Joe Biden may not yet be president, but it seems the military may already be considering a policy banning servicemembers from activities sponsored by conservative and Christian organizations. Last week, Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller acted on a report from the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Diversity and Inclusion Board. Among other things, the board recommended that official policy “prohibit extremist or hate group activity,” citing the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on the influence of “hate groups” in the military.
This should ring alarm bells for conservatives familiar with the SPLC’s antics.
The Diversity and Inclusion Board’s report recommended the DoD “prohibit extremist or hate group activity.” To that end, Miller directed the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to “review current policy, laws, and regulations concerning active participation by Service members in extremist or hate group activity and develop a report, with recommendations, concerning initiatives to more effectively prohibit extremist or hate group activity.”
The undersecretary will issue the report by March 31, 2021, for review by June 30. Neither Miller’s order nor the board’s report laid out a definition of the term “hate group,” although both documents noted the interagency working group on countering violent extremism. Most worrisome, the board’s report cites the SPLC and Heidi Beirich, a former SPLC staffer who co-founded the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.
“Further research is needed to adequately address the ways in which extremist ideologies and organizations infiltrate the military and DoD civilian communities,” the report states, citing SPLC testimony about white supremacy in the military.
In that testimony, SPLC staffer Lecia Brooks noted, “Each year since 1990, we have conducted a census of hate groups operating across America, a list that is used extensively by journalists, law enforcement agencies and scholars, among others.”
While Brooks mentioned some very terrifying incidents of white supremacists in the military, her testimony frequently cited the SPLC’s list of “hate groups” as a significant measure of the threat of white supremacist terrorism. “In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented the largest number of active hate groups – 1,020 — since it began its annual census of these groups in 1990,” she said, without noting that white nationalist groups represented a small proportion of the SPLC’s “hate groups.”
She also faulted the Senate for removing a mention of “white nationalists” from the military enlistment screening process, claiming that this omission was significant when “officials with clear sympathies for white nationalist ideology are allowed to serve in the White House, hate groups have reached historic numbers, and mass killings are taking place at the hands of white supremacists.”
As I explained in my book Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the SPLC has leveraged its history in bankrupting white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan to brand its ideological opponents as “hate groups” and to raise millions through fearmongering about their influence. Many of the “hate groups” on the SPLC’s list barely exist at all, and many more have found themselves demonized for opposing the SPLC’s leftist ideology.
Conservative and Christian groups have found themselves on a list with the KKK because they defend biblical sexuality, oppose illegal immigration, and warn about the threat of radical Islamist terrorism. Even fellow liberals have condemned the SPLC’s “anti-LGBT hate group” accusation against Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative Christian law firm that has won multiple Supreme Court cases.
The SPLC’s accusations have serious consequences. A deranged man attempted to kill everyone at the Family Research Council (FRC) in 2012 because of the SPLC’s “hate group” accusation. The SPLC condemned the shooter but continues to brand FRC a “hate group.”
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.
Yet many companies and news organizations use the SPLC to blacklist “hate groups.” Acting on the SPLC’s supposed credibility, Amazon has excluded mainstream conservative Christian nonprofits from its charity program, Amazon Smile. The event managing site Eventbrite blacklisted a mainstream conservative national security nonprofit, ACT for America, citing the SPLC’s accusation that it is an “anti-Muslim hate group,” because it warns against radical Islamist terrorism. Hyatt Hotels did the same. Last year, The New York Times, the Miami Herald, and the Tampa Bay Times repeated SPLC talking points against ACT for America and successfully pressured Mar-a-Lago to cancel a gala with the conservative group.
PJ Media reached out to the DoD and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), asking how they define “hate group” and whether they consider the SPLC’s hate group accusations reliable. DoD spokespersons did not provide a definition, and DHS did not respond to PJ Media’s requests for comment.
“The Board’s charter directed it to produce a report focused on actions to enhance racial/ethnic diversity and inclusion,” DoD Spokesperson Lisa Lawrence told PJ Media. “On December 17th, the Secretary took measures to implement the Board’s recommendations. In particular, the Secretary directed a review of current policy, laws, and regulations concerning active participation by Service members in extremist or hate group activity and development of a report, with recommendations, concerning initiatives to more effectively prohibit extremist or hate group activity.”
“The report is to leverage the ongoing efforts of the interagency working group on extremism. The Department has not yet begun this review, but its review will be informed by the data and definitions used by the interagency task force, led by the Department of Homeland Security, concerning the whole-of-government approach to countering violent extremist activity,” Lawrence added.
PJ Media reached out to DHS, requesting the interagency task force’s definition of “hate group” and asking whether or not the task force finds the SPLC reliable. DHS did not respond to PJ Media’s requests for comment.
It stands to reason that the military would implement policies to screen out white supremacists, white nationalists, and those who belong to racist terror organizations like the KKK. However, if the military relies on the SPLC to implement such a policy, it may end up preventing servicemembers from engaging with conservative and Christian organizations that are nothing like true hate groups.
Conservatives need to be vigilant about this policy, especially considering an incoming Joe Biden administration. The SPLC has no business dictating what organizations must be off-limits for the men and women in uniform.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.