Tracing the Roots of the Left's New Domestic 'War on Terror'

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

In the wake of the Capitol riot on January 6, Democrats who looked the other way when Black Lives Matter and antifa thugs wreaked havoc in American cities over the summer suddenly got religion on the threat of political violence. In fact, Democrats have drafted legislation to combat domestic terrorism and some of them have not been subtle about the targets of budding new government surveillance.


Former CIA Director John Brennan warned against an “unholy alliance” including “religious extremists, authoritarians, fascists, bigots, racists, nativists, and even libertarians” that “looks very similar to insurgency movements that we’ve seen overseas.” These remarks came amid leftist calls for “deprogramming,” “de-Baathification,” “re-educating,” and “reprogramming” the 75 million people who voted for Trump.

Even Democrat former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has vocally warned against leftists “who are trying to undermine our constitutionally-protected rights and turn our country into a police state with KGB-style surveillance.”

It seems some on the Left want to launch a new domestic “War on Terror” aimed at silencing dissent from leftist orthodoxy in the name of fighting terrorism. They blame former President Donald Trump for inciting the Capitol riot and see conservatives as a potential Trump insurgency. Where would they have gotten such an idea?

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One fairly prominent organization on the Left has been demonizing conservatives for decades, connecting them with the most notorious domestic terror organization in U.S. history, the Ku Klux Klan.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a once-noble civil rights organization that still does some good work, has nonetheless weaponized its history in bankrupting groups like the Ku Klux Klan to brand mainstream conservative organizations “hate groups.” The SPLC puts conservative and Christian organizations on a “hate map” with offshoots of the KKK and cites its list of “hate groups” as if it were a statistically-significant measure of the threat of white supremacist terrorism.


In fact, the SPLC has also seized on Trump, mentioning him no fewer than 66 times in its 2019 list of “hate groups,” published in March 2020. The SPLC also carried water for antifa during the riots this summer.

In my book, Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center, I trace how the SPLC expanded its Klanwatch program to start defaming organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC)Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF)ACT for America, the Center for Security Policy (CSP), and many more as “hate groups,” putting them on a “hate map” with the KKK. This “hate map” inspired a deranged man to target the Family Research Council (FRC) for a mass shooting in 2012.

Big Tech, corporate America, and even government officials have used the SPLC “hate group” list to target and blacklist conservative organizations. Amazon has excluded mainstream conservative Christian nonprofits from its charity program, Amazon Smile, due to the SPLC accusation. Then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) even compared ADF to the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot.

The SPLC claims to be exposing “hate” against certain classes of individuals, but it often uses the “hate group” accusation as a tool to demonize dissent from the Left’s orthodoxy. Organizations that support a biblical sexual ethic are demonized as “anti-LGBT hate groups.” Groups that warn against radical Islamist terrorism are branded “anti-Muslim hate groups.” Groups that fight illegal immigration are branded “anti-immigrant hate groups.”

The All-Out Assault on Conservative Thought Has Just Begun

Yet the SPLC has skeletons in its closet. In 2019, the SPLC fired its co-founder, had its president step down, and had a prominent member of the board distance herself. The scandal broke out due to accusations of racial discrimination and sexual harassment, some of which had gone on for decades. Amid the scandal, former employees came forward to expose the “con” of exaggerating hate to bilk donors.

The SPLC’s allies appear largely to have ignored the scandal. This smear factory organization still enjoys broad influence on the Left and in corporate America.

I think the SPLC’s tactics have inspired Democrats’ new domestic “War on Terror.” Not only have Democrats cited the SPLC’s “hate group” accusations, but they have done so in a way that echoes the kind of surveillance state Brennan hinted at.

In 2019, Attorney General Dana Nessel (D-Mich.) targeted conservative groups in her announcement launching a new “hate crimes” unit. Nessel condemned “hate groups” in Michigan, referencing the SPLC’s “hate map.”

Throughout the Trump years, at least eight Democratic senators cited the SPLC to condemn Trump’s nominees. Kamala Harris, now Biden’s vice president, attacked Trump judicial nominee Allison Rushing for participating in ADF events.

Biden himself has arguably demonized conservative Christians who oppose LGBT activism. In 2018 at an LGBT activist group, he attacked people who have “tried to define family” in the U.S. as “the dregs of society.” At the CNN LGBT town hall in October 2019, Biden called for a kind of terror watchlist to monitor organizations that oppose same-sex marriage and transgender identity. Biden firmly supports the Equality Act, which would outlaw discrimination against LGBT people. While Americans do not support discrimination, laws like this have been weaponized to punish Christians for refusing to celebrate same-sex weddings.


On the campaign trail, Biden said he plans to prioritize passing a law against domestic terrorism. His blatant double standard in vocally condemning the Capitol riots while coddling the antifa and Black Lives Matter rioters who burned cities this past summer does not bode well for a balanced implementation of any terrorism law.

If he does indeed implement a domestic “War on Terror” targeted at conservatives in the way Brennan suggested, such a policy would echo the SPLC’s demonization tactics. In fact, the SPLC may have inspired it.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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