On Tuesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a group whose “hate” labeling has inspired at least one terrorist attack, admitted fault and removed Stonewall Elementary School in Lexington, Ky. from its list of monuments to Confederate generals. That list had included 109 public schools, warning of “turmoil and bloodshed” unless all Confederate monuments — including schools and military bases — were taken down. As it turns out, Stonewall Elementary was not named after Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, but after a stone wall. Go figure. This is almost as bad as Robert Lee…
“We apologize for erroneously including Stonewall Elementary,” Alex Amend, director of research for the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, said in a statement. The school had been listed for over two months as a potential source of “turmoil and bloodshed.”
Finally, “It has been removed from our interactive map and is not included in the data set we’ve been providing to journalists since Charlottesville.”
That “data set we’ve been providing to journalists” was posted on the SPLC website in mid-August with this message: “More than 1,500 Confederate monuments stand in communities like Charlottesville with the potential to unleash more turmoil and bloodshed” (emphasis added). The page insisted, “It’s time to take them down” (emphasis original).
That post also urged visitors to send a letter to the editor of their daily newspaper. “White supremacists incited deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last week in defense of a Confederate monument. We must show the country that [your city’s or county’s name] gives no safe harbor to such hatred. We must remove the monument at [location],” the sample letter read.
Even with Stonewall Elementary removed, the page still maps multiple dozens of elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools, and still warns of “more turmoil and bloodshed,” with no mention of any error on the SPLC’s part.
Back in August when the school was originally listed, locals complained that it did not belong on the list. “The school is in the Stonewall neighborhood and was one of a number of Fayette County schools built decades ago that were named for the neighborhoods in which they were located,” schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall told The Lexington Herald-Leader at the time.
William M. Ambrose, author of a history of Fayette County’s public schools, wrote that the Sayre family’s home “was surrounded by an old masonry stone wall common to area farms.” The Stonewall Estates subdivision was developed on land owned by the Sayre family and named after that stone wall.
“Portions of this masonry was used to build the entrance pillars to the subdivision. Examples remain on the north boundary, on Chelsea and Hyde Park Drive, and Buckingham at Arrowhead,” Ambrose added.
Deffendall explained that when Fayette County schools are named in honor of someone, they typically include the person’s full name.
But Stonewall Elementary is not the only Lexington school easily mistaken for a Confederate memorial. Breckinridge Elementary came under fire when a debate raged over whether to remove a statue of Confederate General John C. Breckenridge from the old courthouse. The school’s full name is Madeline M. Breckinridge Elementary, however. It is named after a great-granddaughter of Henry Clay who advocated for women’s rights, not for the Confederate general. As of October 19, the school is not listed on the SPLC’s map.
Even though the SPLC has removed Stonewall Elementary from that map, the continued presence of schools on it is particularly worrisome, given that a very similar map was directly connected to a terrorist attack in the nation’s capital in 2012.
In August 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins II broke into the Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, D.C., with the intention to murder 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.
He said he got the address from the “hate map,” a similar graphic to the Confederate map, which plots every organization the SPLC marks as a “hate group.” Does this make the SPLC an expert on “turmoil and bloodshed?”
Interestingly, the SPLC took no responsibility for their hate map inspiring the FRC shooting, and refused to remove the FRC from their list of “hate groups” or from their hate map. They took this position despite having pushed the spurious claim that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s political action committee maps — which put Democrat congressional seats in crosshairs — were responsible for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in 2011. PolitiFact rated the SPLC’s claim “false.”
The 2012 attack was also not the only link between the SPLC and domestic terrorism, however. Earlier this summer, Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson opened fire at a Republican Congressional Baseball Game practice, nearly killing Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). Hodkinson “liked” the SPLC on Facebook, and the SPLC 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).
Scalise and Stonewall Elementary are merely the surface of SPLC’s false labeling, however. In August, the organization finally removed the innocent town of Amana Colonies from its “hate map.” While the town had no connection to white supremacy, the SPLC had originally defended listing it because moderators at the Daily Stormer (a notorious white supremacist website) had claimed to have hosted a book club in one of the town’s restaurants.
The SPLC also come up with similarly spurious reasons to list Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz as an “anti-Muslim extremist.” To justify this claim, the SPLC claimed Nawaz called for “an outright ban on the niqab” when in fact he had explicitly declared, “I do not believe in a blanket ban on the niqab.” The SPLC removed that reason, but then justified listing him because he visited a strip club for his bachelor party — an action that in no way suggests he would be an “anti-Muslim extremist.” This also was later removed from the SPLC website.
This lack of credibility has not stopped celebrities, companies, and the media from lionizing the organization as a civil rights champion, however.
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. 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.)
CNN broadcast the SPLC’s “hate map” on its website and Twitter account (with the FRC still marked on the map). ABC and NBC parroted the SPLC’s “hate group” label against Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
This wave of support for the SPLC, following the riots in Charlottesville, also led to a barrage of attacks on conservative websites. ProPublica “reporter” Lauren Kirchner sent an email to conservatives like Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller that amounted to a threat. “I am contacting you to let you know that we are including your website in a list of sites that have been designated as hate or extremist by the American Defamation League or the Southern Poverty Law Center.”
The email continued, “We have identified several tech companies on your website: PayPal, Amazon, Newsmax, and Revcontent. Can you confirm that you receive funds from your relationship with those tech companies? How would the loss of those funds affect your operations, and how would you be able to replace them?”
These are not idle threats, and various companies have used this list to blacklist nonprofit organizations.
At the end of August, Vanco Payments withdrew its service from the Ruth Institute, taking away that organization’s ability to process donations online.
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 Counsel.
In December, D. James Kennedy Ministries was denied access to Amazon’s charity connection service, Amazon Smile, because it was listed as a “hate group” by the SPLC. They also filed a lawsuit against the SPLC for defamation.
Last month, Google officially announced that it was partnering with the SPLC and ProPublica to launch the Documenting Hate News Index. When Google’s senior software engineer, James Damore, wrote a memo attacking Google for fostering an “intellectual echo chamber,” he was fired. This is the kind of bubble the SPLC is contributing to.
This “hate list” not only listed Amana Colonies and Maajid Nawaz, but also various Christian organizations like D. James Kennedy Ministries, FRC, Liberty Counsel, the American Family Association (AFA), and ADF, along with other groups like the American College of Pediatricians and the Center for Immigration Studies. Indeed, using the logic the SPLC employed to mark the Ruth Institute as a “hate group,” the organization would have to brand the entire Roman Catholic Church a “hate group” as well.
While the SPLC lists these groups along with terrorist organizations like the KKK, the SPLC has admitted that qualifications to make the list are “strictly ideological.”
The group has also rather recklessly called for Internet censorship, blaming the lack of censorship on Google and Facebook for the radicalization of Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who targeted a black church in 2015.
An organization that lists innocent towns and innocent elementary schools as “hateful” or inspiring “turmoil and bloodshed,” and that constructs phony excuses to brand reformers and mainstream organizations as “hate groups” deserves no credibility whatsoever. The incident with Stonewall Elementary should underscore just how unreliable the SPLC’s hate labeling is, and it should also remind Americans that this organization has pointed the finger at public schools, warning of “turmoil and bloodshed” unless these “Confederate monuments” are “taken down.”
These actions are utterly despicable, and Americans should demand that Apple, Google, George Clooney, J.P. Morgan, Amazon, and ProPublica recognize the SPLC for the defamation organization it is, and cut off all ties immediately.