I cannot begin to tell you how much it sickens me that the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group I supported many years ago because of its work against the Klan, has become a key player in labeling legitimate conservative political and religious groups as “hate groups.”

I have documented how SPLC exaggerated the number and extent of “hate” groups, including counting two Klan groups in my home state of Rhode Island which simply don’t exist; how SPLC falsely labeled a black conservative law professor “an apologist for white supremacists“; how the SPLC falsely accused a history professor of being on the payroll of Turkey because the professor’s research questioned whether the killings of Armenians constituted “genocide”; and how SPLC falsely claimed that a speech by Sarah Palin at the first National Tea Party Convention was one of the landmark events in the “patriot movement” (which SPLC defines to mean Tim McVeigh-types).

Time and again SPLC, through its Hatewatch division, seeks to shut down debate by applying the “hate group” or similar epithets to political opponents, and those political opponents almost always are conservative. 

Being labeled a “hate group” by SPLC can be devastating, because most of the country is unaware of how politicized SPLC has become.  Until I started blogging a little over two years ago, I too was working off of SPLC’s prior reputation of fighting real hate groups, like the Klan.

SPLC is at it again, with a list of 18, “anti-gay” groups, 13 of whom also will make SPLC’s upcoming “hate group” list.  Here is SPLC’s explanation for how one gets on this list (emphasis mine):

“Even as some well-known anti-gay groups like Focus on the Family moderate their views, a hard core of smaller groups, most of them religiously motivated, have continued to pump out demonizing propaganda aimed at homosexuals and other sexual minorities. These groups’ influence reaches far beyond what their size would suggest, because the “facts” they disseminate about homosexuality are often amplified by certain politicians, other groups and even news organizations. Of the 18 groups profiled below, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) will be listing 13 next year as hate groups (eight were previously listed), reflecting further research into their views; those are each marked with an asteriskGenerally, the SPLC’s listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.”

Most of these groups are unknown to me,  although a couple are well-known Christian groups, such as American Family Association and Family Research Council (both of these entities will be on SPLC’s upcoming Hate Group list).  I don’t defend or not defend these groups because I don’t know much about them, but based upon SPLC’s past performance, the burden should be on SPLC to make the case for including a group on a hate list.

All these groups, with one exception below, were included for having a fundamentalist Christian view of homosexuality and gay marriage.  Oddly, no Orthodox Jewish or Muslim groups were included, even though those religious affiliations have views not much different from fundamentalist Christians.

What really jumped out at me, however, was the inclusion of the National Organization for Marriage as an “anti-gay”group (but it does not appear NOM makes the “hate group” list, yet).  Here is SPLC’s explanation as to why NOM was included on the list:

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which is dedicated to fighting same-sex marriage in state legislatures, was organized in 2007 by conservative syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher and Princeton University politics professor Robert George. George is an influential Christian thinker who co-authored the 2009 “Manhattan Declaration,” a manifesto developed after a New York meeting of conservative church leaders that “promises resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same sex marriage.”

NOM’s first public campaign was in 2008, supporting California’s Proposition 8, which sought to invalidate same-sex marriage in that state. It was widely mocked, including in a parody by satirist Stephen Colbert, for the “Gathering Storm” video ad it produced at the time. Set to somber music and a dark and stormy background, the ad had actors expressing fears that gay activism would “take away” their rights, change their lifestyle, and force homosexuality on their kids.

The group, whose president is now former executive director Brian Brown, has become considerably more sophisticated since then, emphasizing its respect for homosexuals. “Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose,” NOM says on its website, “[but] they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.”

For a time, NOM’s name was used by a bus driver named Louis Marinelli, who drove a van for NOM’s “Summer for Marriage Tour” this year. Marinelli called himself a “NOM strategist” and sent out electronic messages under the NOM logo that repeated falsehoods about homosexuals being pedophiles and gay men having extremely short lifespans (see story, p. 32). In homemade videos posted on his own YouTube page, he said same-sex marriage would lead to “prostitution, pedophilia and polygamy.” But this July, NOM said it was not associated with Marinelli.

The inclusion of NOM on this list really is outrageous, and typical of how SPLC seeks to demonize a mainstream conservative (and in this case, constitutional) view.  The explanation SPLC gives for including NOM is flimsy and filled with innuendo. 

Being mocked by Stephen Colbert now is part of the test applied by SPLC?  Is SPLC joking around?  Unfortunately, it is very serious to be included on one of SPLC’s lists.

Does taking the position that “Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose … [but] they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us,” really constitute hate speech?  Why does SPLC devote a paragraph to someone who used NOM’s name even though he had no affiliation? 

There is nothing in SPLC’s description to distinguish NOM’s position on gay marriage from the vast majority of Americans, including many legal scholars and judges, and of course, the current President of the United States.

NOM’s inclusion on this list surely will be used to try to keep NOM speakers off campuses and out of the media, and to demonize the attorneys who work for or with NOM on gay marriage issues around the country.

I expect NOM’s inclusion on the list to be used against supporters of traditional marriage much as the Family Research Council’s inclusion on the list is being used:

I’m sure I don’t need to explain how odd it would be for Barack Obama’s administration to be conducting meetings with a known hate group. Let alone letting that known hate group influence Pentagon policy on, of all things, a national security decision affecting civil rights. Yet, that is in fact what the Pentagon did. (And in fact, the White House has also met at least once with representatives of the hate group.)

Fortunately for the President, the group in question, the Family Research Council, had not yet officially been designated a ‘hate group’ by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “the” national organization, and revered civil rights organization, that tracks such extremists.

But now that SPLC has officially designated the Family Research Council a hate group – and SPLC’s list of hate groups includes the Klan and white supremacists – will the White House, and the Obama administration overall, continue to invite the hate group’s representatives to official meetings?

SPLC’s current management has done extensive damage to the real fight against hate groups by conflating political opponents with violent extremists, by using the hate group and similar lists against mainstream conservative groups and individuals, and by using its past reputation to shape the political landscape.

Hopefully, with time the public will become aware that SPLC is not what it once was.

Update:  As if on cue, It’s Official: Southern Poverty Law Center Labels NOM a Hate Group
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