News & Politics

Fact Check: Did KKK-Style 'Hate Groups' Receive $4M in PPP Funds?

SPLC website screenshot of its 2019 "hate map."

The CARES Act, a stimulus package to help Americans struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, established the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help small businesses retain employees during and after COVID-19 lockdowns. Last week, NBC News claimed that no fewer than 14 “hate groups” received $4.3 million in forgivable loans from PPP. While the NBC News report did highlight one especially noxious group on the list, it largely relied on the biased and corrupt Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to smear mainstream conservative organizations as “hate groups.”

The SPLC, which gained national notoreity (and millions in donations) for bankrupting organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, expanded its “Klanwatch” program to smear its political and ideological opponents as “hate groups.” The SPLC’s history gives the accusation undue weight, and the SPLC repeatedly uses the “hate group” accusation to suggest mainstream conservative groups pose a danger to society similar to the racial terrorism perpetrated by the KKK.

“It is simply unconscionable that the federal government would give taxpayer dollars to organizations that openly advocate against LGBTQ people and immigrants, and those connected to white supremacy. This administration is putting its rubber stamp on the vile ideologies these groups espouse by giving them forgivable federal loans,” Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the SPLC, said in a statement on the NBC News report.

“SPLC has long fought to eliminate white nationalism, to expand inclusive anti-discrimination protections, and to reinvigorate our values as a diverse, welcoming, and compassionate nation. We will not stand idly by as these hate groups try to take our money to help spew their hate. Every American of good conscience should be outraged,” she added.

As in this statement, the SPLC repeatedly leans in to the association between “hate groups” and white supremacist terrorism. In January, the SPLC’s Lecia Brooks demanded that the federal government and Big Tech take action to censor “hate groups” based on the idea that the SPLC’s list of “hate groups” is a statistically-significant measure of the threat of white supremacist terrorism.

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Yet most of the organizations the SPLC accuses of being “hate groups” have nothing to do with racism, much less white supremacy.

For instance, only one of the accused “hate groups” in the NBC News report is openly racist. The New Century Foundation, which published the now-discontinued white supremacist magazine American Renaissance, reportedly received $51,600 in PPP funds. Jared Taylor, who for decades argued that immigration policy should aim to “keep the country white,” runs the organization.

It is indeed a scandal that this white supremacist group received even a cent, but none of the other organizations on the NBC News list comes close to The New Century Foundation, which itself is a far cry from the KKK.

The bulk of the money went to mainstream conservative organizations that the SPLC wrongly smears as “hate groups.”

For instance, the American Family Association (AFA), a conservative Christian group the SPLC brands an “anti-LGBT hate group,” received $1,390,800 in PPP funds. AFA fights culture war battles, mobilizing petitions against Target’s transgender bathroom policy, for example. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an immigration restrictionist group that the SPLC brands as an “anti-immigrant hate group,” received $683,680.

Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian law firm that has represented pastors facing discriminatory COVID-19 restrictions, received $428,100 in PPP funds. The SPLC has branded Liberty Counsel an “anti-LGBT hate group.” Liberty Counsel unsuccessfully sued the charity navigation website GuideStar after GuideStar added SPLC “hate group” accusations to its pages on various nonprofits, including Liberty Counsel. The organization is working with others falsely branded “hate groups” that plan to sue the SPLC for defamation.

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The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a conservative non-profit that fights illegal immigration and which the SPLC brands an “anti-immigrant hate group,” comes fourth on the NBC News list, having received $364,900 in PPP funds. Church Militant, a conservative Christian group the SPLC has branded an “anti-LGBT hate group,” received $301,100 in PPP loans. The Center for Security Policy (CSP), a national security nonprofit the SPLC has branded an “anti-Muslim hate group,” received $288,200 in PPP funds. The David Horowitz Freedom Center, which the SPLC has branded an “anti-Muslim hate group,” received $265,700 in PPP funds.

These seven groups account for $3.7 million of the $4.3 million in the NBC News report, and not a single one of them is white nationalist or white supremacist. In fact, the SPLC has attacked most of them because they advocate policies the SPLC opposes, such as restrictions on immigration, religious freedom for people who define marriage as between one man and one woman, and policies to fight against radical Islamist terrorism. Each of the “anti-Muslim hate groups” gladly works with Muslim reformers to fight radical Islamism.

Six of the seven remaining organizations are similar. The Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative law firm the SPLC demonizes as an “anti-LGBT hate group,” received $159,000 from PPP. The Clarion Project, an anti-extremism group that the SPLC brands an “anti-Muslim hate group,” received $127,100. The Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM), a conservative Christian group the SPLC brands an “anti-LGBT hate group,” received $117,100.

The Ruth Institute, a small Roman Catholic charity dedicated to helping the victims of the Sexual Revolution that the SPLC brands an “anti-LGBT hate group,” received $37,084 from PPP. The American College of Pediatricians, a group of conservative pediatricians who rightly warn against experimental transgender “treatments” for children, received $18,558. The Remembrance Project, an anti-illegal immigration group based in Texas which the SPLC demonizes as an “anti-immigrant hate group,” received $15,600.

Thirteen of the 14 “hate groups” that NBC News and the SPLC were outraged to find on the PPP recipient list are not hate groups at all, but conservative or Christian organizations that oppose the SPLC’s far-left policy agenda. The SPLC has weaponized its history in fighting the KKK and related groups to smear these political opponents in a rote form of defamation.

NBC News reported that Church Militant, C-FAM, and the American College of Pediatricians disputed what NBC News characterized as their “hate group status.” Yet the outlet did not deign to print any arguments against the SPLC’s smears.

Last year, the SPLC fired its co-founder, had its president step down, and had a prominent member of the board distance herself. The scandal broke out due to accusations of (decades-old) racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Amid the scandal, former employees came forward to expose the “con” of exaggerating hate to bilk donors.

The SPLC’s false accusations of “hate” have inspired at least one attempted terrorist attack. A man tried to kill everyone at a conservative Christian nonprofit due to the SPLC’s “hate group” accusation, intending to shoot everyone in the building and place a Chick-fil-A sandwich by his or her head.

My book, Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center, explains how the SPLC transformed from a noble civil rights organization into a far-left smear factory and why it is not a reliable arbiter of “hate.”

The $4.2 million in PPP loans that AFA, FAIR, Liberty Counsel, CIS, Church Militant, CSP, David Horowitz Freedom Center, the Pacific Justice Institute, the Clarion Project, C-FAM, the Ruth Institute, the American College of Pediatricians, and the Remembrance Project received is a drop in the bucket of the more than $525 billion in loans that the PPP has approved. This sum also represents a drop in the bucket compared to the $80 million that 37 Planned Parenthood affiliates received. Other leftist groups also received PPP funds, including Media Matters, which received $1.12 million.

Rather than relying on a scandal-plagued smear factory like the SPLC, NBC News should examine PPP recipients according to their actual policies and beliefs. It is a scandal that the New Century Foundation received $51,600 in PPP loans, but it is not a scandal that conservative and Christian nonprofits the SPLC falsely smears as “hate groups” received loans to keep their employees on payroll during the pandemic.

Perhaps the real scandal is that these conservative groups received an order of magnitude less cash than Planned Parenthood affiliates did.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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