Liberty Counsel Sues GuideStar for Defaming Christian Nonprofits as 'Hate Groups'

On Wednesday, the Christian nonprofit Liberty Counsel filed a defamation lawsuit against the charity rating website GuideStar, after the website adopted a list of “hate groups” published by the terror-linked Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). That very “hate” list directly inspired an act of domestic terror in 2012, and James Hodgkinson, the man who shot Steve Scalise earlier this month, “liked” the SPLC on Facebook after the SPLC repeatedly attacked Scalise.

“GuideStar and its political ally, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), are intent on destroying pro-family organizations. The ‘hate group’ label is false and dangerous,” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement. “GuideStar’s CEO, Jacob Harold, is using GuideStar as a weapon to defame, harm, and promote his liberal agenda by using the SPLC to falsely label good nonprofit organizations as ‘hate groups.’”

“GuideStar has lost all credibility,” Staver declared, adding that the website “will now have to answer for its reckless, defamatory, and harmful political labeling.”

In 2012, that “hate” labeling inspired a terrorist attack in Washington, D.C. Floyd Lee Corkins II broke into the Family Research Council (FRC), armed with a semi-automatic pistol and Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches. Corkins testified that he intended to kill everyone in the building and place chicken sandwiches near them. The unarmed security guard Leo Johnson wrestled him to the ground, saving lives and sustaining a gunshot in the process.

In February 2013, Corkins pled guilty to committing an act of terrorism and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. During an FBI interrogation, the shooter said he targeted FRC because it was listed as an “anti-gay group” on the SPLC website.

In early June, Guidestar adopted the SPLC’s “hate” list, designating 46 nonprofits, including Liberty Counsel and the FRC, “hate groups,” placing an SPLC logo and allegedly defaming rhetoric on the web page for each group. “This organization was flagged as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” read the notice on Liberty Counsel’s page. Other groups attacked included Alliance Defending Freedom and the American Family Association.

In response, 41 nonprofit organizations sent a letter to GuideStar, protesting the “hate group” label and mischaracterization. On Monday, the website temporarily removed the label from the pages, but it also released a statement that GuideStar would continue to provide SPLC “hate” information on request, and that it would consider other ways to push the information to the public.

“GuideStar has not retracted its ‘hate group’ label and continues to provide false, defamatory and harmful information it pushes as fact to the public,” Staver, the president of Liberty Council, explained. “The damage by GuideStar is far reaching because this false and defamatory labeling has been spread through scores of media sources and the internet. It also appears on the GuideStar Wikipedia page.”

Importantly, Staver noted that GuideStar’s president and CEO, Jacob Harold, is a liberal activist pushing messages similar to those advocated by the SPLC. Harold has written extensively on climate change, having trained with Green Corps and worked for the Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace USA, and Citizen Works. Harold retweeted a GuideStar published piece using pro-LGBT language, hosted a NARAL Pro-Choice D.C. men’s event in 2014, and blogged for the Huffington Post. He donated to the Obama campaign in 2011, and participated in the anti-Trump Women’s March this past January.

It appears Harold chose to adopt the SPLC “hate” list because he sympathized with the group’s political positions, not because he thought pro-family and Christian groups like Liberty Counsel and FRC legitimately promote hatred of other people. Indeed, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin, FRC’s vice president of policy, declared that “there is no legitimacy to their hate labeling, none. They have no authority to do this, other than their self-appointed authority. They have no specific criteria, either. It is not credible.”

“All they are is a political arm of the extreme Left — they go after conservative groups,” the FRC executive director explained. “They come after us because of our politics, not because we could legitimately be considered an organization that advocates violence or spews hate.”

But criticism of the “hate” list is by no means limited to FRC. Laird Wilcox, one of the foremost experts on American political extremism, said the SPLC has “specialized a highly developed and ritualized form of defamation … a way of harming and isolating people by denying their humanity and trying to convert them into something that deserves to be hated and eliminated.”

Even Alexander Cockburn, a columnist for the liberal magazine The Nation, attacked the SPLC as “the archdalesmen of hatemongering.” The Philanthropy Roundtable explained that the SPLC’s “hate group” designation is “not a Consumer Reports Guide. It’s a political tool.”

Last year, a Department of Justice office rebuked the SPLC’s “hate group” labeling as “uncivil.”

“Despite serious concerns about the false labeling by the SPLC, GuideStar has used this harmful rhetoric for the purpose of causing financial and reputational injury to Liberty Counsel and other nonprofit organizations,” Liberty Counsel President Staver concluded. “GuideStar is playing with fire.

Staver noted that “there are unhinged people who have relied upon this reckless rhetoric to threaten and even cause physical harm and death because a person or organization was falsely labeled as a ‘hater’ or ‘hate group.’ This is not a game.”