On Wednesday, no fewer than 47 nonprofit leaders maligned by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) — many if not most of whom are considering a lawsuit against the organization — warned a vast array of executives and leaders that if they parrot the SPLC’s damaging “hate group” labels, they would be “complicit” in “defamation.”
“Editors, CEOs, shareholders and consumers alike are on notice: anyone relying upon and repeating its misrepresentations is complicit in the SPLC’s harmful defamation of large numbers of American citizens who, like the undersigned, have been vilified simply for working to protect our country and freedoms,” the signatories wrote.
The letter followed news — broken at PJ Media — that no fewer than 60 organizations are considering suing the SPLC following a groundbreaking settlement in which the organization formally apologized to a Muslim reformer, Maajid Nawaz, for branding him an “anti-Muslim extremist.”
In 2016, the SPLC published its “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists,” listing Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, a practicing Muslim, as one such extremist. The left-wing group listed various and changing reasons for including him, even at one point mentioning that he had gone to a strip club for his bachelor party. On Monday, the SPLC apologized and paid $3.375 million to settle a lawsuit Nawaz had filed.
“We haven’t filed anything against the SPLC, but I think a number of organizations have been considering filing lawsuits against the SPLC because they have been doing to a lot of organizations exactly what they did to Maajid Nawaz,” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, told PJ Media on Tuesday.
Representatives of the Family Research Council (FRC), the Ruth Institute, and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) told PJ Media they were considering “legal options.”
Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against the charity navigation organization GuideStar for defamation after GuideStar adopted the SPLC’s “hate group” list. That lawsuit is ongoing.
Staver further told PJ Media, “There are probably about 60 organizations that we’re talking to — there’s at least 60.”
The letter published Wednesday featured roughly the same list of groups that denounced the SPLC’s “hate list” in an open letter to the media last year. The SPLC has admitted that its “hate group” list is based on “opinion.”
Worse, in 2012, a terrorist broke into the Family Research Council (FRC) with a semi-automatic pistol, aiming to kill everyone in the building. In later FBI testimony, he admitted to targeting FRC because it was on the SPLC’s “hate map,” and that he intended to shoot up other organizations once he finished there.
The letter’s legal threat should be abundantly clear. Ken Cuccinelli, former attorney general of Virginia, signed the letter, as did PJ Media’s J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation. Michael P. Farris, president, CEO, and general counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), represents an organization that has won eight Supreme Court cases in the past seven years.
“We, the undersigned, are among the organizations, groups and individuals that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has maligned, defamed and otherwise harmed by falsely describing as ‘haters,’ ‘bigots,’ ‘Islamophobes’ and/or other groundless epithets,” the signatories declared. “We are gratified that the SPLC has today formally acknowledged that it has engaged in such misrepresentations.”
The out-of-court settlement with Nawaz was formally announced Wednesday, and the signatories mentioned it as “tangible proof that the SPLC, which amounts to little more than a leftist instrument of political warfare against those with whom it disagrees, fully deserves the infamy it has lately earned.”
“Journalists who uncritically parrot or cite the SPLC’s unfounded characterizations of those it reviles do a profound disservice to their audiences,” the signatories wrote.
Some might argue — like Reason‘s Robby Soave — that suits against the SPLC are a threat to free speech. In an interview with PJ Media, DJKM spokesman John Rabe explained that the SPLC has “supplied government and law enforcement with their information.” Given the 2012 attack and SPLC’s work with the government, “it’s no longer a free speech issue, there’s a substantive issue with these false and slanderous claims that the SPLC makes.”
“Slander and malice are never protected,” and such factors loom large in litigation. Rabe argued that DJKM and other organizations suing the SPLC should win partially because the left-wing group has a documented malice against these groups.
The threat to journalists should be taken particularly seriously, as CNN uncritically shared the SPLC “hate map” last year, and outlets like ABC News and NBC News uncritically marked ADF a “hate group” using the SPLC label.
The threat to CEOs extends to various companies — like Google and Amazon — that use the “hate list” to marginalize certain groups online. Large companies have also partnered with the SPLC in other ways. Apple pledged $1 million to the organization, along with other key benefits, while J.P. Morgan chipped in $500,000. Companies like Lyft and MGM Resorts have partnered with the group, while Pfizer, Bank of America, and Newman’s Own have each contributed over $8,900 to the SPLC in recent years.
The scope of this potential lawsuit is hard to determine, and the threat is real. News outlets, companies, and organizations that champion the SPLC’s “hate list” should be quaking in their boots.