Southern Poverty Law Center Gets Creative to Label ‘Hate …

In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center designated the Family Research Council a hate group because of its orthodox position on homosexuality, and its occasionally incendiary defenses of that position.

In 2012, Floyd Corkins showed up at the Family Research Council headquarters with a gun.

I dont mean to imply that these two things were connected. I’m telling you that they were connected. We know because the shooter told the FBI where he got the idea.

Conservatives have used this to try to discredit the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups. But the sad truth is that if you criticize someone, theres always some small chance that an unstable person will read your criticism and decide its subject needs killing. The shooting is still not the fault of the writer, but the fault of the shooter.

(Just in case it helps, I interrupt this column to point out that you should not shoot anyone I write about, or anyone I dont write about, or anyone.)

Also, you dont need to manufacture ersatz accountability in order to discredit the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate group tally. You just need to tell people whats on the list.

Some of the groups named are what anyone would think of as a hate group, like, you know, the Ku Klux Klan. But other entries are a festival of guilt-by-association innuendo about people with at best a tangential relationship to the target institution, and whose statements fall well short of blanket group-calumny or calls for violence. Or the center offers bizarrely shifting rationales that suggest that the staff started with the target they wanted to deem hateful, and worked backward to the analysis.

I spent a day diving down the rabbit hole of one of the listings on the hate group, for the Ruth Institute, a small nonprofit that thinks the sexual revolution was a giant mistake. The Ruth Institute does seem to have a couple of marginally attached figures who have at some point theorized an unsupported connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. But however wrongheaded and insulting this may be, by itself, it hardly merits branding the whole organization a hate group. And a lot of the other evidence for this designation is simply well, fully deserving of those contemptuous quotation marks.

Let’s look at how the center justified dubbing the Ruth Institute a hate group:

If misspeaking in a radio interview, quoting the Vatican and promoting articles like these on your nonprofits blog are what now earn a spot alongside the Klan on a list of hate groups, then it may be time for the Southern Poverty Law Center to close up shop, because their work is largely done.

Unfortunately the center’s hate group designation remains extremely influential. Recently, a payment servicer cut off the Ruth Institute because of that “hate group” label. This piqued my interest, because I knew Morses work on liberty and the family from long before the gay marriage debate dawned on the political horizon. Id always found it interesting and thought provoking, and I was surprised to see her lumped in with Holocaust deniers and white supremacists. My astonishment seems to have been well-founded.

Hate group is, of course, not a scientific term with a precise definition. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s entries do highlight a lot of language about various groups that may not strike me as the equivalent of Klan rhetoric, but does make me uncomfortable. And who am I to say that discomfort is a better characterization than hate speech? In criticizing them, am I not committing the same sin of which I accuse the SPLC, trying to leverage my platform to curtail speech I dont like through unofficial censure?

Well, yes, indeed, the SPLC has a perfect right to decide what they mean by hate group.

Unfortunately, it also has an incentive to apply this term broadly. When people see that the SPLC lists over 900 hate groups — 900! — this seems like good reason to panic. And maybe write a check to the SPLC.

Even fairly large institutions that theoretically have ample resources to investigate the SPLCs list often rely on it, to their detriment. CNN published the list under the headline Here Are All the Hate Groups Active in Your Area, then had to alter the story upon realizing that this was effectively joining the SPLC in branding local churches and conservative nonprofits as hate groups. Guidestar, which rates nonprofits, added the SPLC designations to its listings, then had to make an embarrassing volte-face when conservatives called them out. Given the increasing tendency of powerful tech companies to flex their muscle against hate groups, we may see more and more institutions unwittingly turned into critics or censors, not just of Nazi propaganda, but also of fairly mainstream ideas.

Thats not just a problem for the groups that will be burdened when the hate group label is slapped on them; its also a problem for the rest of us. The broader the definition, the more Americans will be swept up under that label, and the less sustainable it will be. If media and other institutions use the label, they will discredit themselves with conservative readers and donors. Worse still, those readers and donors will be unable to reliably discern the actual hate groups that still exist.

For exist they do. They are tiny relative to the population, they are marginal, and they have little power. As political scientist Justin Murphy says, overt racism likely appears larger than it is, especially to progressives, precisely because it has never been less common in American history, making the few die-hards stand out in sharp relief. The same is probably true of other hateful isms. But even a handful of hate group members is too many, and it would be useful to have data on their numbers. Instead, were getting data that tells us little about the problem of hate groups, and a whole lot about the SPLCs agenda and fundraising.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story: Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net

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Southern Poverty Law Center Gets Creative to Label ‘Hate …

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October 17, 2017   Posted in: Southern Poverty Law Center |

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