Amid the racism and sexism scandal roiling the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), former employees have revealed the far-left smear factory’s list of “hate groups” as a cynical fundraising scam. Last year, the SPLC paid $3.375 million to settle a defamation lawsuit involving similar accusations. Now more than 60 organizations falsely accused of being “hate groups” are mulling lawsuits, and at least one lawsuit will come as soon as this summer.
Former SPLC employee Bob Moser described “the annual hate-group list” as “a valuable resource for journalists and a masterstroke of Dees’s marketing talents; every year, when the center publishes it, mainstream outlets write about the ‘rising tide of hate’ discovered by the S.P.L.C.’s researchers, and reporters frequently refer to the list when they write about the groups.” According to The Progressive‘s John Egerton, SPLC co-founder Morris Dees “viewed civil-rights work mainly as a marketing tool for bilking gullible Northern liberals.”
Current Affairs Editor Nathan J. Robinson slammed the “hate map” as an “outright fraud,” a “willful deception designed to scare older liberals into writing checks to the SPLC.”
These admissions are not just interesting — they could also help falsely accused “hate groups” formulate a powerful legal defense against the far-left smear factory.
“If you’re admitting that it’s done for purposes of fundraising, false, and intended to deceive older liberals, you’ve basically admitted all the elements of a Lanham Act and a defamation claim,” Daniel Schmid, litigation counsel at the falsely accused Christian law firm Liberty Counsel, told PJ Media.
The SPLC has dodged defamation lawsuits by claiming its “hate group” accusations are merely a matter of opinion, protected as free speech under the First Amendment. Yet demonstrably false statements leveled with malicious intent to destroy someone’s reputation constitute defamation, and these new admissions bolster a legal case against the smear factory, Schmid argued.
“Knowing that you’re lying to trick northern liberals, you’ve admitted that your statement is false,” the Liberty Counsel lawyer said. “You know you’re lying to them in an effort to get money.”
Furthermore, “it’s not really an opinion because you say to news outlets and to your liberal donors, ‘This is a fact,'” Schmid added. In fact, the claim is a false allegation. “If you look back historically, hate groups were violent. That’s not what Liberty Council does. They advocate for a viewpoint you disagree with. That’s not espousing hate.”
The “hate group” smears have caused real damage to mainstream conservative and Christian organizations. In 2012, a terrorist used the smear factory’s “hate map” to target the Family Research Council (FRC), aiming to kill everyone in the building and place a Chick-Fil-A sandwich by their heads. Amazon exiled “hate groups” from its charity program, Amazon Smile, leading D. James Kennedy Ministries to file a lawsuit. The SPLC has asked social media companies to exclude “hate groups” from their platforms, and Michigan’s Department of Civil Rights started a “hate crimes unit” based off of the SPLC accusations.
Another key admission came in 2007 and was unearthed in 2017. Former SPLC spokesman Mark Potok said, “I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, completely destroy them.”
“Those two coupled together are basically an admission that it’s defamation,” Schmid argued. He predicted an increase in defamation lawsuits against the far-left smear factory.
In fact, Liberty Counsel is in constant communication with about 60 organizations falsely accused of being “hate groups,” and many more “call all the time about this.” He estimated that about 3 or 4 new organizations call every month.
Liberty Counsel itself will file a lawsuit against the SPLC in coming months. “I’m pretty sure Mat [Staver] is very close to one for Liberty Counsel. At some point, I believe we’ll file one,” Schmid said. “I’d be shocked if we didn’t have one in the summer.”
Falsely maligned groups are not limited to defamation claims against the SPLC. Schmid suggested another strategy — pursuing false advertising claims under the Lanham Act.
“The admission that it’s a fundraising ploy will get you closer to Lanham Act actions,” he predicted. In a Lanham Act case, “you have to prove the speech is commercial. If you’re admitting you’re trying to raise money, that’s commercial.”
Liberty Counsel lost a Lanham Act lawsuit against the charity navigation website GuideStar, suing the site for adopting the SPLC’s “hate group” accusations. With the recent revelations, however, a Lanham Act suit should gain traction. “I think the Lanham Act claim has new life against the SPLC,” he said.
Other law firms have also reported being approached by falsely accused “hate groups” seeking representation for a defamation lawsuit. Clare Locke LLP, the law firm that got the SPLC to settle a defamation lawsuit filed by Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz last year, has reported being “inundated with calls.”
“The First Amendment does not bar defamation claims against the SPLC based on statements that are demonstrably false and defamatory,” Megan L. Meier, a partner at Clare Locke, told PJ Media. “For example, we at Clare Locke LLP negotiated a $3.375 million settlement for Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz because the SPLC had falsely accused him of being an anti-Muslim extremist who promotes ‘hate-based violence’ and ‘criminal hate violence’ against Muslims, when in reality, Mr. Nawaz has repeatedly spoken out against anti-Muslim violence and profiling.”
“After our unprecedented victory was announced and the SPLC publicly apologized to Mr. Nawaz, we were inundated with calls from organizations that wanted our expertise in evaluating potential defamation claims,” Meier recalled.
While Clare Locke has not yet taken up any defamation case, Meier explained how a falsely accused “hate group” could win an SPLC lawsuit the same way Nawaz did.
“The SPLC’s ‘hate group’ accusation is a financial and reputational death sentence, effectively equating organizations to the KKK,” Meier argued. “No right-thinking person wants to be associated with the KKK, so the SPLC’s ‘hate group’ accusation is incredibly effective at shaming organizations and causing them to be shunned by donors, fundraising platforms, service providers, the media, and others. Shaming and shunning are hallmarks of what makes a statement ‘defamatory’ under the common law.”
The Clare Locke partner had to admit that the SPLC has mounted strong (but potentially ultimately futile) defenses against similar claims. “Nevertheless, the SPLC has had some success in arguing that its ‘hate group’ accusation is protected by the First Amendment. It remains to be seen whether the SPLC will ultimately win the day on that question or whether organizations that have been damaged by false accusations will be given their day in court,” she concluded.
Like Clare Locke and Liberty Counsel, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC), which is suing Michigan for discrimination over the “hate crimes unit,” has also been approached for representation on a potential defamation case.
David Yerushalmi, AFLC’s founder and senior counsel, told PJ Media, “We’ve had lot of organizations and people come to us asking us to sue the SPLC for defamation.” He said they turn these people away because they’re hesitant to take up defamation claims.
When Michigan announced its “hate crimes unit,” it relied on the SPLC’s “hate group” accusations, which were falsely applied against AFLC. Yerushalmi noted “coordination” between the media and the SPLC, and warned that if evidence emerges that Michigan was coordinating with the group, the AFLC lawsuit will pursue the SPLC directly.
“If there is in fact coordination and it rises to the level of conspiracy, you bet we’ll go after the Southern Poverty Law Center,” he told PJ Media. “If an organization conspires with the government, it becomes a state actor and is subject to suit just like the government is.”
He also emphasized the SPLC’s massive war-chest and its offshore accounts. “The only reason people park money overseas is to hide it from the IRS,” Yerushalmi said. “But a nonprofit has no reason to put money overseas, because it’s not subject to taxation.” The SPLC is likely hiding funds because its leadership is “trying to hide from government agencies the fact that individuals are utilizing those nonprofit corporate funds for personal purposes.”
The maintenance of these offshore accounts could be “a violation of federal money laundering statutes,” which means Michigan’s attorney general might be conspiring with an organization violating federal law.
ACT for America, another organization falsely accused of being a “hate group,” told PJ Media it is considering legal actions against the SPLC.
“We are happy to see that the Southern Poverty Law Center is now being exposed for the deceitful and highly political organization we have known them to be,” Thomas Hern, national grassroots director at ACT for America, told PJ Media. “For years the SPLC has gone unchecked with their slanderous labels and we hope that this exposure will force a widespread denouncement of their once great organization.”
“The reckless behavior and blatantly defamatory actions of the SPLC has put our organization’s employees and members, including myself, in danger of radical leftist retaliation,” Hern argued. He noted the 2012 gunman’s attack on FRC. “Thankfully this attack was thwarted, but the actions of the SPLC have put thousands of conservatives employed by these ‘hate groups’ in grave danger for far too long.”
“With that being said, we are currently in the process of exploring all legal actions that we can take against the SPLC and look forward to sharing more details about this in the future as our decision materializes,” Hern concluded.
ACT for America is a large and influential nationwide organization focusing on national security issues like radical Islamic terror, border security, support for Israel, and more. The SPLC has accused it of being an “anti-Muslim hate group,” and it launched three attacks against the organization recently. The SPLC rushed to slam ACT for America for one egregious poster it did not approve, then the far-left smear group personally attacked a chapter president in Pennsylvania, and then it seems the SPLC may have been behind Eventbrite’s decision to kick ACT for America off its platform.
The SPLC also accuses Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) of being an “anti-LGBT hater group.” ADF has won 9 Supreme Court cases in 8 years, and even its ideological opponents with the ACLU and the atheist group Military Religious Freedom Foundation have denounced the SPLC’s false accusation.
“It is time for the media, major corporations, and big tech companies to cut ties with the SPLC once and for all,” Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel and vice president of U.S. advocacy and administration at ADF, told PJ Media. “Today’s SPLC has zero credibility and its ‘making hate pay’ business model should be rejected. Whether or not this opens the SPLC to future lawsuits, it is clear this group has defrauded the public for long enough.”
Tedesco argued that “the SPLC has outlived its purpose. Today’s SPLC is a corrupt fundraising scheme that capitalizes on fear by mixing legitimate societal concerns with baseless allegations against its ideological opponents. The media commits journalistic malpractice when it cuts and pastes the SPLC’s unfounded allegations and lies as fact.”
“The SPLC owes its donors and the public a detailed accounting of the allegations of misdeeds being made against it – in many instances by its current and former employees,” the ADF lawyer added. “The current scandal at the SPLC is devastating. I sympathize with the victims who have had to endure what appears to be an internal atmosphere marked by harassment, bigotry and discrimination.”
ADF did not say whether or not it was considering a lawsuit. Another falsely accused “anti-LGBT hate group,” the Ruth Institute, is not considering legal action.
“The Ruth Institute has no plans for a lawsuit of any kind at this time,” Jennifer Roback Morse, founder of the Ruth Institute, told PJ Media. She did, however, sign an open letter to the media, urging news outlets and companies to drop the “anti-Christian and morally bankrupt” SPLC. “As an organization unjustly labeled a ‘hate group,’ the Ruth Institute is delighted to see commentary from across the political spectrum calling out the SPLC’s irresponsible and immoral conduct.”
Morse also noted that the SPLC has a 15-person staff producing “intelligence reports” on organizations like hers. “I want those individuals to know that I wrote much of my material with them in mind,” she told PJ Media. “I ask myself, ‘How can I explain God’s design for marriage and sexuality in a manner that will touch a person like this?'”
In addition to D. James Kennedy Ministries, Baltimore lawyer Glen Keith Allen, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, and the Center for Immigration Studies have sued the SPLC. As of yet, only Maajid Nawaz is known to have forced the SPLC to settle a defamation lawsuit.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.