After the white nationalist riots in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and others renewed their demands for the suppression of conservative speech on social media. After Trump’s supporters breached the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Big Tech companies clamped down on President Donald Trump and many of his supporters. Incoming President Joe Biden has said he plans to pass a law against domestic terrorism.
While conservatives rightly denounced the violence this week, this response bodes ill for conservative speech not just on social media, but in the public square and even in private organizations.
In the aftermath of the Capitol riots, Twitter suspended President Donald Trump’s account for the first time and Facebook permanently banned the president. After Trump deleted the tweets Twitter had flagged and had his account restored, Twitter proceeded to ban him entirely on Friday, and then it banned the official President of the United States (POTUS) account.
Facebook throttled the great Rush Limbaugh, notifying him that his “Page has reduced distribution and other restrictions because of repeated sharing of false news.” Limbaugh left Twitter in protest after the platform banned Trump. Apple and Google attacked Parler, claiming that the new haven for conservatives had allowed people to plan the violence of the Capitol riots on its platform.
House Democrats filed articles of impeachment that explicitly blame President Trump for the Capitol riots, even though he never told his supporters to invade the Capitol. While the president’s exaggerated rhetoric inflamed the rioters, Democrats repeatedly did the same thing this summer. Before and after Black Lives Matter protests devolved into destructive and deadly riots, Democratic officials repeatedly claimed America suffers from “systemic racism” and institutionalized “white supremacy.”
Big Tech did not remove House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s accounts when she called for “uprisings” against the Trump administration. Facebook and Twitter did not target Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when she claimed that allegedly marginalized groups have “no choice but to riot.” These platforms did not act against Kamala Harris when she said the riots “should not” stop.
This week, Joe Biden condemned the Capitol rioters, saying, “What we witnessed yesterday was not dissent, it was not disorder, it was not protest. It was chaos. They weren’t protesters, don’t dare call them protesters. They were a riotous mob, insurrectionists, domestic terrorists. It’s that basic, it’s that simple.”
Yet he refused to speak in those terms when Black Lives Matter and antifa militants were throwing Molotov cocktails at federal buildings, setting up “autonomous zones,” and burning down cities. Instead, he condemned Trump for holding up a Bible at a church — without mentioning the fact that that very church had been set on fire the night before.
Despite this hypocrisy, Biden’s speech on Thursday proved instructive. Biden used the Capitol riots to condemn Trump’s entire presidency, accusing Trump of having “unleashed an all-out assault on our institutions of our democracy from the outset.” Biden twisted Trump’s actions into an attack on “democracy.” He claimed Trump’s originalist judges were a ploy to undermine impartial justice — when they were truly the exact opposite. Biden claimed Trump’s complaints about the Obama administration spying on his campaign were merely an “attack” on America’s “intelligence services.” Biden said Trump’s complaints about media bias constituted an attack on the “free press,” when the Obama administration actually attacked the free press.
Despite the fact that leftist violence has wracked American cities for years (remember Ferguson and the shooting of police officers in Dallas in 2016?), Biden seized on the Capitol riots as evidence that everything the Right had been saying the past four years was a blatant and destructive lie.
This reminded me of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a once-noble civil rights organization that has become a far-left smear factory. The SPLC weaponizes its history suing white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan into bankruptcy and monitoring them through its Klanwatch program to silence conservative thought. It brands mainstream conservative organizations “hate groups,” listing them along with the KKK on a “hate map.” This “hate map” inspired a deranged man to target the Family Research Council (FRC) for a mass shooting in 2012.
The Trump administration has worked with conservative organizations the SPLC falsely smears as “hate groups,” and the SPLC has made hay of this fact. Its latest “hate group” report — published last March — mentioned Trump no fewer than 66 times. Yet the SPLC carried water for antifa during the riots this summer.
The SPLC has repeatedly pressured Big Tech to clamp down on conservative “hate groups,” suggesting this is the right way to fight white supremacist terrorism. Amazon has excluded mainstream conservative Christian nonprofits from its charity program, Amazon Smile.
After Charlottesville, the SPLC raked in cash with big donations from Apple and JPMorgan. CNN even shared the SPLC “hate map” on its website and Twitter account, effectively endorsing the false accusations.
Not surprisingly, the SPLC has already seized the moment after the Capitol riots.
“One of the powerful lessons we must take away from this week’s coup attempt by President Trump and his supporters is that 2021 is not a time for half measures in the fight against hate and extremism,” Margaret Huang, the SPLC’s president and CEO, said in a statement on Friday. “This violence is bolstered by the infrastructure of white nationalist movements that the Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking and fighting for decades.”
She warned that the Capitol riots will become “a recruitment tool for white nationalist movements” and “hate groups.” She claimed that “the violence in Washington was predictable and preventable,” citing the SPLC’s list of “hate groups” — specifically the increase in the number of white nationalist hate groups. (Since the SPLC does not explain how large specific “hate groups” are, the number of such “groups” is arguably meaningless. Some “hate groups” consist of merely one person.)
Prominent leftists are likely to celebrate the SPLC as the harbinger of this violence, and the SPLC does do some important work monitoring white nationalists. Unfortunately, the group also smears conservative and Christian groups because they defend biblical sexuality, oppose illegal immigration, and warn about the threat of radical Islamist terrorism. Even fellow liberals have condemned the SPLC’s “anti-LGBT hate group” accusation against Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative Christian law firm that has won multiple Supreme Court cases.
The SPLC also has skeletons in its closet. In 2019, the SPLC fired its co-founder, had its president step down, and had a prominent member of the board distance herself. The scandal broke out due to accusations of (decades-old) racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Amid the scandal, former employees came forward to expose the “con” of exaggerating hate to bilk donors.
Despite all this, the SPLC still enjoys considerable sway among Big Tech, corporate America, the legacy media, and the Democratic Party. When Attorney General Dana Nessel (D-Mich.) announced a new “hate crimes” unit, she specifically cited the SPLC’s list of “hate groups” in the state. Kamala Harris, soon to become vice president, has repeatedly cited the SPLC in attacking Trump’s judicial and administration nominees.
This makes it all the more ominous that Biden has said he plans to prioritize passing a law against domestic terrorism. Domestic terrorism is indeed a serious problem in America, but Biden’s egregious and blatant double standard on the Capitol riots and antifa, along with his party’s growing alliance with the SPLC, suggests he may use such a law to silence conservative dissent while going soft on far-left rioters.
Conservative Christians should pay close attention to this threat. Biden, like the SPLC, has long championed LGBT activism, and in 2018 at an LGBT activist group, he attacked people who have “tried to define family” in the U.S. as “the dregs of society.” At the CNN LGBT town hall in October 2019, Biden called for a kind of terror watchlist to monitor organizations that oppose same-sex marriage and transgender identity. Biden firmly supports the Equality Act, which would outlaw discrimination against LGBT people. While Americans do not support discrimination, laws like this have been weaponized to punish Christians for refusing to celebrate same-sex weddings.
Buckle up, conservatives. The Biden administration represents a serious threat to conservative thought in the public square, and now Democrats have both houses of Congress to ram their agenda through.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.