News & Politics

Did the SPLC Just Admit Its 'Hate Group' Number Isn't a Reliable Measure of Hate?

The Southern Poverty Law Center's 2020 "hate map." SPLC website screenshot.

On Monday, the far-left smear factory the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released its annual list of “hate groups” for the previous year, in this case, 2020. The SPLC had to acknowledge that the list of “hate groups” declined, but the organization insisted that “hate” had not declined, so its “hate groups” are of limited value when it comes to measuring hate. This admission comes after years of accusations — from former employees, mainstream conservatives, and some liberal leaders — that the “hate group” number is inflated or a fundraising scam.

The SPLC claimed to identify 838 active hate groups in 2020. “Though numbers have dropped 11% overall, we are still recording historic highs,” the organization claimed. “In 2015, the numbers jumped from 784 to 892, and they have remained well above 800 for the duration of the Trump presidency.”

The SPLC insisted that hate did not decrease in 2020, even though the number of “hate groups” supposedly did. “It is important to understand that the number of hate groups is merely one metric for measuring the level of hate and racism in America, and that the decline in groups should not be interpreted as a reduction in bigoted beliefs and actions motivated by hate,” the report states (emphasis added).

Susan Corke, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, also insisted that the decreasing “hate group” number did not reflect a decrease in hatred.

In an interview with CBS News, Corke noted that the “hate group” number has dropped, but she added, “We can see that hate has not dropped in this country this past year.”

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She argued that the discrepancy traces back to “a real change in the landscape for how these groups are operating. They’re moving away from traditional organizational structures and toward diffuse systems of decentralized radicalization. That really presents new challenges to us in stemming the tide of violence.”

Corke argued that “hate” in America has become “more of a social movement now than an environment of official hate groups.” The Ku Klux Klan, the quintessential white supremacist terrorist hate group that arguably defines the term “hate group” in the minds of most Americans, has become too toxic. Corke noted that the SPLC claimed to identify only 25 KKK groups, down from previous years.

While the SPLC admitted its “hate group” tally represents “merely one metric” for hate, it presented two other statistics suggesting hate is on the rise. The report cites August 2020 polling that supposedly revealed that “29 percent of Americans personally know someone who believes that white people are the superior race.” The exact wording of the question remains unclear, and it seems the poll measures Americans’ mistrust for one another more than actual racism. The SPLC also pointed to another metric: 4,900 extremist flyering incidents, most of them expressing white nationalism.

Such flyering incidents are chilling, but they are also suspect. As Corke noted, flyering is anonymous by nature, and it would be difficult to prove that all of these incidents were not pranks. Any white nationalist intimidation efforts are disgusting, but the very nature of flyering suggests that American society at large rightly abhors white nationalist ideas, leading proponents to resort to desperate and anonymous measures like this.

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The SPLC’s Intelligence Project began as Klanwatch, part of the SPLC’s effort to expose and bankrupt the Ku Klux Klan and related groups. As I note in my book Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the SPLC began as a noble civil rights organization focused on helping people and only later became an attack dog against the true hate group, the KKK. When co-founder Morris Dees took the SPLC in this direction, the entire legal team resigned en masse because they wanted to represent people in need rather than target the KKK, which many of them saw as a paper tiger even in the 1980s.

Dees, a master fundraiser, realized that attacking the Klan drew media attention and large donations to the SPLC. As the Klan and white supremacist groups faded, the SPLC looked for fresh fields to conquer, and started monitoring an ever-expanding list of “hate groups.”

Dees, who had fundraised for the George McGovern campaign in 1972 and used the campaign’s donor list to bring left-leaning donors to the SPLC, began to transform his organization into a political attack dog. The SPLC began the decades-long legal attack on pro-life activist Joe Scheidler, using the same legal tactics it brought against the KKK to silence its political opponents.

Many of the SPLC’s 838 “hate groups” are mainstream conservative and Christian organizations that define marriage as between one man and one woman, warn against the threat of radical Islamist terrorism, support the enforcement of immigration law, or publish gospel tracts.

The list includes the Family Research Council (FRC)Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF)ACT for America, the Center for Security Policy (CSP), Chick Publications (which publishes gospel tracts), the World Congress of Families, and more. While ACT for America dissolved its chapter model years ago, the SPLC lists ACT for America as 31 separate “hate groups.” Liberal leaders like former ACLU President Nadine Strossen and Military Religious Freedom Foundation President Mikey Weinstein have officially objected to the SPLC’s “hate group” accusation against ADF.

Putting these organizations on a list with the KKK has brought real harm. This “hate map” inspired a deranged man to target FRC for a mass shooting in 2012. While the SPLC rightly condemned the attempted shooting, it kept FRC on the list. Last month, someone exploded a bomb in a church that is on the SPLC “hate group” list.

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It seems SPLC employees know that demonizing conservative groups by including them alongside the KKK will harm them. Indeed, a former spokesman said the group’s “aim in life” is to “completely destroy” the organizations it blacklists.

The SPLC also has skeletons in its closet. In 2019, 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 racial discrimination and sexual harassment, some of which had gone on for decades. Amid the scandal, former employees came forward to expose the “con” of exaggerating hate to bilk donors.

Indeed, some of the “hate groups” are just comical.

For years, the SPLC included one man’s small store in Kennesaw, Ga., on the list of “hate groups.” Wildman’s Civil War Surplus and Herb Shop hardly qualifies as a menacing “hate group” on the march, but that did not stop the SPLC from publishing a shocking report in 2017 detailing how the local community “embraced” the hateful sole proprietor of this dangerous “group” — the man appeared in a community performance of The Nutcracker, back in 2002!

Wildman’s Civil War Surplus and Herb Shop no longer appears on the list, but CarolynYeager.net, which appears to be a blog run by one woman named Carolyn Yeager, still features on the list.

Despite the SPLC’s padding the list with “groups” that barely exist, chapters of organizations listed as separate “hate groups,” and conservative groups falsely branded “hate groups,” many media outlets, tech companies, and Democrats consider the list reliable.

Amazon has excluded any organization on the SPLC list from its charity donation platform, Amazon Smile. Companies like EventbriteHyatt HotelsChase Bank, and others have blacklisted mainstream organizations that found themselves on the SPLC’s list. ProPublica threatened to get Google to stop hosting websites of SPLC-accused “hate groups.” In 2019, Michigan state officials launched a “hate crimes unit,” citing the SPLC’s annual report on “hate groups.”

SPLC staffers have testified before Congress, asking the government and Big Tech to silence “hate groups” and acting as though the “hate group” tally is a statistically-significant measure of the threat of white supremacist terrorism.

The media, Big Tech, Democrats, and Americans, in general, should pay close attention to the SPLC’s admission that its “hate group” tally does not represent an accurate measure of hate in America. This admission underscores the fact that many of the SPLC’s accusations are corrupt, politically motivated, and untrustworthy. Americans would do well to reject them.

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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