More than 7,700 hate crimes were committed in the US last year, a rise of more than 7%, the FBI has reported.
More than half of the victims were attacked because of their race, while 19% were targeted because of their religion, the annual report said.
However, there were wide discrepancies, with northern states reporting far more hate crimes than the southern states, despite the South’s racial history.
Black activists say the real figure is higher, with many incidents unreported.
The FBI’s report details incidents of hate crimes where people were attacked because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability.
More than half of the incidents were motivated by racial prejudice, with two-thirds of victims being black and one in five white.
The events in late 2006 in Jena, a small town in Louisiana, where six black teens initially faced serious charges for beating up a white youth after a noose was hung in their school yard, were not included in the FBI figures.
In recent months, there have been several other incidents of nooses being displayed, recalling racist lynchings in the southern US and prompting demonstrations calling for stronger action against racially motivated crimes.
Wide differences in reporting by the states has provoked criticism.
Louisiana reported 22 hate crimes, Alabama one, and Mississippi none, while California reported 1,297 and New Jersey 759.
Heidi Beirich, from the http://www.apologeticsindex.org/s00.html#splc“>Southern Poverty Law Centre in Montgomery, Alabama, told the Washington Post that many states are dismissive of hate crimes and have different ways of classifying what constitutes a hate crime.
“That’s one example of why hate crime statistics are basically a worthless number. It’s not the FBI’s fault,” she said.
An FBI spokesman told the newspaper that he had no response to the perceived discrepancies because it was a voluntary reporting system.
Of the victims attacked because of religious bias, 65.4% were Jewish and 11.9% were Muslim.
Some 1,472 hate crimes were based on a person’s sexual orientation – the majority of victims were male homosexuals.
More than 1,200 offences were connected to the perceived ethnicity or national origin of the victim, with Hispanics accounting for nearly 63% of those targeted.