As rightful protests over George Floyd’s death have devolved into looting, vandalism, and arson in cities across America, President Donald Trump promised to hold the far-left agitators behind this violence accountable. He declared that America would designate antifa a domestic terrorist group. The far-left smear factory the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) leaped into action, defending the agitators and insisting that “right-wing” terrorism is the bigger threat. Worse, the group condemned police who are attempting to restore order for “punishing peaceful protest.”
“Police are obligated to protect those in the community, and punishing peaceful protest is a gross abuse of human rights,” the SPLC tweeted on Monday.
Police are obligated to protect those in the community, and punishing peaceful protest is a gross abuse of human rights.
— Southern Poverty Law Center (@splcenter) June 1, 2020
Yet the far-left group went further, issuing a strong condemnation of Trump’s domestic terrorism designation of antifa.
“President Trump’s tweet offers further criminalization as a response to mourners and protesters demonstrating against abuses of police power. It is dangerous and unjust,” SPLC’s Hatewatch declared in a statement on Monday.
The SPLC gave a very favorable definition for antifa.
“Antifa, short for anti-fascist, is a broad, community-based movement composed of individuals organizing against racial and economic injustice,” the statement read. “Those who identify with the label represent a large spectrum of the political left. The Trump administration frequently uses the term to describe any group or individual that demonstrates in opposition to its policies. Far-right extremists use similar tactics.”
The SPLC statement minimized the looting and riots, admitting that “individuals loosely affiliated with antifa are typically involved in skirmishes and property crimes at demonstrations across the country, but the threat of lethal violence pales in comparison to that posed by far-right extremists — a problem that, until the last year, federal authorities virtually ignored.”
The “skirmishes” and “property crimes” have caused millions of dollars in damage — Sacramento’s mayor estimated $10 million, damage in Atlanta has been estimated at between $10 and $15 million. An estimated 50 businesses and properties were damaged in Pittsburgh, with similar numbers in Seattle (50 businesses), Chicago (45 properties), and Madison, Wisc. (75 businesses).
This damage carries a deeply personal toll as well as an economic one. A black business owner in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died and where the riots began, broke into tears explaining that the riots destroyed his life savings and his economic opportunity. A black woman in Philadelphia, Pa., urged police to stop the riots, saying, “We need some security on this land NOW! Not tomorrow, not later.”
The SPLC is also wrong to downplay the “threat of lethal violence” from antifa “skirmishes.” These types of “skirmishes” in Portland left victims of antifa violence with permanent scars. Journalist Andy Ngo has been hospitalized after receiving a beating. Local conservative Adam Kelly had his head busted open with a baton. He suffered a concussion and needed 25 stables to close the wounds. Gage Halupowski, an antifa agitator, pled guilty to second-degree assault and was sentenced to 70 months in prison for the violence.
Last July, 69-year-old Willem Van Spronsen threw “incendiary devices” at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Tacoma, Wash. Police killed him, but not before he ignited a car and tried to get a propane tank to explode, ironically endangering the lives of the very immigrants he intended to help. “I am antifa,” Van Spronson said in his manifesto. The group Seattle Antifascist Action hailed this terrorist as a “martyr.”
“When our good friend and comrade Willem Van Spronsen took a stand against the fascist detention center in Tacoma, he became a martyr who gave his life to the struggle against fascism,” the antifa group posted on Facebook.
These “skirmishes” have not claimed the same kind of body count as racist terrorists like the man who shot up a black church in Charleston in 2015 or terrorists like the El Paso shooter — whose anti-immigrant hatred was matched by his own environmental extremism. Yet despite the SPLC’s continual insistence that these terrorists are “right-wing,” these terrorists have few to no connections with conservative groups.
While the SPLC often argues that its list of accused “hate groups” is a statistically-significant measure for the threat of white supremacist terrorism, it has failed to connect any such terrorist attack to the organizations it “monitors,” especially mainstream conservative and Christian groups like the Family Research Council (FRC), Alliance Defending Freedom, ACT for America, or the Center for Security Policy.
In fact, former SPLC staff have exposed a hate-for-pay scheme at the center of the SPLC’s “hate group” accusations. As I documented in my book Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the “hate group” strategy grew out of the SPLC’s lucrative attacks on a true hate group, the Ku Klux Klan. Yet after the SPLC had bankrupted groups like the KKK, it turned to smear ever more mainstream organizations. The “hate group” accusation the SPLC leveled against the conservative Christian nonprofit FRC actually inspired an attempted terrorist attack in 2012.
The SPLC has continued its accusations despite facing multiple defamation lawsuits. The smear factory has also turned against Trump, mentioning the president no fewer than 66 times in its “hate group” report for 2019, released at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Naturally, the SPLC insinuated that Trump’s decision to designate antifa a domestic terrorist group was racist.
“The move by the president is an unprecedented and alarming development with significant implications for the civil liberties of U.S. citizens, particularly those of color, who are already disproportionately policed. The designation would grant federal law enforcement broad powers, under the federal terrorism code, to surveil and investigate anyone labeled as antifa. It could also allow federal law enforcement to broadly target anyone involved in protests viewed unfavorably by the Trump administration, even retroactively,” the SPLC argued.
Yet antifa groups encourage white activists to instigate riots and violence, specifically attempting to protect black or minority supporters by encouraging them to avoid situations where they might be seen as the instigators.
Ironically, the SPLC went on to compare the designation of antifa to the FBI’s 2017 report on “Black Identity Extremists.” The far-left organization condemned this “euphemism” as “an attempt to criminalize a broad set of organizations and grassroots movements advocating for the human rights and civil liberties of black people — most notably Black Lives Matter.”
Yet the SPLC made no mention of Micah Xavier Johnson, a black sniper who murdered five police officers in Dallas in 2016. He told police he was upset by recent police shootings and “wanted to kill white people.” Most of the protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement have nothing to do with this kind of terrorism and murder. Yet the SPLC ignores this key act of terrorism in its condemnation of the 2017 report, brushing these murders under the rug just as it brushes the devastating toll of antifa violence under the rug.
The SPLC has fed information to antifa groups, and its activism on Confederate monuments arguably helped stoke the anger that led to the Charlottesville riots in 2017. In fact, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN), an SPLC analog in Canada founded with a grant from the SPLC, is more blatant in carrying water for antifa. CAHN’s executive director has described himself as “anti-fascist” and he has defended antifa violence as “defensive in nature.”
The SPLC may not have any connection to the riots and destruction spreading across America, but its decision to carry water for the instigators behind these riots is disgusting. Its insinuation that police are “punishing peaceful protest” by putting down destructive riots is utterly beyond the pale.
During the riots, “peaceful” protesters have shot police and one even attempted to run over police officers with his SUV. Americans should condemn the police brutality in the death of George Floyd — and both Republicans and Democrats have done so, including President Trump. But police actions to quell a destructive rioting mob are not a “gross abuse of human rights,” and no civil rights organization should condemn officers who are putting their lives on the line to protect the lives and property of black residents.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.