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Immigration Group Files RICO Lawsuit, Wire Fraud Claims Against SPLC

On Wednesday, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) filed a RICO lawsuit against the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), accusing the SPLC of engaging in wire fraud to prop up a conspiracy designed to destroy CIS. The lawsuit seeks a judgment that would prevent the SPLC from falsely labeling CIS a "hate group." President Trump has hired CIS analysts for important roles in his administration.

Howard Foster, CIS's attorney in the case, told PJ Media that the plan to hit SPLC with a racketeering charge went back months, before Baltimore attorney Glen Allen filed his lawsuit for $6.5 million also under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and other statutes.

"We actually sent a copy of this complaint to the SPLC before we filed it, a couple of months ago," Foster, a RICO lawyer, told PJ Media in an interview on Wednesday. "We told them that we were going to file it unless they removed us from their 'hate group' list."

"They essentially told us to go pound sand," Foster recalled.

The lawyer admitted that bringing RICO charges in a civil suit is "difficult," but he insisted "I think here there is a good RICO case."

Federal law "defines racketeering activities as a whole big group of federal and state statutes," Foster explained. "To falsely call CIS a 'hate group' is to commit wire fraud over the internet. And it’s a false statement meant to cause financial harm."

In addition to the SPLC, the lawsuit names Intelligence Project Director Heidi Beirich and SPLC President Richard Cohen. The two defendants "decided to designate CIS as a hate group knowing CIS did not meet SPLC's definition of a hate group," the lawsuit alleges.

The suit also quotes the former editor in chief of the SPLC's Intelligence Report, who said the organization's aim in marking "hate groups" was "not trying to change anybody's mind" but "trying to wreck the groups ... and destroy them." Former SPLC spokesman Mark Potok made similar statements in 2009.

CIS claimed the false label did their organization concrete damage. In 2018, Amazon.com's charity program AmazonSmile removed the Center for Immigration Studies, citing the SPLC label, an action the group claims cost them at least $10,000. Also according to the lawsuit, the charity navigation website GuideStar put the "hate group" marking on CIS's profile on its website in 2018. I reported that GuideStar marked out SPLC-labeled "hate groups" in 2017, removing the labels later that year.

The lawsuit hinges on the claim that CIS does not fit the "hate group" definition. The SPLC defines a "hate group" as "an organization that — based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities — has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics."