News & Politics

47 Nonprofit Leaders Denounce the Southern Poverty Law Center's 'Hate List' in Open Letter to the Media

47 Nonprofit Leaders Denounce the Southern Poverty Law Center's 'Hate List' in Open Letter to the Media
Twitter screenshot of CNN endorsing the SPLC "hate map."

On Wednesday, 47 leaders of conservative nonprofits sent an open letter to the media warning against using the notorious “hate map” put out by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The leaders denounced any news organization that would cite the SPLC’s list of “extremists” and “hate groups” as if it carried moral authority. “The SPLC is an attack dog of the political left” and should be treated as such, the leaders wrote.

“To associate public interest law firms and think tanks with neo-Nazis and the KKK is unconscionable, and represents the height of irresponsible journalism,” the leaders declared. “All reputable news organizations should immediately stop using the SPLC’s descriptions of individuals and organizations based on its obvious political prejudices.”

The letter addressed “Members of the Media” and strongly warned against the SPLC. The leaders characterized the organization as “a discredited, left-wing, political activist organization that seeks to silence its political opponents with a ‘hate group’ label of its own invention and application that is not only false and defamatory, but that also endangers the lives of those targeted with it.”

Leaders from across the nonprofit spectrum signed the letter, including: L. Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC); Frank Gaffney, president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy; Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel; Frank Wright, president and CEO of D. James Kennedy Ministries; Brigitte Gabriel, founder and chairman of ACT for America; J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation; Jennifer Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute; and Edwin Meese III, a distinguished fellow emeritus from the Heritage Foundation.

The leaders pinned the letter to the fifth anniversary of a terrorist attack inspired by the SPLC’s hate list. “On August 15, 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins II entered the Family Research Council offices in Washington, D.C. and shot and badly wounded its building manager, Leo Johnson, who stopped his intended killing spree,” the letter explained. “According to his own statements to the FBI, Corkins intended to kill everyone in the building, and then go on to terrorize additional organizations.”

As the letter noted, Corkins pled guilty to committing an act of terrorism and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. During an FBI interrogation, he said he targeted the FRC because of the SPLC “hate map.”

“We believe the media outlets that have cited the SPLC in recent days have not intended to target mainstream political groups for violent attack, but by recklessly linking the Charlottesville melee to the mainstream groups named on the SPLC website — those that advocate in the courts, the halls of Congress, and the press for protection of conventional, Judeo-Christian values — we are left to wonder if another Floyd Lee Corkins will soon be incited to violence by this incendiary information,” the leaders wrote.

The letter did not mention the more tenuous — but still concerning — connection between the SPLC and Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson, the man who shot Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) this summer. Hodgkinson “liked” the SPLC on Facebook, and the SPLC had repeatedly attacked Scalise — even after he apologized and distanced himself from the remarks that earned him a spot on the SPLC “extremist” list.

After mentioning Corkins, the letter went on to describe the history of the SPLC. Although the group “evolved from laudable origins battling the Klan in the 1970’s, the SPLC has realized the profitability of defamation, churning out fundraising letters, and publishing ‘hit pieces’ on conservatives to promote its agenda and pad its substantial endowment (of $319 million).”

“Anyone who opposes them, including many Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and traditional conservatives is slandered and slapped with the ‘extremist’ label or even worse, their ‘hate group’ designation,” the leaders wrote. “At one point, the SPLC even added Dr. Ben Carson to its ‘extremist’ list because of his biblical views (and only took him off the list after public outcry).”

Other recent examples also back up the argument that the SPLC is carless in its defamation. Just last week, the group removed the innocent historic town of Amana Colonies from its “hate map.” While the SPLC eventually removed Amana Colonies, it first defended the “hate” label because a white supremacist website claimed to have had a book club in one of the town’s restaurants.

In a series of three videos, the anti-terror group Quilliam International revealed the SPLC’s ever-changing reasons for listing Muslim Maajid Nawaz as an “anti-Muslim extremist.” One of the reasons the SPLC gave for targeting Nawaz? His visit to a strip club for his bachelor party.

Such errors are no laughing matter. Not only has CNN recently broadcast the SPLC’s “hate map” on its website and Twitter account (which still includes FRC, by the way), but two other major media outlets, ABC and NBC, parroted the SPLC’s “hate group” label against ADF last month.

Furthermore, some companies are already blacklisting any group on the SPLC “hate group” list. Vanco Payments just withdrew its service from the Ruth Institute, taking away that organization’s ability to process donations online.

More concerning are the contributions from big influential companies like J.P. Morgan ($500,000 to the SPLC) and Apple ($1 million, with other benefits, to the organization). Companies like Lyft and MGM Resorts have also partnered with the group, and many companies match employee contributions. Pfizer, Bank of America, and Newman’s Own have each contributed over $8,900 to the SPLC in recent years.

(The SPLC does not need this money, by the way. The Washington Free Beacon recently reported that the group sent multiple transactions to foreign entities, including two cash payments of $2.2 million into funds in the Cayman Islands. As the letter noted, the SPLC takes in $50 million in contributions each year, and had $328 million in net assets as of 2015.)

In June, the charity navigation website GuideStar adopted the SPLC “hate group” list, marking each profile of the targeted organizations as a “hate group.” This action inspired the first of three lawsuits against the SPLC, launched by the Christian nonprofit Liberty CounselMaajid Nawaz followed up with his own lawsuit soon after, and D. James Kennedy Ministries has been the most recent group to sue the SPLC for defamation.

In the case of D. James Kennedy Ministries, the group was denied access to Amazon Smile because it was on the SPLC’s “hate group” list.

The letter, which includes signatories from both Liberty Counsel and D. James Kennedy Ministries, insisted that the SPLC has been “discredited,” and it cited experts to back up that claim. Laird Wilcox, one of America’s genuine experts on political extremism, said the SPLC’s work was “completely unreliable.” The 47 nonprofit leaders also cited Ken Silverstein at Harper’s, who wrote that “the SPLC shuts down debate, stifles free speech, and most of all, raises a pile of money, very little of which is used in behalf of poor people.”

In 2013, Secretary of the Army John McHugh dissociated his service from use of SPLC materials on two occasions. In March 2014, the FBI removed the SPLC from its list of “trusted resources” on its Hate Crimes page.

The letter concluded with a compelling hypothetical. “We wonder how the media would react if a corresponding situation arose on the center-right of the political spectrum,” the leaders wrote.

“Let’s assume that congressional debate were racing as to whether or not taxpayers should continue to fund Planned Parenthood, which receives about $500 million a year from Congress. If a national pro-life advocacy organization were to release a map with caricatures of abortionists and title it, ‘Here’s Where the Baby Killers are Located in Your State,’ would the media run the story? Would it reprint the map and discuss the location of these ‘pro-death’ doctors throughout the news day? Clearly, it would not.”

So why does the media prop up the SPLC? Why do Apple, J.P. Morgan, MGM Resorts, and other companies partner with the organization?

The letter was remarkably restrained, given the most recent map published by the SPLC. Last month, the group published a map of every single Confederate monument across the United States, but it did not just include monuments.

This Confederate “hate map” included elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. The SPLC’s post publishing the map also warned of “turmoil and bloodshed” if Confederate monuments were not removed.

Now, such a map may not inspire a terror attack like that perpetrated by Floyd Lee Corkins at FRC, but it could easily inspire protests. Americans have seen recent protests against Confederate monuments break out into violence, and no kid deserves to walk to school amidst flying rocks, spraying mace, and the kinds of disruptions associated with “antifa” activists.

According to a recent poll, a plurality of Americans oppose companies going after conservative groups on the SPLC hate list. When asked if Internet companies like Paypal, Google, Facebook, and Twitter should use the SPLC list “as an excuse to censor or suppress mainstream and non-violent conservative groups by denying them access to their services,” more Americans said no (43 percent) than yes (32 percent). Many Americans frankly admitted they did not know (25 percent).

The media’s malpractice in reporting this story has already damaged public opinion, leading almost a third of Americans to support internet companies silencing conservative voices in the SPLC marks them as “hateful.” This letter could not come out fast enough.

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