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Southern Poverty Law Center “extremist” lists used “to silence speech and speakers”

Southern Poverty Law Center “extremist” lists used “to silence speech and speakers”

Politico shines a light on mega-wealthy SPLC and how it bullies its political opponents

Politico magazine has a very detailed article on the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), for which I was interviewed, Has a Civil Rights Stalwart Lost Its Way?.

The article, written by Ben Schreckinger, addresses several aspects of the SPLC, including its massive accumulation of wealth seemingly beyond its needs. But much of the focus is on SPLC’s aggressive politics and use of “hate” and “extremist” lists:

…. there are new questions arising around a charge that has dogged the group for years: that the SPLC is overplaying its hand, becoming more of a partisan progressive hit operation than a civil rights watchdog. Critics say the group abuses its position as an arbiter of hatred by labeling legitimate players “hate groups” and “extremists” to keep the attention of its liberal donors and grind a political ax….

The SPLC’s hate group and extremist labels are effective. Groups slapped with them have lost funding, been targeted by activists and generally been banished from mainstream legitimacy. This makes SPLC the de facto cop in this realm of American politics, with all the friction that kind of policing engenders…

The SPLC’s leaders say they are aware of the various critiques lodged against them but have no plans to change their approach….

I was interviewed on the issue of the SPLC hate and extremist lists. That is a topic I have written about extensively, particularly in the earlier years of Legal Insurrection, including these posts, among many:

Here is the section of the Politico article in which I am quoted:

William Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell and critic of the SPLC, says the group has wrapped itself in the mantle of the civil rights struggle to engage in partisan political crusading. “Time and again, I see the SPLC using the reputation it gained decades ago fighting the Klan as a tool to bludgeon mainstream politically conservative opponents,” he says. “For groups that do not threaten violence, the use of SPLC ‘hate group’ or ‘extremist’ designations frequently are exploited as an excuse to silence speech and speakers,” Jacobson adds. “It taints not only the group or person, but others who associate with them.”

My interview, by email, was much longer, so I thought you’d want to see the full exchange. I don’t fault Schreckinger for not including it all, since space and content decisions need to be made, and I do think the quote from me he chose was appropriate for his article.

So here is the rest of the story, which includes links to some of my prior coverage. The format is his questions (sometimes bunched by me for purpose of answering) and my written responses:

Q — What do you make of the labeling of Ayan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz as anti-Muslim “extremists”? Was it appropriate or overreach?

Q– One of Nawaz’s colleagues argued that by engaging with hardline opponents of Islam, Nawaz has been able to get people like Tommy Robinson of the English Defense League to moderate their critiques of Islam. Is there a possibility that the SPLC’s labels could shut down productive dialogue and further polarize society?

Q — What do you make of the addition of the Center for Immigration Studies to the “hate group” list? Was it appropriate or ovearreach?

A — The critical question is not whether a particular person deserves to be on SPLC’s Extremist list, but why SPLC has such a list at all for people who pose no threat of violence. For groups that do not threaten violence, the use of SPLC “hate group” or “extremist” designations frequently are exploited as an excuse to silence speech and speakers. It taints not only the group or person, but others who associate with them. Surely SPLC is aware of such chilling impact on political debate.

Q–In 2014, the FBI stopped linking to the SPLC’s hate group list as a resource. Was it appropriate for the FBI to stop endorsing the group?

A — Given SPLC’s obvious political bias against the political right-of-center, the FBI never should have relied upon SPLC in the first place.

While there may be other groups who compose lists of alleged hate groups, SPLC is by far the most prominent. Unfortunately, very often who gets placed on an SPLC hate list is very subjective and done from the perspective of SPLC’s liberal and Democratic leanings. For example. Dr. Ben Carson was once on the “extremist” list, but only was removed after my website called attention to it. Dr. Rand Paul also was once on an SPLC “extremist” list. That SPLC would put such mainstream conservatives and libertarians on its hate lists, but not similarly situated liberal or Democratic politicians, demonstrates an ideological bias.

Similarly, SPLC continued to describe the person who shot Congresswoman Gabby Giffords as right wing, long after it was proven he was not motivated by politics and if anything expressed liberal leanings.

SPLC also smeared a conservative black female professor as an “apologist for white supremacists” because of her review of a film about racism.

Time and again I see SPLC using the reputation it gained decades ago fighting the Klan as a tool to bludgeon mainstream politically conservative opponents.

Q — Has your view of the SPLC’s work changed over time? Do you believe its definitions of “hate group” and “extremist” have expanded?

A — I have written about SPLC’s various hate lists for years. The lists appear to be political, fundraising and marketing tools much more so than an attempt to warn the public about groups that pose a danger to public safety. For example, SPLC exaggerates the number of such groups by including chapters of a single group in the total count of annual hate groups. SPLC also sometimes uses groups and chapters who have nothing more than a website, as happened in Rhode Island when SPLC listed supposed Klan and Neo-Nazi groups for which my investigation could find no real world presence.

It appears that SPLC’s hate and extremist lists have lost much of their credibility.  The FBI has downgraded its use of SPLC as a resource.

Just recently, Nonprofit Tracker to Remove ‘Hate Group’ Labels on Conservative Groups for ‘Time Being’:

The nation’s leading source of information on U.S. charities announced it will modify its use of a controversial “hate group” designation in listings for some well-known and broadly supported conservative nonprofits.

“We have decided to remove the SPLC annotations from these 46 organizations for the time being,” read a statement posted Friday on GuideStar’s website. “This change will be implemented during the week of June 26, 2017. In the meantime, we will make this information available to any user on request.”

GuideStar, which calls itself a “neutral” aggregator of tax data on charities, recently incorporated the “hate group” labels produced by the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center, which inspired 41 conservative leaders to protest the move, asking GuideStar in a letter last week to remove the flagging

Nonetheless, SPLC continues to exert power to damage reputations and silence free speech in this nation through its Hatewatch lists. SPLC designations have been used as justification for shouting down speakers such as Charles Murray.

Its demonization of people can have even more serious consequences. The shooter of the Family Research Council offices was inspired by SPLC:

My views on SPLC’s abusive tactics have not changed since I wrote in 2010:

I have written many times before about the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization to which I contributed for many years back in the late 1970s and 1980s, when SPLC was fighting Klan groups.

In the past two decades, however, after the Klan ceased to be a significant force in the nation, the SPLC has descended into an organization which seeks to demonize legitimate opposition to Democratic Party policies and the Obama administration…..

Whatever SPLC once was, it now is a bastion of political hackery which, by equating legitimate political opposition with criminal violence, is doing substantial damage to our national fabric.

It is time for people of conscience to speak out against SPLC’s tactics.


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Where once there was reconciliation and even justice, today there remains a very profitable [class] diversity racket.

The Friendly Grizzly | June 28, 2017 at 8:09 pm

If Politico is going after them, that’s really something.

Robert Spencer has noted that the SPLC has never listed any Muslim group as a hate group.

Think about that.

    Ragspierre in reply to fscarn. | June 28, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    Then Robert Spencer is full of bullshit. The SPLC HAS listed Muslim groups as hate groups.

    Do you ever look under the hood at claims like that?

      stevewhitemd in reply to Ragspierre. | June 28, 2017 at 8:44 pm

      A review this evening of the SPLC “Hatewatch” Extremist individual list does not disclose a single Muslim person other than Louis Farrakhan:

      Likewise, a review this evening of the SPLC “Hatewatch” group list does not disclose a single Muslim group other than the Nation of Islam:

      Finally a review this evening of the SPLC “Hatewatch” ideology listing does not disclose a single Muslim-oriented ideology:

      Perhaps, Rags, you could point us to where the SPLC listings of Muslim groups as hate groups.

        Ragspierre in reply to stevewhitemd. | June 28, 2017 at 9:16 pm

        You just did.

        Besides that, I don’t have the time or inclination to research historical listings beyond “tonight”.

        I’ve done them over years of keeping up with the SPLC.

          mailman in reply to Ragspierre. | June 29, 2017 at 4:24 am

          groupS (emphasis on the letter making this word its PLURAL form) Rags…come on mate, you can do it!

          Cleetus in reply to Ragspierre. | June 29, 2017 at 6:26 am

          Rags, if you do not have the time or gumption to back up your claims, then do not make them. If you are wrong, then respect others and acknowledge that your claim was wrong. (And do not hide behind absurd excuses such as hair splitting with words to defend the indefensible.) By making a claim and then refusing to back it up for whatever reason, you are defining yourself as being no better and likely worse than those you criticize. This paints you as arrogant and a zealot, both of which are a complete waste of my time and gives me no reason to view what you have to say as anything close to be credible. I will waste no further time on you, your opinions, or your writings.

          Rags is what Rags is: a dishonest NeverTrumper who’s perfectly happy to provide the same kind of cover to the Left that moderate Muslims do to ISIS.

          Squeak, chew toy, squeak.

          Ragspierre in reply to Ragspierre. | June 29, 2017 at 2:55 pm

          I keep telling you that isn’t a chew toy in your mouth, and you just insist on bobbing…ho…ho…honey…!!!

    casualobserver in reply to fscarn. | June 28, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    Whether true or not what does it matter? That group no longer has legitimacy to characterize groups appropriately.

The SPLC should have never been considered reputable in the first place.

Run by Morris Dees, who is a member of the direct marketing hall of fame, The SPLC has grown super Wealthy by spam Targeting elderly Jewish ladies with mailers saying that the Nazis in America are coming to kill them. The SPLC is worth hundreds of millions, recently built a skyscraper, And has ranked among the worst charities in America for decades now (meaning that Only about 8% Of funds raised go to charitable purposes).

The SPLC was founded by a telemarketing scammer and has been one since.

The SPLC is an extremist hate group.

They’re trying to stay relevant – just like the ACLU defending nazi marches, then discretely working for communist governance of the U.S.

Unless Politico becomes part of the EIB Network, blow them off.

The Southern Poverty Law Center IS a hate group.

As of 8:11 AM 6/29/17, the SPLC website is down. Either their servers have crashed, or they’re under a DDoS attack.

As for content: SPLC has been used as a political cudgel by the Left since its inception. It was designed for that explicit purpose. That reality was downplayed because they supported the end goal of what SPLC was doing (opposition to the Klan).

The organizational drift though has been from the original goal of fighting racism to now fighting for pet leftist causes.

This is the old “when they’re done with that group, what makes you think they won’t come for you.”

Has a Civil Rights Stalwart Lost Its Way?

When was SPLC ever a “civil rights stalwart”? To lose its way it must once have had it; when was that? Did it really do valuable work 30-40 years ago, or was it always pretending?

The SPLC is a communist inspired, lying bunch of bully bastards. I recognized them for what they are years ago. They should be put on the terrorist watchlist.

Conservative0317 | June 29, 2017 at 10:26 am

IANAL, but perhaps all the conservative groups/individuals could collaborate and file a class action lawsuit for defamation against SPLC?

    Nope. That some organization is a “hate group” is by definition a statement of opinion, not of fact, and therefore protected by the first amendment.

      Ragspierre in reply to Milhouse. | June 29, 2017 at 11:20 am

      You can defame someone just fine by stating an “opinion”. It isn’t a defense.

        Milhouse in reply to Ragspierre. | June 29, 2017 at 4:09 pm

        Yes, it is. Opinions by definition cannot be true or false, and therefore are not subject to defamation law. “Sarah Palin called for violence against Democratic congressmen” is a false statement of fact. The NYT made it with actual malice, and will now have to answer for it in court. “Sarah Palin is a bigot” is a statement of opinion — an utterly ridiculous one, which ought to embarrass whoever makes it, but it is an opinion, and therefore she can’t sue SPLC for making it.

        Ragspierre in reply to Ragspierre. | June 29, 2017 at 4:24 pm

        Is that what they taught at your law school, Milhouse?

        ‘Cause at mine, you’re full of shit.

        You can’t diaper over a defaming statement by saying, “That’s just my opinion”.

        ‘Jus sayin’…

          Milhouse in reply to Ragspierre. | June 29, 2017 at 6:54 pm

          The difference between fact and opinion, like that between a penalty and a tax, doesn’t depend on what you call it but on what it is. Attaching “in my opinion” to a false statement of fact won’t make it immune from a lawsuit; nor will attaching “it’s a plain fact” to an obnoxious statement of opinion make it subject to one. Facts can be defamatory even if you call them opinions, and opinions cannot be defamatory even if you call them facts.

          Ragspierre in reply to Ragspierre. | June 29, 2017 at 8:16 pm

          You ARE WRONG.

          You need to revisit you bar exam.

          Milhouse in reply to Ragspierre. | June 29, 2017 at 9:03 pm

          Just google “opinion fact defamation”. Every single reference you find will say the same thing as I’ve been saying: opinions by definition cannot be defamation. They will also all make it clear that you can’t turn fact into opinion or opinion into fact merely by calling it that. You will also find a warning that if a statement of opinion implies underlying factual statements, those can be defamation.

          Ragspierre in reply to Ragspierre. | June 29, 2017 at 9:24 pm

          I went to law school.

          You went to Google.

          And you are WRONG.

      IANAL, but IIRC an opinion presented as fact — and intended to be taken as fact — could still be defamation if it’s: a) wrong, b) known to be wrong at the time it’s published, and c) damages its target’s reputation.

      It’s pretty clear that SPLC intends its website to be taken as fact, and even the FBI for a time relied on it as a factual resource. It’s also pretty clear that many (if not most, or all) of the conservative or right-leaning individuals or organizations on SPLC’s “Hatewatch” lists are not actually “hate groups”, “extremists”, or violent.

      So they’re demonstrably wrong (satisfying ‘a’ above). And their … we’ll say “inaccuracies” … have demonstrably damaged the reputations of many of those named in their lists (satisfying ‘c’ above).

      The only questions left concerns condition ‘b’: Were they aware it was wrong when they decided to publish? This would indicate a willful negligence — if not outright malice — against those named on their “hate group” lists.

      If so, defamation.

        Ragspierre in reply to Archer. | June 29, 2017 at 1:45 pm

        Someone who republishes a defamatory statement can be liable, too.

        You don’t get off by saying, “According to Mr. Original Defamer…”, either.

        Milhouse in reply to Archer. | June 29, 2017 at 4:17 pm

        Opinions can’t be intended to be taken as fact, because they don’t make factual claims. “FRC is a hate group” is a judgment, an opinion, not subject to truth or falsity, and therefore not subject to defamation law.

        “Ragspierre committed the following violation of legal ethics” is a statement of fact, which may be true or false; if he can prove it’s false he can sue whoever makes it and win. But “Ragspierre is an unethical shyster” is a statement of opinion; it’s the speaker’s judgment, not subject to truth or falsity, so he can’t sue whoever makes it.

          Ragspierre in reply to Milhouse. | June 29, 2017 at 4:29 pm

          You are simply WRONG, Milhouse.

          Stop it.

          Defamation lies in the effect on the person hearing it.

          You can make a dead-bang statement as fact that nobody believes, it it isn’t defaming. There’s no damage.

          You can state an “opinion” that IS believed, and the effect is defamation. There IS damage.

          Milhouse in reply to Milhouse. | June 29, 2017 at 7:07 pm

          Rags, opinions can’t be believed, because they don’t make any factual claims to be believed. Factual claims can be believed or disbelieved; opinions can only be accepted or rejected.

          Perhaps you are referring to statements of opinion that imply factual claims; i.e. a fair-minded listener will naturally understand that in stating your opinion you are also asserting certain facts which led you to that opinion. Those factual statements can be defamatory, even if they’re not explicitly stated.

          Ragspierre in reply to Milhouse. | June 29, 2017 at 8:17 pm

          You are just beating a DEAD HORSE, Milhouse. You ARE WRONG.

        Milhouse in reply to Archer. | June 29, 2017 at 4:17 pm

        PS: “known to be wrong” is only required if the plaintiff is a public figure.

The Friendly Grizzly | June 29, 2017 at 4:17 pm

One bad problem is that too many law enforcement agencies see the $PLC’s lists as gospel. Those lists are nothing more than present day versions of “Rd Channels”.

Every time I get approached by one of the SPLC shills on the street for donations, I simply say “Hell, no” and walk away.
Anyone got suggestions on a better approach?
I live in the SF East Bay, by the way, so I presume they never get pushback on the street.

    Milhouse in reply to emyrt. | June 29, 2017 at 7:10 pm

    In NYC I’ve never been approached by anyone from SPLC, but I’m regularly accosted by people from Amnesty. Amnesty actually was on the right side throughout the Cold War, but somewhere around the turn of the century it lost its mind and its integrity.

Continuing two above threads, because the nesting hit too many levels:

Rags, will you admit that Ken White is an expert on first amendment law, or at least more expert than you are? Here is what he has to say. I have added the italics on what I consider the key phrase for the purpose of our discussion. Please tell us whether you think he’s wrong, and if so on what basis.

But the SPLC’s conduct is core, classic political speech. Ranting political generalizations about other people and groups and parties is exactly what the First Amendment protects. The SPLC’s classification of a dizzying array of entities as “hate groups” may be unfair, unprincipled, immature, and even immoral. But it’s also opinion absolutely protected by the First Amendment. Only provable statements of fact can be defamatory. It’s certainly possible that the SPLC could make a false and defamatory statement of fact about a group in the course of classifying it as a “hate group” — for instance, by falsely attributing a statement to the group, or falsely claiming the group participated in some specific act. But that’s not what’s at issue in Liberty Counsel’s cowardly-indirect attack on the SPLC. Their complaint says the defamation is the “hate group” classification. “Hate” and “hate group” are not provable statements of fact. They’re opinion. You may think the opinion is stupid and without basis, but that doesn’t magically turn it into a fact. You may think that having such an opinion expressed about you is very harmful, but that doesn’t turn it into a fact either. “Hate group” occupies a place in the American lexicon with “SJW” and “cuck” and “fake news” and “far left” and “extremist” and “death party” and “party of death” and “libtard” and “wingnut” and anything else you’ll see people shout at each other on Twitter. “Hate” and “hate group” aren’t factually provable, because they’re based on opinion. The opinion that being against gay marriage or affirmative action or generous immigration makes you a “hate group” may be stupid, but it’s inescapably an opinion.

What about the Restatement (Second) of Torts? Here’s a quote I just came across in this piece By Eugene Volokh, who you will surely admit is one of the nation’s major experts in 1A law. (The piece is mainly about statements of fact that are implied by statements of opinion, and which are actionable.)

A simple expression of opinion based on disclosed or assumed nondefamatory facts is not itself sufficient for an action of defamation, no matter how unjustified and unreasonable the opinion may be or how derogatory it is.

    Ragspierre in reply to Milhouse. | June 30, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    You generally read better.

    “My opinion is that the criminal behavior of Milhouse’s nephew stems from a life-time of sexual abuse by Milhouse”.

    Defamation. See…???

    Again, defamation sounds in equity, not law (though there are defamation statues now, too). The effect on the person hearing it is where damages derive. Of course, some defaming statements are so inherently damaging that no evidence of damages is deemed necessary.

    But, again, “opinion” can be defamation, despite all your dead-horse-beating.