On Thursday, controversial immigration hawk Peter Brimelow, who runs the anti-immigration website VDARE, filed a $5 million defamation lawsuit against The New York Times, claiming America’s newspaper of record maliciously attacked his character by branding him a “white nationalist” and citing the disreputable far-left Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to bolster the charge.
On January 15, 2019, the Times branded Brimelow an “open white nationalist” in an article published online and in print. In opposition to its stated journalistic standards, the paper did not reach out to him for comment first. When his lawyer sent a letter demanding it retract the claim, the Times made a “stealth edit,” removing the word “open” from the online article and — again in violation of its own stated journalistic standards — not appending a correction to the article.
The online version of the words “white nationalist” link to an SPLC article accusing Brimelow of “hate” and “extremism.”
According to the lawsuit, Brimelow’s legal team reached out to the Times on February 15, 2019, September 27, 2019, and October 16, 2019, claiming that the “stealth edit” did not reverse the defamatory act. Brimelow also sent the Times multiple “letters to the editor” rebutting the “white nationalist” accusation. The paper did not respond to these messages.
“The Defendant imputed to the Plaintiff race hatred and traits inconsistent with his profession,” the lawsuit charges. “Plaintiff has been injured in his good name, fame, credit, profession, and reputation as a man, and in his various public and private positions, callings, and lines of endeavor, and has been held up to public ridicule before his acquaintances and the public, and to suffer the loss of prestige and standing in his community and elsewhere.”
Brimelow estimated the defamation cost him $700,000, and demanded the court order the paper to fork over “an amount no less than Five Million Dollars, together with punitive damages, and the costs and disbursements of this action.”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “white nationalist” as “one of a group of militant whites who espouse white supremacy and advocate enforced racial segregation.” Brimelow may have repugnant views about race and intelligence and he may advocate for a kind of white identity politics, but according to Merriam-Webster, that does not make him a white nationalist.
According to the lawsuit, the SPLC branded Brimelow a “white nationalist” in an attempt to stifle debate on immigration and because it wished to vilify his views that race may be biologically connected to intelligence. Yet The New York Times has itself “bravely pushed the boundaries of the taboos on race,” the lawsuit states, citing articles published between July 2001 and March 2003 which covered scientific developments supposedly linking race to genetics.
Nicholas Wade wrote those articles, and the lawsuit recounts that the SPLC attacked him “for writing about the science of race differences” in May 2014.
“Nevertheless, Defendant knows that it itself is not a purveyor of hate or white nationalism because it has published articles on the science of racial differences,” Brimelow argues.
The lawsuit quoted a letter the VDARE editor sent to the paper two day after it published the article attacking him.
“Mr. Brimelow is not a ‘white nationalist’ and, specifically, does not refer to himself as such,” the letter stated. “To the contrary, he has repeatedly said that he is a ‘civic nationalist.’ For example, in a February 23, 2018 interview with Slate’s Osita Nwanevu, Mr. Brimelow stated as follows: ‘Personally, I would regard myself as a civic nationalist.’”
“The fact that VDARE has published some critiques of America’s immigration policies from those who aim to defend the interests of whites does not mean that Mr. Brimelow is an ‘open white nationalist,’ any more than the New York Times’s decision to publish op-eds by avowed socialists makes it ‘openly socialist,'” his lawyer argued.
The lawsuit also quotes The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, which states, “Fairness and impartiality… should be the hallmark of all news articles and news analyses that appear in the Times. It is of paramount importance that people or organizations accused, criticized or otherwise cast in a bad light have an opportunity to speak in their own defense… Thus it is imperative that the reporter make every effort to reach the accused … If it is not possible to do so, the article should say that the effort was made and explain why it did not succeed.”
The paper also claims a high standard for corrections: “Because its voice is loud and far-reaching, The Times recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small (even misspellings of names), promptly and in a prominent reserved space in the paper… Whether an error occurs in a print article, a digital graphic, a video, a tweet or a news alert, readers should expect us to correct it. There is no five-second rule. It does not matter if it was online for seconds or minutes or hours.”
Not only did the paper violate these standards in Brimelow’s case, but it also linked to the SPLC, which the lawsuit condemned as “a disreputable organization … partisan and unreliable” and “a fundraising scam.” It further alleges that The New York Times knows the SPLC is “highly questionable as a source of information.”
The lawsuit cites the 1994 Montgomery Advertiser series of articles exposing the SPLC as “a fundraising scam which deliberately falsifies and inflates the threat of subjectively defined ‘hate’ in order to bilk gullible donors and thereby bring in enough money to fund high salaries for its executive officers.” Among other things, the Advertiser exposed claims of racial discrimination at the SPLC, claims that resurfaced again in March 2019 when the organization fired its co-founder, Morris Dees.
It also quotes Mark Potok, who admitted that the SPLC’s “criteria for a hate group, first of all, have nothing to do with criminality, or violence, or any kind of guess we’re making about ‘this group could be dangerous.’ It’s strictly ideological.” This means the SPLC “spies on men for holding unorthodox opinions,” according to the lawsuit.
Potok also said the SPLC sees the struggle against “hate groups” as political. “I mean, we’re not trying to change anybody’s mind. We’re trying to wreck the groups, and we are very clear in our head, this is [sic]… we are trying to destroy them. Not to send them to prison unfairly or not take their free speech rights away… but as a political matter, to destroy them.”
The lawsuit also quotes former SPLC employee Bob Moser, who came clean about his complicity in the “con” in an article for The New Yorker after Dees’ firing. Moser acknowledged the organization’s practice of exaggerating hate and recalled “the hyperbolic fund-raising appeals, and the fact that, though the center claimed to be effective in fighting extremism, ‘hate’ always continued to be on the rise, more dangerous than ever, with each year’s report on hate groups. ‘The S.P.L.C.—making hate pay,’ we’d say.”
By linking to the SPLC in branding Brimelow a “white nationalist,” the Times “was thus endorsing and vouching for the accuracy of the SPLC smear in a news article and asserting as a fact that its readers could rely on the SPLC definition of ‘hate’ as a fact, despite knowing that the SPLC is itself a partisan and unreliable source, which utilizes subjective definitions of hate” ‘with the aim of suppressing free speech and confining debate.”
The lawsuit is right to call out the SPLC for its scandals and its partisan smears. Shamefully, media outlets like CBS News, The New York Times, the Miami Herald, and the Palm Beach Post have buried the SPLC’s scandals even while reporting on SPLC pressure campaigns in recent months.
I personally think Brimelow’s stated views on race are contemptible, and I view VDARE with suspicion. However, it seems he has a case here.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.