Did you know a practicing Muslim and a peaceful former Muslim concerned about terrorism were “anti-Muslim extremists”? Or how about the idea that a prominent black woman who teaches law and fights white nationalism was really “an apologist for white supremacists”? Did you know the “matriarch” of a vast “anti-Indian movement” in the United States was actually a Cherokee Indian married to an Indian? Or that “more than half of white Americans” have “anti-black attitudes”? You probably never would have guessed that numerous women, including self-described feminists, were really advocates of “a hateful ideology advocating for the subjugation of women,” would you? And you almost certainly never would have guessed that evangelical Christians, Catholics, and Orthodox Jews are examples of “religious extremism,” alongside al Qaeda and Hamas…. Right?
If all of those claims sound beyond absurd to you, you’re not alone, obviously. But despite sounding like they might have come from an alternative universe, those wild claims have nevertheless been made in recent years by what was once viewed as a highly influential organization — a group that still seeks to influence police and government agencies all across America. Meet the Southern Poverty Law Center, the self-styled “civil rights” organization that expects law enforcement professionals and others to believe such absurdities — and even to act on them. More than a few experts across the political spectrum have actually warned that it is the SPLC that threatens America, and not just because a convicted terrorist cited the group as its inspiration.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 edition of the Law Enforcement Intelligence Brief by the Law Enforcement Charitable Foundation.
With a war chest approaching half of a billion dollars, the SPLC has become an incredibly powerful machine. But the facts are still the facts, and the SPLC is not known for sticking to them. In fact, the organization has developed a reputation as a money-making scam that traffics in lies and innuendo to demonize conservatives, at best — or a dangerous anti-Christian “hate group” that openly praises and inspires murderous terrorists and cop killers at worst. Even many voices on the far left side of the political spectrum, with whom the SPLC would seem to have much in common, have started denouncing the organization in growing numbers. There are good reasons for the increasing suspicion and hostility toward the SPLC.
But despite declining credibility, the SPLC retains significant influence. From creating controversial materials that are used on children at public schools, to establishing a newly revealed partnership with video-hosting giant YouTube to censor Christian and conservative content, to its work seeking influence over government agencies, the Alabama-based “non-profit” has a broad reach. However, as the group becomes increasingly extreme and smears an increasingly broad segment of the mainstream American population, the SPLC’s reputation as a fringe attack group with a hatred of Christians and conservatives is likely to solidify. In the meantime, great damage is being done to innocent people.
Among the many examples of the SPLC’s antics that have been pounced on by critics in recent years was the group’s now-infamous “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists.” Published in December of 2016, the SPLC guide argues that America is becoming a bastion of anti-Muslim hate. And the hatred is fueled by “propaganda” coming from a “network of anti-Muslim extremists and their enablers.” According to the SPLC, these anti-Muslim haters go on TV and write in newspapers, where they “routinely espouse a wide range of utter falsehoods, all designed to make Muslims appear as blood-thirsty terrorists or people intent on undermining American constitutional freedoms.” It all sounds pretty scary. Until one actually reads the report.
The SPLC list includes 15 people, mostly journalists, researches, and academics, who have been sounding the alarm about what they view as the threat to the West from radical Islam. None of the targets identified by the SPLC are considered violent, and most are actually very mainstream. They include Daniel Pipes, founder of the Middle East Forum; Walid Shoebat, a former Islamic jihadist who converted to Christianity; David Yerushalmi, a lawyer and Hasidic Jew who opposes Sharia (Islamic) law; former FBI agent John Guandolo, who educates law enforcement and policymakers on what he considers to be the threat of Islamist terrorism; and more. In many cases, the SPLC cites factual statements the alleged “extremists” have made as evidence of their supposed extremism.
But some of the names on the list sparked worldwide criticism and ridicule. Consider, for example, Maajid Nawaz, a former jihadist turned moderate Muslim activist and politician who works to counter the violent Islamic narratives spread by extremists such as ISIS and al Qaeda. Incredibly, the SPLC listed him as one of its top “Anti-Muslim Extremists” in the world. Among the evidence of his anti-Muslim extremism: his opposition to the wearing of a full veil in identity-sensitive public locations in the West such as courts and airports, his post of a cartoon with Jesus and Mohamed that the SPLC complained many Muslims see “as blasphemous,” and his assertion that non-violent Islamists share the same ideology as violent Islamists even if they disagree on tactics.
Nawaz ridiculed the SPLC for its smear. “A bunch of first-world, comfortable liberal Americans who are not Muslims have decided from their comfortable perch to label me, an activist who is working within his Muslim community to push back against extremism, an anti-Muslim extremist,” he was quoted as saying. “I learned Arabic in order to read my holy book. In an Intelligence Squared debate, I defended the proposition that Islam was a religion of peace. This was the same week that the man who attempted to bomb Times Square was sentenced so it wasn’t the friendliest New York audience. I hosted Morgan Freeman in a mosque for his documentary The Story of God.”
But like others on the list, Nawaz says the SPLC actually put his life in danger by so labeling him. “They’ve put a target on my head,” he told a reporter after the SPLC report came out. “This is what putting people on lists does. When Theo Van Gogh was killed in the Netherlands, a list was stuck to his body that included [fellow SPLC-designated anti-Muslim extremist] Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s name. It was a hit list. When Bangladeshi reformers were hacked to death by jihadist terrorists, they were working off lists. Only fascists produce lists.” In a troubling example of the danger, a convicted terrorist told the FBI in 2012 that he used the SPLC’s “hate map” to select his intended victims.
The SPLC’s extremism has gotten so out of control that the New York Times, which even liberals admit is a liberal publication, allowed a response to the group’s “Anti-Muslim” smear operations. On August 24, 2017, the paper published an opinion piece by former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a black woman and self-described feminist who serves as a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Because the Somalia-born activist sounds the alarm about Islamic extremists such as al Qaeda and ISIS, and Islamic extremism generally, she found herself labeled an “anti-Muslim extremist” as well. While the SPLC includes moderate, non-violent victims of Islamism such as Hirsi Ali on its hit list, she noted, it has no list of Muslim extremists — many of whom actually do use violence and terror against innocent people.
In her Times’ opinion piece, Hirsi Ali argued that “the S.P.L.C. is an organization that has lost its way, smearing people who are fighting for liberty and turning a blind eye to an ideology and political movement that has much in common with Nazism.” That ideology, she said, is Islamic extremism — a totalitarian and deeply hateful ideology that Hirsi Ali says has victimized millions, primarily in Muslim nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria. She slammed as a “travesty” the SPLC’s targeting of those “who speak up for the civil rights of Muslims.”
“Muslims today cannot freely debate the role of their religion in most Muslim-majority countries, where the charges of heresy or apostasy can mean a death sentence or a lynch mob,” Hirsi Ali concluded in her piece chastising the SPLC and the large corporations that fund it. “Here in the West, too, free discussion of Islam is getting harder not least because Islamic organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations pounce on any criticism of Islam, branding it ‘hate speech,’ the modern word for heresy. Unwittingly or not, the S.P.L.C. is abetting Islamic extremists by branding critical thinkers like Mr. Nawaz and me ‘extremists.’”
The Tablet, a prominent Jewish publication, ridiculed the SPLC list as a “blacklist of prominent writers whose opinions on a range of cultural and political issues are offensive to the SPLC.” Digging a little deeper into the list of 15 alleged “Anti-Muslim Extremists,” who are listed as haters by the SPLC alongside genuine haters such as the Ku Klux Klan or neo-Nazis, revealed that the group had truly gone off the deep end, critics said. “The SPLC document is simply an enemies’ list, of the kind that fascists, Stalinists, and other totalitarian thinkers can’t help producing,” the Tablet continued. The writer, Lee Smith, went on to criticize the SPLC for “aggressively defending the kind of violent supremacists it had once sought to prosecute, and attacking types like Nawaz it had once defended against violence.”
After being threatened with a lawsuit, the SPLC appears to have quietly removed its report from its website. But the damage had already been done.
The SPLC does believe there is some religious extremism, though. In fact, it emerged that the Obama administration’s Defense Department was using SPLC propaganda on U.S. troops. In one especially outrageous example, a PowerPoint presentation used by the Obama DOD on “religious extremism” even included a list of examples. On that list were al Qaeda and Hamas, two officially designated Islamist terrorist organizations, as well as the KKK. Also on the list, though, were Evangelical Christians, Catholics, and Orthodox Jews. While the SPLC tried to distance itself from the scandal, the presentation and the presenter listed the SPLC as the source of the information.
If Muslims can be “Anti-Muslim Extremists,” it may come as no surprise that the SPLC imagines a vast supposed “Anti-Indian” movement — led by an actual Indian. In the Spring 2016 issue of its “Intelligence Report,” the SPLC ran a piece headlined “Seeing Red” that purported to uncover a vast network of “anti-Indian activists.” Calling American Indians “weak,” the SPLC piece described “violent hostility” that is “our original hatred.” But now, the nefarious “organized anti-Indian movement” has a new tactic: they speak of “equality,” the SPLC said, with the term “equality” supposedly being a code word for hate.
The ostensible leader of all this, a gentle woman named Elaine Willman, is described as “the silver-haired matriarch” of the “Anti-Indian” movement. The SPLC quotes her concerns as she outlined them at a conference put on by the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance, “arguably the most important anti-Indian group in the nation,” the SPLC said, adding that Willman, the former leader of CERA, was still on the board. In particular, the SPLC was outraged by CERA and Willman speaking about the United Nations and the UN Agenda 21, a global sustainability program that critics say threatens private property rights, national sovereignty, and self-government. The SPLC falsely characterized Agenda 21 as a “conspiracy theory,” despite the fact that the UN program, signed by then-President George H.W. Bush, can be downloaded straight from the UN’s website.
In the whole 1,500-plus word “intelligence” report, the author fails to mention a single time that the “anti-Indian” leader — the “matriarch” of the whole “anti-Indian movement” — is actually an Indian of Cherokee ancestry. Her husband is also an American Indian, and is, in fact, a direct descendant of Sacajawea, arguably America’s most famous Indian. In addition to being an Indian, Willman is an activist in favor of equal rights without regard to race, as she emphasizes repeatedly in her book Going to Pieces: The Dismantling of the United States of America. All she wants is for everyone to be treated equally by the government regardless of their race, which the SPLC imagines is part of some secret conspiracy.
The SPLC’s omission of those crucial fact is typical of how the organization attempts to mislead law enforcement, donors, the media, and the public at large. After all, who would believe that there was a big scary anti-Indian movement in need of fighting if they knew that the movement for equal rights was actually led by an Indian married to an Indian who openly proclaims her love for all things Indian? In comments to the media afterwards, Willman also highlighted a number of other blatant factual errors and misrepresentations contained in the SPLC report, which were not corrected as of April of 2018. Incredibly, the group’s report even concludes by suggesting that Willman and the movement she ostensibly leads is “implicit” white nationalist.
Anti-Women Women; White Supremacist Blacks
In its quest to find ever more haters lurking under every bed, the SPLC has also created new categories of “Hate Groups” and “hate.” One of the relatively new additions to the hate list is known as “Male Supremacy.” According to the SPLC, which added the category in 2018, Male Supremacists vilify women based on their gender. “The vilification of women by these groups makes them no different than other groups that demean entire populations, such as the LGBT community, Muslims or Jews, based on their inherent characteristics,” the SPLC report claims, without delving into the question of whether homosexuality or transgenderism are actually inherent characteristics, or how being a “woman” and being able to choose one’s gender can both be inherent characteristics simultaneously.
Delving deeper into the new “hate” category it identified, the SPLC paints a scary, if imaginary, picture of a vast underworld of women haters. “Driven by a biological analysis of women as fundamentally inferior to men, male supremacists malign women specifically for their gender,” the SPLC said. “Their thinly veiled desire for the domination of women and their conviction that the current system oppresses men in favor of women are the unifying tenets of the male supremacist worldview.”
In the “Male Supremacy” category, the SPLC listed two websites as “hate groups” that had not been previously included in its hate list. Both are what is known as “men’s rights” advocates, which essentially argue that feminism has gone too far, that promiscuity is wrong, and that patriarchy is superior to what has come to be known as “women’s liberation.” One of the website operators targeted by the SPLC, Daryush Valizadeh of the site Return of Kings, ridiculed the SPLC, saying “there’s already a perfectly good word for ‘male supremacy’ which you happen to lovingly support: Islam.” But on a more serious note, he blasted the group for using a “mountain of lies” to “shut down speech that goes against their far-left agenda.”
As if to confirm the arguments of critics, though, the SPLC went on to attack allegedly anti-women women as well. “Women, too, have helped give the men’s rights movement a veneer of even-handedness,” the SPLC said in its description of the new “hate” categorization. “Prominent MRAs [Men’s Rights Activists] also include anti-feminist female voices, such as popular Canadian YouTube personality Karen Straughan, American psychologist Helen Smith, and the former head of a domestic-violence shelter for women, the British Erin Pizzey. Men’s rights issues also overlap with the rhetoric of equity feminists like Christina Hoff Sommers, who give a mainstream and respectable face to some MRA concerns.”
Sommers, a mainstream feminist who questions theories such as the “wage gap,” expressed surprise at being included. “The Factual Feminist has been denounced by the Southern Poverty Law Center as enabler of male supremacy,” she wrote on Twitter. “Last year leader of MRA group denounced me for being a female supremacist. Both wrong. I’m a facts and logic supremacist.” When she criticized the SPLC for the attack, the SPLC went even further. In a massive diatribe against her, the group suggested she was an apologist for white supremacy, too, because she had shared the stage with homosexual activist and alleged “white supremacy enabler” Milo Yiannopolous and had appeared on a podcast with a host she did not realize was a white nationalist. Both Yiannopolous and Sommers are Jewish, making the SPLC accusations against them especially bizarre.
But accusing women of being anti-women may seem like small potatoes compared to the SPLC’s attack against Dr. Carol Swain. Swain, a professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, was known for her expertise on racism and white nationalism, having written books about it. She was so highly regarded on the subject that she was appointed to the Tennessee Advisory Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 2007. The next year, she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a seat with the National Council on the Humanities, the advisory board to the National Endowment for the Humanities. She is also a black woman, who grew up in rural poverty and dropped out of school in 8th grade, married at 16, had three children, and yet somehow, went to college and succeeded against all odds. [ Use picture of Carol Swain for illustration?]
But the SPLC did not approve of her bonafides. “Carol Swain is an apologist for white supremacists,” said SPLC bigwig Mark Potok, who has contributed articles to the Communist Party USA’s official mouthpiece People’s World. Her sin, in the eyes of the SPLC, was having the temerity to suggest in a book that America has a right to have borders and enforce immigration laws, Swain explained. “Because of that book, which has been well received, I think they wanted to shut my voice down on the immigration issue,” she said. The professor is also a Christian, which is another big no-no for the folks at SPLC, if their hate listings of mainstream Christian groups are any indication. And she had the gall to criticize the SPLC for its smears of decent Americans.
“Being targeted by the SPLC has had a lasting impact on my life and career,” Swain wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “Offers from other universities ended and speaking opportunities declined. Once you’ve been smeared in this way, mainstream news outlets are less likely to cite you as an expert of any kind. Yet today I wear the SPLC’s mud as a badge of honor because I know I am in the company of many good men and women who have been similarly vilified for standing for righteousness and truth. … Some of those vilified by the SPLC have been subjected to even worse treatment. The Family Research Council and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise have been violently attacked by individuals inspired by the propaganda the SPLC regularly dishes out.”
But at the SPLC, it seems anybody can be a racist and a hater. Indeed, if even black people can be defenders of white supremacy in SPLC world, and Muslims can be anti-Muslim extremists, it may not shock the reader to learn that one of the group’s key voices, Potok, told CNN most white Americans are racists. “Well I think the best data shows that in fact anti-black racism has risen over the last four or five years,” Potok claimed in an interview before being ridiculed even by the black CNN contributor. “There’s polling that shows that both implicit and explicit anti-black attitudes among American whites have gone up quite significantly between 2008 and 2012 to the point where now more than half of white Americans have these anti-black attitudes.”
Mainstream Conservatives, Christians Smeared
While the SPLC imagines and concocts racism in anything and everything, it appears to have a special animus for black Christians who hold fast to biblical notions of morality and sexuality. Among the many black pastors and preachers that have found themselves in the group’s crosshairs — primarily for their views on marriage — are Chicago’s Rev. Gregory Daniels; Bishop Harry Jackson of the Washington, D.C., area; Bishop Eddie Long from Atlanta; Rev. Keith Butler from Detroit; Bishop Wellington Boone of Norcross, Georgia; Pastor Ken Hutcherson of Redmond, Washington; Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson of Los Angeles; and the Chicago area’s Rev. James Meeks.
In 2015, the SPLC even listed famed pediatric brain surgeon Dr. Ben Carson, one of America’s most celebrated black men, on its “Extremist Watch List.” His crime: daring to stand for traditional marriage. He was listed alongside former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and other racist leaders. In particular, the SPLC claimed Carson’s arguments against “re-defining marriage” were extreme, as well as his view that homosexuality is a sin. Carson, who currently serves as President Donald Trump’s U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was simply stating what Christians, Muslims, Jews, and virtually all other major faiths and cultures have believed for millennia. In fact, even former President Barack Obama ran on a traditional-marriage platform before his views “evolved,” though the SPLC never listed Obama.
After starting a firestorm of criticism for listing the mild-mannered Christian neurosurgeon as an extremist, the SPLC backed down — a little. “This week, as we’ve come under intense criticism for doing so, we’ve reviewed our profile and have concluded that it did not meet our standards, so we have taken it down and apologize to Dr. Carson for having posted it,” the SPLC said after being mercilessly mocked across the media. “We’ve also come to the conclusion that the question of whether a better-researched profile of Dr. Carson should or should not be included in our ‘Extremist Files’ is taking attention from the fact that Dr. Carson has, in fact, made a number of statements that express views that we believe most people would conclude are extreme.”
Among the many prominent and loyal Americans denounced and smeared by the SPLC was Phyllis Schlafly, widely regarded as the most important female conservative leader in American history. While most remember her for her pro-family activism and her successful efforts to derail the controversial “Equal Rights Amendment” to the Constitution, the SPLC took a much darker view. To mark her death in 2016, the group blasted her as the “ultra-conservative movement matriarch” who “went on to oppose gay rights and promote antigovernment conspiracy theories.” Of course, like most other victims of the SPLC’s smear machine, Schlafly did not have an “antigovernment” bone in her body. The half-baked attack on a gentle, deceased woman’s memory was filed under the SPLC website’s “Hate Watch” section, although the outfit never identified any examples of “hate.”
Some of America’s leading Christian ministries have been smeared too. Among them: the American Family Association and its millions of members and supporters. Another, the Family Research Council, also found itself listed as a “hate group” for supporting marriage. As critics have pointed out, the SPLC’s criteria on “hate” regarding homosexuality is so loose that it could have landed many Democrats or even the Dalai Lama, who considers homosexuality “sexual misconduct,” on its list of haters. To artificially boost the number of haters, the SPLC also frequently exaggerates or lies, labeling a defunct website or blog a “hate group” so it can claim that number of hate groups is rising. Even the “Granny Warriors,” founded by a patriotic 74-year-old grandmother, landed on the SPLC’s list.
It isn’t just the SPLC’s enemies lists that tell a tale. As the Law Enforcement Intelligence Brief explained in its very first issue, much can also be gleaned about the SPLC from those praised by the organization. Consider, for example, the SPLC’s treatment of Bill Ayers, a proud violent extremist whose terror group, the Weather Underground, murdered police officers, bombed multiple U.S. targets including NYPD headquarters and Capitol Hill. The Weather Underground even plotted the re-education and mass extermination of millions of counter-revolutionary Americans in camps, according to the FBI infiltrator who penetrated the group’s leadership. The outfit’s terror was funded and guided in part by the mass-murdering communist dictatorship enslaving Cuba, which was a puppet of the Soviet Union. And not only did Ayers never repent, he boasted publicly that his only regret was failing to set even more bombs.
The SPLC’s treatment of Ayers reveals a great deal. Instead of featuring him as a prime example of real violent extremism in America, the SPLC glorified him on its website in a featured interview. “Throughout his career as a civil rights organizer, radical anti-Vietnam War activist, teacher and author, Ayers has developed a rich vision of teaching that interweaves passion, responsibility and self-reflection,” the SPLC wrote on its website aimed at schools. “Ayers has taught in public schools and spearheaded alternative education projects…. As a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he helps aspiring teachers recognize and tap the potential of every child. For Ayers, challenging stereotypes and reforming inner-city schools is as much about fighting for social justice as about improving the quality of teaching and learning.”
When controversy erupted around the SPLC’s brazen glorification of a proud, unrepentant, murderous terrorist, the group added an “Editor’s Note” defending its decision to praise and promote the “former anti-war activist.” While the website eventually admitted that Ayers and his group were indeed involved in multiple bombings and deadly terrorism — and that the criminal charges were only dropped due to a legal technicality — the SPLC doubled down, praising the terrorist yet again as a “highly respected figure.” The group did not mention that Ayers said publicly that regretted not having set more bombs, or the fact that he publicly said he might set bombs again in the future.
The fruit of the SPLC’s hate-mongering has also been bloody. Indeed, on August 15, 2012, a would-be terrorist and mass murderer named Floyd Corkins got the SPLC hate map, a gun, and a bag of Chick-Fil-A sandwiches. His plan was to massacre employees of the Family Research Council, a pro-family Christian ministry that landed on the SPLC “hate” list for opposing homosexuality. Only Corkins’ incompetence and the bravery of a security guard prevented a massive bloodbath. After being arrested, the terrorist said the SPLC’s hate propaganda has inspired him to massacre ministry employees.
Even many liberal voices have started wising up to the SPLC. Mainstream and liberal publications ranging from Harper’s and Politico to The Nation and The Week have all exposed the group’s increasingly unhinged attacks on mainstream Americans due to their political views. Writing at The Week, for example, anti-Trump activist Shikha Dalmia lambasted the group. “The SPLC is now useful only to Social Justice Warriors who share its ideology in toto,” she wrote. “For everyone else it is fast becoming a joke.”
Many leading liberals have also spoken out. Civil rights attorney and Southern Center for Human Rights President Stephen Bright, for example, citing investigations and even a federal judge, lambasted SPLC founder Morris Dees as a “con man and fraud” who takes advantage of “naive, well-meaning people” for his own benefit. What Bright did not mention: In court documents, Dees was accused of beating his wife and sexually molesting his underage stepdaughter, among other aberrant behavior.
Far from being a credible source of information, the SPLC has become a well-funded smear machine that exists primarily to demonize and silence Christian and conservative voices while raking in “a pile of money,” as the SPLC founder’s business partner put it. Specifically, the group has almost half a billion dollars in its endowment. Already, many government agencies and media organizations have quit relying on the SPLC for anything. For the sake of liberty and truth, it is time for all Americans from across the political spectrum — and especially law enforcement — to recognize that the SPLC has crossed the line too many times.