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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