In the aftermath of the violent protests fueled by racist ideology in Charlottesville, compiling a list of hate groups is a laudable project, an important initiative that might educate and serve the public. However, a brief look at CNN’s list reveals a major problem: lumped together with legitimate hate groups such as the Klu Klux Klan are Christian public policy and religious liberty advocacy organizations, including one that won a 7-2 decision at the Supreme Court earlier this summer.
In fact, the “fake news” basis of the article is evident within Dakin Andone’s first two sentences. Andone writes, “917. That’s the number of hate groups operating in the US, according to data from the Southern Poverty Law Center.”
Thus, without reading further the glaring problem with CNN’s list is clear- its’ reliance on data from the widely discredited Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) which recklessly demonizes groups that disagree with their progressive and liberal policy positions. SPLC has a history of inflammatory rhetoric directed against conservative and religious organizations. In fact, even liberal commentators have noted SPLC’s longstanding bias toward conservatives. Alexander Cockburn (a liberal writer for The Nation) has described SPLC leaders as the “archsalesmen of hatemongering.”
Further, SPLC has been linked to the 2012 attempted mass murder at the Washington D.C. office of the Family Research Council (FRC). The assailant, Floyd Corkins II revealed to FBI authorities that he was motivated by the “Hate Map” prominently featured on SPLC’s website that listed Family Research Council as a “hate group.”
Despite SPLC’s association with the 2012 FRC attempted murder and their utter lack of objective criteria to evaluate “hate groups,” CNN and other media organizations continue to lend credibility to the SPLC by citing them as a credible source. This is despite admissions from SPLC leadership that the organization’s primary objective is not really identifying hate groups. Mark Potok, Senior Fellow at SPLC, who has been with the organization since 1997 admitted once in an interview, “Our criteria for a ‘hate group,’ first of all, have nothing to do with criminality or violence of any kind… It’s strictly ideological.” He added, “I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, to completely destroy them.”
Following this weekend’s deadly protests where white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and Klu Klux Klan supporters provoked clashes with counter protesters that left one woman dead and several injured, it is important to identify hateful ideologies and groups that perpetuate them. However, equating Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, and the American Family Association with ninety-one local chapters of the Klue Klux Klan is dangerous and reckless, and invites escalating violence against conservative and religious groups whose only “crime” is dissenting from the liberal orthodoxy held by a few dozen Alabama liberals.
CNN prefaced their list of “hate groups” with this explainer about the SPLC: “The Alabama-based nonprofit activist group tracks civil rights and hate crimes and defines a hate group as an organization with ‘beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.’”
Interpreted within the guidelines of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, SPLC’s definition of a hate group as an organization with “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people” would be helpful, and could provide criteria for evaluating actual hate groups. However, it is clear that SPLC’s understanding of “immutable characteristics” extends to the contested categories of gender identity and sexual orientation. Because of this, conservative organizations and Christian ministries are categorized as “hate groups,” despite holding the belief about human sexuality and marriage that Christians, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims have held for millennia.
In short, CNN’s reliance on the Southern Poverty Law Center is reckless because it demonizes mainline conservative and Christian groups, rendering the designation “hate group” meaningless. There are legitimate hate groups in America, organizations that should be identified and marginalized because their ideology is hateful and has no place in civilized society. However, organizations and ministries that advocate for the sanctity of marriage, the family, and religious liberty have nothing to do with the racists who triggered this weekend’s tragic events. For CNN to imply otherwise is the epitome of “fake news.”