says the list is nothing more than a fundraising ploy. The Southern Poverty Law Center raises nearly $30 million a year. Roper said the more groups on the list, the more money the SPLC will likely raise.

"They are billionaires and they are good at what they do," said Roper. "They try to scare people and really we're a completely legal, law abiding organization."

Other groups questioning their status on the list include the Aryan Nations in Bixby. The group's former leader said it no longer even exists. And an owner of a bookstore in Muskogee complained he's not even sure why he's on the list. The owner of Artisan Publishers knew he was on the list, but has never been able to figure out why.

Potok claims his list is accurate, but couldn't explain why the Muskogee bookstore was on the list. However, Potok said it's ridiculous to think the group exaggerates the annual report for personal profits.

"We stand very much behind our list of hate groups," said Potok. "We do this work very carefully and document it very carefully."

Originally Aired: Nov. 19, 2007