James T. Hodgkinson, the Bernie Sanders supporter who targeted Republicans at a congressional baseball game practice and gravely wounded Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La.), gave moral support to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the group whose “hate map” inspired a terrorist attack in 2012. The SPLC had repeatedly attacked Scalise, along with former presidential candidate Ben Carson and women’s right activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
“Over the decades, the SPLC has refined a method of defaming its political opponents that is extremely effective when combined with the massive war chest it can rely upon,” explained Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William Boykin, executive vice president at the Family Research Council (FRC), in a letter to senators on Tuesday.
“The SPLC targets people by using the ‘hate’ or ‘extremist’ label against them seeking to destroy them,” Boykin explained. “Few people or organizations have the resources to fight back, so the SPLC typically has a clear target.”
Boykin’s letter, which referenced the connection to Hodgkinson, protested the presence of SPLC President Richard Cohen at a hearing on free speech Tuesday.
“The SPLC bullies and dehumanizes many ordinary Americans by calling them names and portraying them grotesquely in terrible photographs and sketches,” Boykin wrote. “It seeks their silence and submission and not an honest, open debate with opponents.”
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.”
In 2012, that “hate” labeling inspired a terrorist attack in the nation’s capital. Floyd Lee Corkins III broke into the FRC armed with a semi-automatic pistol and Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches. Had unarmed security guard Leo Johnson not wrestled him to the floor, Corkins said he would have killed everyone in the building.
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. (Horrifyingly, the “hate list” that inspired the attack was recently adopted by GuideStar.)
James Hodgkinson, the man who shot Steve Scalise, “liked” the SPLC on Facebook, The Washington Examiner reported. The SPLC had attacked Scalise numerous times over a 2002 speech the congressman gave to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), a group founded by former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke. Scalise once even described himself as “David Duke without the baggage.”
While the speech is a black mark on Scalise’s record, he apologized for it in 2014. In fact, Duke threatened to run against Scalise in 2016, attacking the congressman as a “sellout” who “meets with radical blacks.”
But in July of last year, the SPLC mentioned that Duke was mulling a run against Scalise, noting that Scalise had spoken at the EURO meeting, but failing to mention Scalise’s apology or the fact that Duke now considers Scalise a traitor to the racist white identity movement.
The SPLC’s continued attacks on Scalise, even after he apologized and was demonized by Duke, may not have directly contributed to Hodgkinson’s targeting of the congressman — after all, the baseball practice shooter reportedly did not even know for certain if he was at a Republican or a Democratic practice, much less which specific congressman he was shooting. But this connection helps to illustrate the organization’s viciousness, and should serve as a reminder of the 2012 attack at FRC.
In October 2014, the Left-wing group also attacked Ben Carson, placing the retired neurosurgeon and author on its “Extremist Watch List,” which features many white supremacists. Following backlash, the group removed Carson from the list in February 2015.
“This week, as we’ve come under intense criticism for [adding Carson to the list], we’ve reviewed our profile and have concluded that it did not meet our standards, so we have taken it down and apologize to Dr. Carson for having posted it,” the group wrote in a statement.
The SPLC added Carson to its “extremist” list because he defined marriage as “between a man and a woman,” and made other “anti-gay” remarks. Similar reasons stood behind the group’s listing of the FRC on its “hate map,” and the SPLC has still not removed the pro-family organization, despite the act of terrorism committed against it that was inspired by that very list.
In October of last year, the SPLC attacked Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women’s rights activist who has focused on the treatment of women in the Islamic world. In its profile of Ali, the SPLC wrote, “Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born activist who says she endured female genital mutilation and fled civil wars and an arranged marriage in Africa.”
This snide questioning of Ali’s harrowing story, recounted in her 2007 book Infidel, is disgusting. While many elements of Ali’s story were later questioned, the SPLC attack on her claim to be a victim of genital mutilation is particularly ugly. Ali has received many death threats, one of which came from the murderer of Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker she worked with.
Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dremer, declared Ali “one of the world’s greatest champions of freedom, pluralism and tolerance,” adding that “every self-respecting group that claims to value any of those things should be defending her not defaming her.”
“Yet in an Orwellian version of reality, a woman whose life is threatened every day by extremist Muslims is labeled by the SPLC an anti-Muslim extremist,” Dremer added. “Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, I don’t stand with the defamers and the blacklisters. I stand with Ayaan Hirsi Ali.”
In light of this history, SPLC President Richard Cohen’s denunciation of Hodgkinson last week sounded particularly hollow. “We’re aware that the SPLC was among hundreds of groups that the man identified as the shooter ‘liked’ on Facebook. I want to be as clear as I can possibly be: The SPLC condemns all forms of violence.”
“We have worked for decades to combat domestic terrorism and violence based on hate,” Cohen declared.
Respectfully, Mr. Cohen, tell that to Leo Johnson, the FRC security guard who took a bullet because of your “hate map.” Tell that to Steve Scalise, whose shooter was inspired by rhetoric like yours and whom your organization continued to attack. Tell that to Ali, whose history of genital mutilation your organization so callously questioned.
The United States needs to move beyond the violent, demonizing rhetoric which inspired the Scalise shooting. While the Right is far from blameless on this, the SPLC is one of the prime culprits, and it is time for Americans to full-throatedly denounce it.