(CNSNews.com) - Gordon Baum's phone has been ringing a lot more lately in response to the immigration debate. "It's really got people stirred up like nothing I've ever seen before," he said.
Baum is the CEO of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a group that calls itself "a responsible, effective voice and active advocate for the no-longer silent conservative majority." Others call the CCC one of a growing number of far-right fringe groups that mix white supremacist rhetoric with political discussion.
The fringe is becoming more vocal and having an increasingly significant impact on the immigration debate even though its members represent only an "infinitesimal" segment of the American population, according to observers on both the right and left.
Baum's group is based on a series of principles, among them that the United States is Christian country populated by European peoples, and it should stay that way.
"Diversity causes nothing but chaos and struggle," he said. "Go to Israel and ask them if the diversity with the Palestinians worked out."
Baum bristles at being accused of white supremacy. Yet he boasts that European peoples, despite representing only eight percent of the world's population, "carry the whole standards for civilization. We can be proud of that."
And, in contending that Latino immigrants won't assimilate into American culture, he also argues against the acceptability of African-Americans in the United States.
"Blacks have been here for about four hundred years," Baum said. "Have we really successfully assimilated them?"
Mark Potock of the liberal Southern Poverty Law Center, a sometimes controversial liberal advocacy group that monitors fringe organizations, said the CCC is not unique.
"The immigration debate has been very, very good to the radical right," he said. "In 2000, our hate group count was 602 ... the 2006 count was 844."
Potock argued that there is a difference between what he calls bona fide "hate groups" and "nativist extremist" organizations. The latter, he said, don't have an explicit, race-based philosophy but still espouse views close to those of white supremacist organizations, particularly about immigration.
Potock said these groups, which translate white supremacist messages into more acceptable language, are the real threat.
"The worry isn't so much that you get a few thousand more people in hate groups," Potock said. "The worry is, the ideology of hate groups start to infect the mainstream political discourse on immigration."
This skewing of the debate, according to Potock, is hampering the country's ability to have a legitimate discussion of immigration issues.
"I don't think that all people in this country who feel immigration needs to be lowered are racists or unrobed Klansmen," he said.
FBI Agent Stephen Kodak said the bureau's numbers match the SPLC's assertions. Although counting members in white supremacist groups is notoriously difficult, the bureau has seen some disturbing trends.
"We've seen a real increase in the neo-Nazi groups' recruitment efforts over the immigration issue," said Kodak. "They're using the anti-immigration sentiment to try to get new members."
Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) - a mainstream conservative group that campaigns to reduce immigration - said the extremist fringe exists on either side of the immigration issue, "but that is true of any political movement."
Mehlman said it's unfair to lump the extremists in with either side of the debate.
"Mussolini made the trains run on time in Italy, but if my Amtrak train shows up on time, I don't wonder if the fascists have taken over Amtrak," he said. "There's nothing wrong with on-time trains - there may have been something wrong with Mussolini."
He added that most Americans are aware that their interests are at stake in the immigration debates and believe they have a right to express themselves the same way immigrants are doing.
"I don't think that most people are paying attention to a few radical crazies," Mehlman said. "Who cares what this handful of loonies think?"