On Wednesday, Lecia Brooks, the chief of staff at the scandal-plagued far-left smear factory the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), insisted that her organization “is not anti-Christian at all.” Brooks attempted to dismiss claims that the SPLC brands mainstream conservative and Christian organizations “hate groups,” listing them on a map with the Ku Klux Klan due to leftist bias and fundraising, not due to objective criteria.
Brooks testified at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on “Extremism in the Armed Forces.” She cited the current and former members of the military who had been arrested in conjunction with the Capitol riot and argued that the military must work to screen out extremists.
First Liberty Institute General Counsel Mike Berry also testified. He agreed that the military should exclude “true extremism,” but he warned against the weaponization of anti-extremism efforts to exclude conservative Christians or others with beliefs that the political class may demonize.
“We should reject any attempt to weaponize anti-extremism efforts against classes of people simply because those in authority disapprove of them,” Berry warned. “Instead, we should focus on eradicating true extremism from the ranks. By true extremism, I mean those who would use, threaten, or advocate violence to accomplish their objectives.”
Brooks claimed to agree with this definition, and insisted that the SPLC would not support excluding members of SPLC-accused “hate groups” from the military. Conservatives long familiar with the SPLC’s tactics will likely remain skeptical. Just by inviting Brooks to testify, the Democrats on the committee arguably tipped their hand about the true goal of the hearing — to weaponize anti-extremism efforts in exactly the way Berry feared.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) covered the matter concisely. “The entire purpose of this hearing is not what the chairman said. This is to gaslight the targeting of U.S. military patriots who do not share pre-approved politics. This is not about extremism, it is not about white supremacy, it is about woke supremacy,” Gaetz warned.
“It is about about converting the military from an apolitical institution to an institution controlled by the political Left,” he concluded.
Even the committee chairman, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), acknowledged conservatives’ fears on this issue. He asked Brooks to respond to these concerns.
“That’s the challenge we have when we go after extremism. You know, we … those of us on the Left, Democrats, tend to look at it and say if you’re part of white supremacist groups, the Ku Klux Klan, and all of that, that’s what we’re going after. And then on the other side, it’s like no, you’re just going after people who disagree with the liberal orthodoxy, Catholics, evangelical Christians, or whatever,” Smith said.
“How do you, when the Southern Poverty Law Center is going after extremism, how do you draw that distinction?” the chairman asked.
“Let’s be clear, the Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as an organization that based on their own official statements or principles and the statements of their leaders has beliefs and practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically based on their immutable characteristics,” Brooks responded. “So, the Southern Poverty Law Center is also a proud defender of the First Amendment.”
“To be clear, the Southern Poverty Law Center is not anti-Christian at all,” she insisted. “We identify people with our hate group list based on what they say and what they do. It has nothing to do with being against marriage equality, certainly there are hundreds of churches and institutions that are anti-marriage equality that are not on our hate group list.”
“And also, I would offer that the Southern Poverty Law Center recently did a staff survey and over 65 percent of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s staff identify as Christian,” Brooks added.
She then offered a definition of extremism from J.M. Berger: “Extremism refers to the belief that an in-group’s success or survival can never be separated from the need for hostile action against the out-group. … You should not conflate the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate census with a list of violent extremist groups.”
The SPLC’s staff may identify as Christian, but that does not change the fact that the SPLC routinely brands mainstream conservative Christian organizations “hate groups,” twisting the record in order to claim these organizations demonize LGBT people in a similar manner to the Ku Klux Klan demonizing black people.
During the hearing, many Republicans brought up concrete examples of the SPLC attacking conservatives and Christians.
Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) had technical difficulties with Zoom, but he mentioned that the SPLC “put out an extremist file on Ben Carson,” due in part to Carson’s belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. Brooks did not respond because Scott was unable to frame the entire question. The SPLC did later rescind its extremist file attacking Ben Carson, but in doing so, the organization still warned against his ideas.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) noted that the SPLC brands the American Family Association, the Family Research Council (FRC), and the American College of Pediatricians “hate groups” on the list with the Ku Klux Klan.
Brooks acknowledged the SPLC’s attacks on these groups, but she argued “It is not about being anti-LGBT… but about going out of your way to vilify segments of the population.” She further acknowledged that the “hate group” smear against the American College of Pediatricians is partially due to the college’s opposition to chemical castration for gender-confused children.
DesJarlais also noted that the SPLC has attacked conservative Jewish activist David Horowitz, branding his Freedom Center and its affiliates like JihadWatch “hate groups.”
“Let me just point out that oftentimes people point out groups that sound patriotic, sound religious, when in actuality those very groups who use these names or these titles also promote very hateful rhetoric,” Brooks argued.
DesJarlais asked her whether or not antifa is on the SPLC’s list.
“No, the definition for the Southern Poverty Law Center is about hateful rhetoric… Antifa is a political group that’s liloosely organized. They do not target any particular group or marginalize any particular group,” Brooks responded.
“I would argue that the American College of Pediatricians has not either,” DesJarlais responded. “Some of this is opinion, it’s not fact. There’s no room for violent extremism in the military whatsoever, [but] we need to use sources that are fair across the board. I think your organization kind of cherry-picks and chooses.”
Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) rightly noted that The Washington Post, The New York Times, Politico, and other outlets “skewered the SPLC for among other things, corruption, harassment, racism, and a widening credibility gap.” He also cited former SPLC employee Bob Moser, who described the SPLC’s hate accusations as “a highly profitable scam.”
Unfortunately, Fallon also asked Brooks whether or not the SPLC had accused the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) of being “hate groups.” While the SPLC did attack the American Legion in 2008 (accusing it of pushing nativist falsehoods), the claim that the SPLC branded these organizations “hate groups” traces back to the military satire site Duffel Blog.
Smith attacked Fallon for spreading “misinformation,” but Fallon wasn’t lying about the SPLC’s scandals or Bob Moser’s statements.
As I reported both here at PJ Media and in my book Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the SPLC fired its co-founder, Morris Dees, amid a decades-long sexual harassment and racial discrimination scandal. After Dees was fired, former employees came forward, admitting their complicity in the “con.” The SPLC’s “hate group” list not only exaggerates the number of “hate groups” by listing defunct or essentially non-existent groups along with the KKK, but it also tars the reputations of law-abiding mainstream conservative and Christian organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC), Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and ACT for America.
In 2012, a deranged man targeted FRC for a mass shooting, aiming to kill everyone in the building and place a Chick-fil-A sandwich by his victims’ heads. He told the FBI he targeted FRC because of the SPLC list. The SPLC has paid millions to settle defamation lawsuits, particularly one involving a Muslim reformer the SPLC branded an “anti-Islamic extremist.”
Brooks can claim the SPLC isn’t “anti-Christian” all she wants, but the organization’s record speaks for itself. The SPLC routinely demonizes conservative Christians who follow the Bible and disagree with same-sex marriage and transgender identity — two issues the SPLC loudly champions. Sadly, a broad swath of self-identified Christians have rejected the Bible’s clear moral standards on homosexuality (and much else, sometimes even including the Resurrection of Jesus Christ).
Self-identified “progressive” Christians may demonize conservative Christians just as much as atheists do. Until the SPLC stops demonizing conservative Christian organizations for their biblical stances on sexuality, Brooks will have to reassure many people that the SPLC is “not anti-Christian at all.”
The very fact she thought it was necessary to say that speaks volumes.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.