Earlier this week, Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz along with his organization the Quilliam Foundation won a $3.375 million settlement from the Southern Poverty Law Center for falsely accusing him of being an “anti-Muslim extremist” years ago. The SPLC also issued a formal apology for their grave error.
It was the right thing to do, though it took far too long for them to do it.
But a strange thing has happened in the past several days. The people gloating about this settlement the most aren’t atheists who also criticize Islam or even Nawaz himself. It’s leaders on the Religious Right, who have hated the SPLC for years, ever since they dubbed various right-wing or alt-right organizations “hate groups.”
On Wednesday, 48 of those groups signed a letter urging government agencies and news outlets to sever all ties with the SPLC. We’re talking about leaders of groups like Liberty Counsel, the Illinois Family Institute, the American Family Association, Alliance Defending Freedom, and others.
Journalists who uncritically parrot or cite the SPLC’s unfounded characterizations of those it reviles do a profound disservice to their audiences.
Editors, CEOs, shareholders and consumers alike are on notice: anyone relying upon and repeating its misrepresentations is complicit in the SPLC’s harmful defamation of large numbers of American citizens who, like the undersigned, have been vilified simply for working to protect our country and freedoms.
Let’s be clear about one thing: The SPLC made a huge mistake with Nawaz. They also haven’t apologized to Ayaan Hirsi Ali for declaring her “anti-Muslim.” (She never sued.) The organization needs to take a longer, deeper look at how it makes these claims and what evidence they cite to back them up.
But their mistakes on those fronts doesn’t mean they’re wrong about everything. Up until Nawaz came along, the SPLC’s designations were fairly accurate. They don’t stick a “hate” tag on every right-wing group in existence. They don’t just do it for groups that are anti-abortion or anti-LGBTQ rights or else every evangelical megachurch in the country would be on the list.
The “hate group” designation only applies to groups that openly hate an entire class of people, even when they have to lie about them to justify the bigotry.
So why is the American Family Association a “hate group”? The SPLC quoted some of the group’s leaders:
“Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.”
— Bryan Fischer, AFA director of issue analysis for government and public policy, 2010
“If President Obama, Congressional Democrats, and homosexual activists get their wish, your son or daughter may be forced to share military showers and barracks with active and open homosexuals who may very well view them with sexual interest.”
— AFA press release, February 2010
“As with smoking, homosexual behavior’s ‘second hand’ effects threaten public health….Thus, individuals who choose to engage in homosexual behavior threaten not only their own lives, but the lives of the general population.”
— Gary Glenn, president of Michigan chapter of AFA, 2001
Yet in a Washington Post article by Marc A. Thiessen, he echoes the argument that everyone should stop citing the SPLC, arguing that they have spent years “smearing good people with false charges of bigotry.”
The SPLC is a once-storied organization that did important work filing civil rights lawsuits against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. But it has become a caricature of itself, labeling virtually anyone who does not fall in line with its left-wing ideology an “extremist” or “hate group.”
That’s a lie. Again, your local evangelical church probably doesn’t hold many left-wing ideologies. But they’re likely not on the SPLC’s radar. There’s a difference between disagreement and hate.
Thiessen cites a number of cases in which people have attacked organizations and individuals labeled as hateful, as if the actions of unruly mobs are the fault of the SPLC for calling a spade a spade. That’s unfair. No one is suggesting violence is the answer, least of all the SPLC; the purpose of the list is to make the public aware of groups that go above and beyond in their condemnation of various other people.
The SPLC, like every group, makes mistakes. They should be called out for that, and they need to do a much better job of responding to legitimate rebuttals. They failed to do that with Nawaz. They continue failing in the case of Hirsi Ali — I wouldn’t even consider donating to them until they clear that up, and you shouldn’t donate to them either.
But don’t let conservatives use the SPLC’s mistake to trick you into thinking they don’t deserve to be called “hate groups” after years of outrageous statements and outright bigotry.
It’s a very Trumpian thing to do, really. When journalists make mistakes, even when they immediately apologize for it, Donald Trump uses the opportunity to say the entire media is fake.
They’re all out to get him… unless they say how wonderful he is.
That’s what these conservative groups are doing, attempting to gaslight the world into forgetting all the nasty things they’ve said in the past and continue to say. We need organizations like SPLC calling them out — but with more transparency about their process and a better method for hearing reasonable rebuttals.