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$3M Settlement: SPLC Apologizes for Branding Muslim Reformer an 'Anti-Muslim Extremist'

On Monday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced that it had settled a lawsuit filed by Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz and his nonprofit, the Quilliam Foundation. The SPLC offered Nawaz a sincere apology and awarded his foundation $3.375 million as a settlement.

"We would like to extend our sincerest apologies to Mr. Nawaz, Quilliam, and our readers for the error, and we wish Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam all the best," SPLC President Richard Cohen said in a statement.

The SPLC published its "Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists" in 2016, listing Nawaz for an ever-changing list of reasons. The left-wing group first falsely claimed Nawaz had called for "an outright ban on the niqab," or veil. This first charge disappeared from the website, and Quilliam accused the SPLC of "reverse engineering their justification to keep Maajid Nawaz on their list." The SPLC later justified attacking him because he visited a strip club for his bachelor party.

Worse, the Islamist Muslim owner of the strip club who leaked the story to the press said he wanted to punish Nawaz for "being an atheist." The SPLC, Quilliam argued, was "acting like religious police."

"I've memorized half of the Quran, I am a Muslim, I am born and raised a Muslim, I learned classical Arabic, I've spent time in prison," Nawaz declared last year, shortly after announcing his lawsuit. "You know who else lists heretics? The jihadists. We know what happens when you list heretics among Muslims in this way: They end up dead."

In a statement, the Muslim reformer highlighted the connection between the SPLC and James Hodgkinson, the Bernie Sanders supporter who shot Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) last summer. Hodgkinson had "liked" the SPLC on Facebook, and the SPLC had repeatedly tarred Scalise.

In 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins III broke into the Family Research Council (FRC), aiming to kill everyone in the building. He admitted to targeting the FRC because the SPLC listed it as an "anti-gay group" on its "hate map."

The SPLC has not apologized to FRC or to Steve Scalise. Even so, the apology to Nawaz proved quite notable.

"The Southern Poverty Law Center was wrong to include Maajid Nawaz and the Quilliam Foundation in our Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists," Cohen said. "Since we published the Field Guide, we have taken the time to do more research and have consulted with human rights advocates we respect."

Coehn went on to even praise the man his organization had branded an "anti-Muslim extremist." "We’ve found that Mr. Nawaz  and Quilliam have made valuable and important contributions to public discourse, including by promoting pluralism and condemning both anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamist extremism. Although we may have our differences with some of the positions that Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam have taken, they are most certainly not anti-Muslim extremists," he said.

When the SPLC reconsidered marking Nawaz an "anti-Muslim extremist," the group heard from human rights advocates affiliated with the United Nations "who emphasized that Mr. Nawaz’s work combatting extremism 'is actually analogous to that of the SPLC over the years in the South.'" Indeed, the SPLC gained fame for suing notorious racist terror groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

In the past few decades, however, the SPLC has begun marking mainstream groups as "hate groups" on par with the Ku Klux Klan. It has marked mainstream conservative groups as "hate groups" because they oppose same-sex marriage, and last year, 47 nonprofit leaders denounced the SPLC's "hate list" in an open letter to the media. The SPLC has admitted that its "hate group" list is based on "opinion," and that it intends to "destroy these groups completely."

In another statement Monday, the SPLC apologized not just to Nawaz and Quilliam, but to "our supporters and all those who depend on our work."

"We pride ourselves on the accuracy of our reports and, although we know we are not perfect, it pains us greatly whenever we make a mistake," Cohen said in this second statement. "As we move forward, we are committed to redoubling our efforts to ensure that our work is always carried out with the utmost care and integrity. The stakes in the battle against hate and extremism are simply too great to be satisfied with anything less."

Indeed, the stakes involving "hate and extremism" are high, as the terror attacks arguably inspired by the SPLC suggest.

The SPLC and Cohen deserve thanks for this apology, but it should merely be the beginning. Many groups the SPLC still maligns as "hate groups" — by twisting 30-year-old claims no longer held by such organizations — deserve a similar apology. Cohen should apologize to FRC and to Scalise for starters, and then to other groups like Alliance Defending Freedom, the Ruth Institute, and even the Roman Catholic Church.

Please, Mr. Cohen, keep building on your good start. After all, you said you would not be "satisfied with anything less."