News & Politics

SPLC Backs Down: Removes Innocent Town From 'Hate Map'

Twitter screenshot of CNN endorsing the SPLC "hate map."

On Monday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) removed the historic Iowa town Amana Colonies from its “hate map” that inspired a terrorist attack in 2012. The SPLC had targeted Amana Colonies as a refuge of “hate” because of an alleged link to the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer. The Amana Colonies is a historic landmark, the site of seven German Pietist villages that produced a self-sustaining local economy for eighty years.

“We’re thrilled for them changing the map and correcting it to what it should be, and not having the Amanas as a hate group,” David Rettig, executive director of the Amana Colonies Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the Iowa City Press-Bulletin.

The SPLC “had previously designated the historic settlement as the home of the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi and white supremacy news and commentary organization,” the Press-Bulletin reported. On Monday, one of the Amanas leaders received word that the SPLC had changed Daily Stormer‘s designation to “statewide.”

The town had previously contested the claim, but the SPLC had stood by its marking the Amanas on the “hate map.” Why? The organization claimed “it had confirmation that a group of individuals met sometime in September 2016 at a restaurant in the Amanas.”

“The First Iowa Stormer Bookclub was a success!” a user with the screen name Concerned Troll posted in a September 26, 2016, thread. Concerned Troll did not provide specific details about the visit, but went on to suggest a subsequent meeting in Des Moines.

Local officials shot back, explaining that there are no such groups active in Iowa County. Amanas leaders denounced hate groups and their activities, saying none of their messages or activities are welcome in their town. They demanded that the SPLC remove their community from the “hate map.”

While Amana had been previously marked on the “hate map,” the local leaders remained unaware of this designation until Daily Stormer became infamous following the white nationalist riots in Charlottesville, Va., on August 12.

On Monday, the SPLC finally agreed, removing the town from the map.

This incident should not be lightly brushed over, however. The SPLC’s “hate map” inspired a terror attack in 2012.

That summer, Floyd Lee Corkins III broke in to the Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, D.C., aiming to kill 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.

Where did he get the address? On this very “hate map.”

This month, CNN shared this “hate map,” which still includes the FRC (and at the time included Amana Colonies), on its website and Twitter account.

Nor was the 2012 attack the only incident of violence connected to the SPLC’s “hate” labeling. Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, who sued the SPLC for defaming him as an “anti-Muslim extremist,” noted that “the Left has descended into violence, whether that’s punching people on the street, throwing explosives and attacking people in protests and riots, or assassination attempts on Right-wing politicians by leftist fans of the SPLC.”

In this statement, Nawaz highlighted the connection between the SPLC and James Hodgkinson, the Bernie Sanders supporter who shot Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) earlier this summer. Hodgkinson “liked” the SPLC on Facebook. The group had repeatedly tarred Scalise for a speech he gave to a white supremacist group, even after Scalise apologized (and was called a “sellout” by former KKK leader David Duke).

As in the cases of Amana Colonies and Steve Scalise, the SPLC has proven itself slow to admit when it was wrong. In attacking Nawaz, the SPLC website has cycled through reasons to list the Muslim reformer as an “anti-Muslim extremist,” unceremoniously removing at least two bogus reasons.

Despite this lack of credibility, the SPLC has received a great deal of support after Charlottesville. 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 June, the charity navigation website GuideStar adopted the SPLC “hate group” list, marking each profile of the targeted organizations as a “hate group.” ABC and NBC parroted the SPLC’s “hate group” label against Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) last month.

The SPLC was founded to fight back against white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan, and it indeed tracks this kind of racist group, along with black nationalist groups. But the organization has also falsely branded mainstream conservative groups — and even Muslim reformers — as “hate groups” and “extremists.”

The “hate” list features Christian organizations like D. James Kennedy Ministriesthe FRC, Liberty Counsel, the American Family Association (AFA), and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), along with other groups like the American College of Pediatricians and the Center for Immigration Studies. In addition to Nawaz, it also lists women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali as an “anti-Muslim extremist.”

At least three of those wrongfully targeted have responded with lawsuits: D. James Kennedy Ministries, Liberty Counsel, and Maajid Nawaz.

The organization is a “cash-collecting machine” widely attacked for questionable finances and high fundraising costs.

The SPLC’s “hate” labeling has inspired at least one terrorist attack in 2012, and might have inspired a second in 2017. The SPLC’s listing of Amana Colonies, and its shameful defense when originally called on this libel, should not be forgotten.

This organization branded an innocent town as “hateful” on the level of the KKK because a few white supremacists associated with Daily Stormer met there for a book club once. There is no evidence any local leader knew of the meeting, condoned it, or could have learned about it in the first place.

It is likely a few Daily Stormer self-confessed “trolls” merely went to a restaurant, got a table far from the register, and spoke about their books in hushed tones. Amana Colonies cannot regulate the speech that occurs in private establishments, and it would be unwise and intrusive for them to try to do so.

Instead, the local leaders have condemned white supremacy and declared that no white supremacist group is welcome in their town. At long last, their location was removed from the “hate map.”

The SPLC should not stop with Amana Colonies. The group will not deserve the support and publicity it receives until it removes the FRC, the ADF, Liberty Counsel, D. James Kennedy Ministries, Maajid Nawaz, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and many others.