On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions denounced the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for weaponizing its “hate group” designations against conservative organizations, and pledged that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will not partner with hate groups or groups that defame Americans. He spoke in front of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal organization that has won 9 Supreme Court cases in the last seven years and that has been unfairly defamed as a “hate group” by the SPLC.
“I have ordered a review at the Department of Justice to make sure that we do not partner with any groups that discriminate,” the attorney general declared. “We will not partner with groups that unfairly defame Americans for standing up for the Constitution or their faith.”
He made this promise shortly after explaining the history of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “People of faith are facing a new hostility. Really, a bigoted ideology which is founded on animus towards people of faith,” Sessions declared. “You’ll notice that they don’t rely on the facts. They don’t make better arguments. They don’t propose higher ideals. No, they just call people names—like ‘hate group.'”
“Does that sound familiar?” Sessions quipped.
“You know I’m from Alabama—the home of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that did important work in the South, vital work at a pivotal time,” the attorney general explained.
He admitted that “there were hate groups in the South I grew up in. They attacked the life, liberty, and the very worth of minority citizens.”
Sessions recalled working with the SPLC to secure the death penalty for a member of the Ku Klux Klan. “You may not know this, but I helped prosecute and secure the death penalty for a klansman who murdered a black teenager in my state. The resulting wrongful death suit led to a $7 million verdict and the bankruptcy of the Klu Klux Klan in the South. That case was brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” he said.
“But when I spoke to ADF last year, I learned that the Southern Poverty Law Center had classified ADF as a ‘hate group.’ Many in the media simply parroted it as fact,” the attorney general added. “Amazon relied solely on the SPLC designation and removed ADF from its Smile program, which allows customers to donate to charities.”
Sessions charged that the SPLC has “used this designation as a weapon and they have wielded it against conservative organizations that refuse to accept their orthodoxy and choose instead to speak their conscience.”
He powerfully added, “They use it to bully and intimidate groups like yours which fight for the religious freedom, the civil rights, and the constitutional rights of others.”
Then the attorney general addressed ADF directly. “You and I may not agree on everything—but I wanted to come back here tonight partly because I wanted to say this: you are not a hate group,” Sessions declared.
Then he made the case. “You have a 9-0 record at the Supreme Court over the past seven years—and that includes two of the most important cases of the last term,” the attorney general said. “Two of those nine cases were 7-2, one was per curiam, and one was 9-0. In the lower courts, you’ve won hundreds of free speech cases. That’s an impressive record. These are not fringe beliefs that you’re defending.”
Rather, “You endeavor to affirm the Constitution and American values.”
Sessions set the record straight. “Let me say this loud and clear: at the Department of Justice, we will not partner with hate groups. Not on my watch,” he declared. But he also insisted that the DOJ “will not partner with groups that unfairly defame Americans for standing up for the Constitution or their faith.”
These remarks were important, especially at the ADF’s Summit on Religious Liberty. As Sessions noted, various media outlets reported last year that he had spoken at a “hate group.”
Even more important, however, was Sessions’ declaration that the DOJ will not partner with the SPLC.
The SPLC has an extremely interesting history of working with the federal government. The group has long provided anti-terrorism guidance and materials to various agencies, and in recent years the government has stepped away from the SPLC.
After the SPLC’s “hate map” inspired a terrorist attack against the Family Research Council (FRC) in 2012, the U.S. Army decided in 2013 to stop branding Christian groups “extremist,” dissociating itself from the SPLC’s smears against the American Family Association. That year, Secretary of the Army John McHugh dissociated the service from the use of SPLC materials on two occasions.
In 2014, the FBI removed the SPLC from its list of “trusted resources” on its “Hate Crimes” page.
In 2016, even the Obama DOJ reprimanded the SPLC and other groups that “overstepped the bounds of zealous advocacy” in demanding the silencing of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Their motions “made uncivil statements that disparaged FAIR and its staff” by calling the group “a ‘hate group,’ ‘anti-immigrant,’ ‘white supremacist,’ ‘eugenicist,’ ‘anti-Semitic,’ and ‘anti-Catholic.'”
“None of this language was related or relevant to the underlying factual or legal matters or FAIR’s amicus briefs, and its sole purpose was to denigrate FAIR and its staff,” wrote Jennifer Barnes, disciplinary counsel at the DOJ. Last October, the Pentagon officially severed all ties to the SPLC, removing any references to the SPLC in training materials used by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI).
Yet just last month, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson reported that the FBI has an “ongoing” relationship with the SPLC.
If slandering ADF were not the only reason to distrust the SPLC, the left-wing organization’s “hate group” list also includes Christian groups like D. James Kennedy Ministries, the FRC, Liberty Counsel, the American Family Association (AFA), the Ruth Institute, and more. It also includes conservative groups like the American College of Pediatricians and the Center for Immigration Studies.
The SPLC has also marked as an “extremist” Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, former Muslim women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Christian neurosurgeon (now Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) Ben Carson, and academic Charles Murray.
The group has a long train of embarrassing apologies. It paid $3.375 million to Nawaz after listing him as an “anti-Muslim extremist” for going to a strip club for his bachelor party. It apologized to Ben Carson after marking him an extremist for saying that marriage should be between one man and one woman. It apologized to the innocent town of Amana Colonies after marking it on a “hate map” as the site of the white nationalist website the Daily Stormer. It also apologized to Stonewall Elementary School for marking it on a Confederate monument “hate map” when the school was named after a stone wall, not General “Stonewall” Jackson.
While the SPLC claims it only lists “hate groups” based on prejudice or hatred against a group of people based on their unalterable characteristics, its “hate group” labels have grown to smear organizations for advocating for marriage as between one man and one woman. Tellingly, the SPLC cited the marriage portion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in branding the Ruth Institute an “anti-LGBT hate group.”
SPLC continues to attack ADF and FRC, citing decades-old quotes connecting the homosexual movement to pedophilia (which it briefly was in the 1990s), suggesting that these organizations consider all LGBT people a threat to children.
For these reasons, ADF senior counsel Jeremy Tedesco told PJ Media on Tuesday that he’d “like the Justice Department to clarify its relationship with the SPLC.”
Sessions clearly answered that question. Perhaps the DOJ will start a landslide destroying the SPLC’s credibility in the broader society.
“I’d like to hear a stream of respected institutions and organizations say we have no relationship whatsoever with the SPLC because they have no credibility and it’s been proven over and over again,” Tedesco said. “Their brand is still strong. People trust it, but that’s not going to last a lot longer.”
Sessions’ remarks did not suggest, however, that the DOJ will launch an investigation into the SPLC.