In congressional testimony on Wednesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) demanded that big tech, donor-advised funds, and government take action against mainstream conservative and Christian organizations in the name of fighting against white supremacy and the “global terrorist threat” of white nationalism. This testimony may bolster legal claims that the SPLC engages in routine defamation by accusing its ideological opponents of being “hate groups” on par with the Ku Klux Klan.
In the testimony, Lecia Brooks, the SPLC’s chief workplace transformation officer, made three points: she warned about a “surging white nationalist movement in the United States” linked to a “global terrorist threat”; she rooted that movement in “toxic, anti-democratic white supremacist ideology that is metastasizing on social media networks and other websites that traffic in hate”; and she recommended that tech companies “disrupt the funding, organizing and recruiting efforts of hate groups and bad actors who seek to normalize racism, antisemitism, and anti-immigrant ideologies as well as sexism and anti-LGBTQ animus.”
While Brooks blamed President Donald Trump for having “undoubtedly energized the white nationalist movement,” she attributed the rise in “far-right radicalization” to the internet. “Long before Donald Trump entered office, white supremacists around the world began constructing a robust, online ecosystem that indoctrinates people – especially young white men – into the world of hate.” Brooks went on to note that terrorist shooters inspired by white nationalism did find inspiration on the internet.
Yet the SPLC staffer did not limit her warnings to white nationalism or the terrorism it has inspired. She also warned about other kinds of “hate groups,” including a broad swath of conservative and Christian organizations. The SPLC has falsely accused organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Family Research Council (FRC), ACT for America, the Center for Security Policy (CSP), the Ruth Institute, D. James Kennedy Ministries (DJKM), and more of being “hate groups” comparable to the KKK by placing them on the same list.
Throughout the testimony, Brooks used the term “hate group” interchangeably with “white supremacy” and the white nationalist terror movement. Worse, she rightly condemned white nationalist terrorists in vivid detail, but then urged action against vague “hate groups,” suggesting that such action would counter the spread of white supremacist terrorism.
“For decades, the SPLC has been fighting hate and exposing how hate groups use the internet. We have lobbied internet companies, one by one, to comply with their own rules to prohibit their services from being used to foster hate or discrimination. A key part of this strategy has been to target these organizations’ funding,” Brooks testified.
“The first targets of our attack against hate group funding online were PayPal, Apple’s iTunes and Amazon. The SPLC found that at least 69 hate groups were using PayPal, the world’s largest online payment processor, to collect money from merchandise sales and donations. PayPal was earning a fee from each transaction, and essentially served as the banking system for white nationalism,” she added.
That list of 69 “hate groups” included JihadWatch and ACT for America, and likely included other organizations that have absolutely nothing to do with white nationalism. Yet Brooks insisted that by allowing “hate groups” to participate, PayPal “served as the banking system for white nationalism.”
Big Tech has moved against virulent white nationalists, and many Americans likely welcome these moves. Facebook banned open white supremacy, for example. Yet the SPLC seeks to shut down conservative and Christian groups by equating them with this kind of evil rhetoric. In her testimony, Brooks boasted about the SPLC’s Orwellian “Change the Terms” coalition, which uses the threat of white supremacy to push Big Tech companies to silence “hate” on their platforms.
Yet Brooks was not content with Big Tech censorship. “Charities also have a role to play in fighting hate online by blocking donations to hate groups. Charitable gift funds – including the largest charity in the United States – are helping dozens of hate groups raise millions of dollars by allowing their donors not to reveal their identities,” she warned.
The SPLC staffer pointed at Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, Schwab Charitable Fund, and others for allowing individual donors to “funnel nearly $11 million to 34 organizations that we have identified as hate groups.” Ironically, only one of the identified “hate groups” was white nationalist, while the other 33 were “anti-LGBT,” “anti-Muslim,” “anti-immigrant,” and “radical traditionalist Catholic.” The union-backed Amalgamated Bank led a campaign to pressure charitable funds to cut off “hate groups” last March.
Brooks ended her remarks with suggestions for government. she chided the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit for its investigation into a “black identity movement” — involving terrorism inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Brooks claimed that “no such movement exists.” She also faulted federal law enforcement for “viewing anti-fascist protesters as just as problematic as the deadly white supremacist movement.”
Summing up, the SPLC staffer warned that “internet companies must do far more to combat extremism and hate. To stem the rise of hate and domestic terrorism, we are encouraging tech companies to respect people over profits.”
This testimony reveals the SPLC’s demonization strategy and should bolster the many defamation lawsuits that have been filed against the far-left smear group. In 2018, the SPLC paid $3.375 million to settle a defamation lawsuit from Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim anti-terror reformer whom it had branded an “anti-Muslim extremist.” Liberty Counsel, D. James Kennedy Ministries, the Center for Immigration Studies, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, and the American Freedom Law Center have sued over the “hate group” accusation.
According to Megan L. Meier, a partner at Clare Locke, the law firm that represented Nawaz in his lawsuit, “The SPLC’s ‘hate group’ accusation is a financial and reputational death sentence, effectively equating organizations to the KKK. No right-thinking person wants to be associated with the KKK, so the SPLC’s ‘hate group’ accusation is incredibly effective at shaming organizations and causing them to be shunned by donors, fundraising platforms, service providers, the media and others.”
Last March, the SPLC fired its co-founder amid a racism and sexism scandal that also involved former employees coming forward admitting they were “part of the con” — exaggerating hate in order to raise money.
While the SPLC presents its “hate group” accusations as unvarnished fact in media interviews and congressional testimony, it argues in court that the “hate group” accusation is a mere matter of opinion, protected under the First Amendment. Yet congressional testimony like this gives the lie to that idea.
“This is more of the same scam the SPLC has been running for years now,” John Rabe, director of creative production DJKM, told PJ Media on Thursday, referring to Brooks’ testimony. “While arguing before Congress that Bible-believing groups who oppose same-sex marriage and the transgender agenda ought to be lumped together with white nationalist terrorist groups, they argue behind the scenes in federal court that their ‘hate’ designations are actually meaningless—a mere matter of personal opinion.”
“The disingenuousness of this is staggering,” Rabe explained. “They want groups to be censored and banned in social media based on their designations while insisting to the courts that the designations are ‘not provable as false.'”
He summarized the SPLC’s strategy as “marginalizing and silencing conservative Christians by lumping them together with genuine terror groups. They specialize in guilt-by-association, and a gullible media–as well as all too many government agencies—unquestioningly accept their tendentious conclusions.”
“The terrible irony, of course, is that the SPLC’s defamatory ‘hate map’ actually inspired in a terror attack at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., making the SPLC more demonstrably dangerous than many of the groups they purport to expose,” Rabe argued, referring to a shooter who told the FBI that he targeted FRC because of the SPLC’s “hate group” accusation.
“They darkly warn that the rhetoric used by the groups they target could lead to violence—while employing rhetoric that literally inspired a terror attack. If the SPLC were truly concerned about rhetoric resulting in violence, they’d shut down their own ‘hate map’ and stop their campaign against Bible-believing Christians,” he concluded.
ACT for America Communications Director R.C. Maxwell slammed Brooks as an “aristocrat,” a reference to the SPLC’s wealth — millions of it held in offshore accounts.
“An aristocrat lobbying for Congress to pressure tech companies to remove the voice of Brigitte Gabriel, a Lebanese woman who migrated to this country, is merely further proof that the SPLC will never return to being a civil rights stalwart. Shame on Congress for pretending the SPLC has credibility,” Maxwell said.
Craig Parshall, founding director at the John Milton Project for Digital Free Speech at National Religious Broadcasters, told PJ Media, “The SPLC has a track record of irresponsibly labeling legitimate conservative advocacy groups and Christian ministries as ‘hate groups’ because their values are deemed to be politically incorrect. Its recent testimony in Congress shows that the SPLC is not only unapologetic for this trend, even worse, it wants to spread its ideological slander to Silicon Valley.”
“Big Tech does not need any more incentive to suppress conservative and Christian viewpoints. As our work through the John Milton Project for Digital Free Speech has proven, platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google already have an unhealthy appetite for suppressing opinions they don’t like,” Parshall concluded.
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, who has told PJ Media that more than 60 organizations are considering separate defamation lawsuits against the SPLC, said the recent testimony is one more piece of evidence that “the SPLC has no credibility.”
“The mission of the SPLC is to destroy those with whom they disagree by falsely lumping them in with violent groups,” he added.
While Lecia Brooks likely intended her testimony to support the SPLC’s efforts to silence “hate groups,” the testimony may provide crucial evidence in efforts to hold the far-left group accountable for its malicious smears.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.