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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."

"As the Supreme Court has recognized, being an illegal, unauthorized, or undocumented immigrant is not an 'immutable characteristic' since 'it is the product of a conscious, indeed, unlawful, action,'" the lawsuit explains, citing the 1982 case Plyler v. Doe. "Thus, SPLC has not even articulated a basis for designating CIS or any organization a hate group based upon its views on immigration policy."

"Even if being an immigrant were an 'immutable characteristic' the 'official statement of principles' of CIS does not indicate 'beliefs or practices' that 'attack or malign' immigrants as a 'class.' As posted on the CIS website, the mission of CIS is 'providing immigration policy makers, the academic community, news media, and concerned citizens with reliable information about the social, economic, environmental, security and fiscal consequences of legal and illegal immigration into the United States,'" the lawsuit explains.

Even CIS's motto, "Pro immigrant, low immigration," reflects the organization's commitment to immigration as a good thing in limited amounts.

"The SPLC has produced no evidence that the 'statements' of CIS 'leaders' or 'activities' of CIS reveal 'beliefs or practices' that 'malign or attack' immigrants as a class," the lawsuit continues. "The information that is provided by CIS on the consequences of immigration is ordinarily based on official federal government statistics."

Foster, the lawyer, noted that without the fundamental claim that being an illegal immigrant is an "immutable characteristic," the SPLC would have to "show that CIS makes official statements that malign or attack all immigrants. I just don’t know how they can show that."

CIS alleges that 13 separate articles on the SPLC's Hatewatch blog constitute wire fraud, since they name CIS as a "hate group" and were disseminated over the internet.

The lawsuit does not argue that the SPLC enriched itself by attacking the Center for Immigration Studies. "It doesn't have to obtain any money for itself to violate the wire fraud statute," Foster explained.

In order to prove wire fraud, CIS must show that the SPLC engaged in "false representation as part of a scheme to harm the plaintiff financially and that the plaintiff is damaged."

Foster told PJ Media that the next step is for CIS to formally "serve" the SPLC. Then the far-Left smear group would "have to answer the complaint or file a motion to dismiss it or something else."

While the lawsuit did not name a specific total in damages, it did ask for an injunction. "They would have to put on their website that CIS is not a hate group," Foster explained.

Unlike many lawsuits involving the SPLC, this RICO case only extends to 9 pages.

While Glen Allen's lawsuit seems a volley of legal claims, hoping that one or two well-reasoned arrows will hit home, the Center for Immigration Studies lawsuit is a scalpel, specifically crafted to deliver one irrefutable claim.

The SPLC has faced many other lawsuits over its "hate group" labeling. In June 2017, the Christian legal nonprofit Liberty Counsel sued GuideStar for falsely labeling them a "hate group" using the SPLC label. In August 2017, the Christian ministry D. James Kennedy Ministries sued the SPLC for defamation after AmazonSmile kicked the ministry off of its charity program.

Last June, the SPLC paid $3.375 million in a settlement after Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz filed a defamation suit. The group had branded Nawaz an "anti-Islamic extremist." The settlement encouraged about 60 other organizations to consider their own defamation lawsuits against the SPLC.

The Center for Immigration Studies is particularly important in this fight, as many of its analysts have joined the Trump administration. In 2017, CIS analyst Jonn Feere joined the division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In May 2018, Trump nominated Ronald Mortensen, a CIS fellow, as assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Immigration at the State Department.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.