Carol M. Swain, former professor of law at Vanderbilt University, went after the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for tarnishing her as a “white supremacist apologist” and for comparing Christians who seek to defend their rights to members of the Islamic State. She responded to an article the SPLC published this week arguing that conservative Christians like Ted Cruz are secret “Dominionists” aiming to turn America into a theocratic nation.
Christian activism “is not about trying to take over the society and make a theocratic society, there’s nowhere Jesus told Christians to do that,” Swain told PJ Media in an interview on Thursday. Instead, conservative Christians seek to “go into organizations and make it so that we’re not oppressed for living by our faith.”
“We have reached a point where Christians are being persecuted,” Swain argued. “Organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center have labeled Christians haters because they’re trying to follow the teachings of their religion.”
The SPLC is infamous for doing this. It lists Christian organizations like D. James Kennedy Ministries, the Family Research Council (FRC), Liberty Counsel, the American Family Association (AFA), and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on its list of “hate groups” along with the KKK.
But more egregious perhaps was its attack on Swain herself. In comments to the Nashville Tennessean, SPLC spokesman Mark Potok — the same man who said his organization’s “aim in life” was to “destroy these groups, completely” — called Swain an “apologist” for a “white supremacist” in 2009. Potok stood by those comments after a debate with Swain in 2012.
Swain told PJ Media the attack was “just purely retaliatory.” Earlier in 2009, the Vanderbilt professor wrote an article in The Huffington Post attacking the SPLC’s “mission creep.” She alleged that the group ignored voter suppression in the 2008 election, after a video showed members of the New Black Panther Party dressed in “paramilitary regalia and night sticks.”
Rather than address this racial intimidation, the SPLC relentlessly attacked then-CNN host Lou Dobbs. Swain ended her article with this powerful line: “Rather than monitoring hate groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center has become one.”
The “white supremacist apologist” attack came six weeks later. Swain told PJ Media that she praised a film A Conversation About Race, because she “thought it was a great film.” She argued that “messages on race are always from one perspective.” She supported the film because it presented a different perspective.
In the movie, “a white guy asks, ‘What is racism?’ Well-educated people struggle to define racism, and their incidents of racism did not sound very credible,” Swain summarized.
Later, the SPLC claimed that the filmmaker was racist, and branded Swain an “apologist” for white supremacy — “it was on the headline of my local newspaper.”
Swain said she found this egregious, as she had written two books distinguishing white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and the Ku Klux Klan from “what I saw as a new movement developing” on the Right — the kind of “America First” nationalism that propelled Donald Trump to the presidency. The Vanderbilt professor had even cited the SPLC’s previous work in her books.
But Swain noticed a change in the SPLC’s work. “It was evident that they were not monitoring the hate groups of the kind we feared,” she told PJ Media. She mentioned the group’s focus on so-called “Christian identity” groups that are not really Christian.
One racist group “believes that Adam was the first white man — that’s not part of a Christian identity,” the former professor said. “Those types of organizations are almost dead. The Southern Poverty Law Center has kept being in business by branding new groups, new organizations, new targets.”
Swain pointed out that some of the recent groups being targeted by the SPLC are “not a threat in the sense that the Klan was to racial minorities, but a threat to the far-Left political agenda.”
She cited the American College of Pediatricians, which came out with a statement in 2016 saying that giving transgender hormones to young children is “child abuse.” For these and other statements, they were put on the SPLC “hate list.”
While the SPLC had started to brand mainstream conservative groups “hate groups” earlier, Swain recalled that “since Obama got elected” in 2009, the group “got on steroids.”
“After President Obama was elected, his Department of Homeland Security hired the SPLC to be a consultant on a manual on domestic terrorism,” the professor explained. The group “identified veterans returning home, pro-life activists, a whole bunch of people that belong to everyday groups as potential terrorists.”
She also alleged that the SPLC provided the influence behind the silence on radical Islamic terrorism. “They made it so you couldn’t say ‘jihad’ or ‘radical Islam’ if you were in law enforcement,” she said.
Last year, PJ Media’s Andrew McCarthy testified as to the Obama administration’s “willful blindness” on radical Islam, and Muslim reformer M. Zudhi Jasser also testified on how this silence hurt American Muslims. Perhaps most egregious was the FBI’s seemingly deliberate alteration of the transcript of Orlando shooter Omar Mateen’s phone call in which he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The FBI changed “Allah” to “God” in that transcript.
Now that Obama is out of office, perhaps the SPLC will have less influence in government. Then again, SPLC President Richard Cohen was scheduled to testify before a congressional Homeland Security committee. While that testimony has been postponed, Cohen’s name remains on the witness list.
This kind of government infiltration comes from the tactics of Saul Alinsky, Swain argued. “It’s all Saul Alinsky-style infiltration of organizations,” she said. “Homosexual activists point to professional associations changing their position. Yes, they changed their position — because they were infiltrated by people who had an agenda.”
The former Vanderbilt professor argued that when groups like the SPLC “express fear of Christians and Dominionism, they fear that Christians would go back into institutions and government and reclaim some of that influence using that strategy.”
“The threat is that Christians will awaken and they will adopt some of those strategies to reclaim power,” Swain said. She argued that when it comes to liberal activists changing culture and politics, “the numbers of those people who are driving this Left-wing agenda is tiny, it’s miniscule, but they are strategically placed to accomplish these ends.”
Therefore, if conservative Christians were to read Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, they could implement those strategies and neutralize the radical liberal agenda. “Use ridicule as a weapon. Keep your head down low until you get a critical mass to make changes,” Swain urged.
At the same time, she attacked the idea of “Dominionism” as a “total misunderstanding of Christian language and evangelicalism.” Conservative Christians do not intend to “take over” government and impose a theocratic agenda, but they do believe in engaging secular culture and government.
“God has called certain people to certain spheres to have influence in those spheres,” Swain explained. “I don’t believe that to mean that anyone tries to take over the government or the education industry or the entertainment industry, they just aim to have influence in those spheres.”
As for “Dominionism” itself, “I’ve never met anyone who has a theory like that,” she said. The idea “does not have relevance for Christians living their lives day to day, and the vast majority of people never heard of the theory, nor do they aspire to take over the government or see the U.S. run by the church.”
Instead, she argued, conservative Christians are trying to defend their rights to religious freedom in a hostile environment, and the SPLC is a pivotal part of that environment.
In labeling the Ruth Institute (RI) a “hate group,” the SPLC cited the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church. This led RI President Jennifer Roback Morse to argue that if the SPLC were to be consistent, it must brand the Catholic Church itself a hate group.
Swain went even further. “To be consistent, they would have to go after the Catholic Church and Southern Baptists,” she declared. But the SPLC will not do this because “they are very selective.”
“They usually go after individuals and groups that can’t fight back,” the former professor said.
This strategy is particularly chilling, because at least one group which the SPLC branded as a “hate group” was targeted by a terrorist in 2012. In August of that year, Floyd Lee Corkins II broke into the FRC, armed with a semi-automatic pistol and Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches.
He pled guilty to committing an act of terrorism and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He later testified to the FBI that he intended to move on to other groups after decimating the FRC, and that he targeted these groups because they were listed as “anti-gay groups” on the SPLC website.
This past summer, James Hodgkinson nearly killed Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). Hodgkinson had “liked” the SPLC on Facebook, and the SPLC had repeatedly attacked Scalise as a white supremacist, even after he apologized for giving one speech to a white nationalist organization (and was attacked as a traitor by former KKK leader David Duke).
While the SPLC may try to target people who can’t fight back, at least three of its targets have filed lawsuits in response. Christian nonprofits Liberty Counsel and D. James Kennedy Ministries, and Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, whom the SPLC called an “anti-Muslim extremist” for visiting a strip club for his bachelor party, have each sued the SPLC for defamation. Last week, 47 leaders of conservative nonprofits sent an open letter to the media warning that the SPLC is a “discredited, Left-wing political organization,” not an authority on hate groups.
Even so, the SPLC continues to hold extraordinary influence. Just last week, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) cited the SPLC, comparing an organization on its list of “hate groups” to the genocidal Cambodian dictator Pol Pot. CNN, NBC, and ABC have parroted the SPLC’s “hate group” designations (which compare mainstream Christian and conservative groups to the Ku Klux Klan). CNN even posted the group’s “hate map.”
George Clooney and his wife Amal pledged $1 million to the group, as did the company J.P. Morgan. Apple CEO Tim Cook was even more generous, announcing his company would give $1 million to the SPLC, that it would match any donations from employees, and that it would set up a system in iTunes software to let consumers directly donate to the organization.
In light of these events, Carol Swain’s story is more important than ever. Americans should know that conservative Christians are not “Dominionists,” that mainstream organizations are not “hate groups,” that Swain is not an “apologist” for white supremacy, and that the Southern Poverty Law Center should never be trusted on these issues.
Watch Swain’s September 12 appearance on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” below.