Free Speech, Politics, Top Stories

Free Speech and the Capitulation of the SPLC

Two years ago, when the (once-) venerable Southern Poverty Law Center published a “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists,” there was widespread outrage over the fact that the SPLC’s list included not only bona fide Muslim-bashers but also British liberal Muslim Maajid Nawaz—the head of the anti-extremist, reformist Quilliam Foundation. Nawaz later announced his intention to file a crowdfunded defamation lawsuit against the SPLC. Now, he has won an impressive victory. The SPLC, which had already removed the “Field Guide” from its website in April, issued a retraction and an apology—and agreed to pay Nawaz a $3.4 million settlement. This week, Nawaz is scheduled to meet with SPLC president Richard Cohen, hoping both to find out more about the circumstances of his listing and to “educate” Cohen about the conflict between fundamentalism and reform within the Muslim community.

A happy ending? Certainly, for Nawaz and his supporters: Commentary contributor Sohrab Ahmari writes that “it’s good to see the SPLC held to account for at least one of [its] smears” against people who don’t toe the progressive party line. Yet a number of commentators who have been sympathetic to Nawaz, and harshly critical of the SPLC’s decision to put him on the “anti-Muslim extremist” list—such as Atlantic writer David Graham—find his win troubling. “Though it inspires good feelings about fairness and truth,” wrote attorney and blogger Ken White (also known as ‘Popehat’), “it ought [to] also inspire concern about free expression and our broken court system.” Reason’s Robby Soave writes that, while the SPLC “really screwed up here, and it was right to apologize,” the settlement could end up chilling free speech.

Of course, even in the United States, which has the world’s strongest speech protections under the First Amendment, libel and defamation are not protected (though a few maverick libertarian absolutists have argued they should be). But opinions, unlike factual claims, cannot be legally considered defamation. That’s why the critics are worried: they believe Nawaz’s threat of legal action and the SPLC’s surrender may muddy that distinction.

Had the SPLC made a false statement of fact—for instance, that Nawaz supported internment camps for conservative religious Muslims—the grounds for a defamation suit would be indisputable. In this case, there was some quibbling over the accuracy of the “Field Guide’s” factual claims. (Was Nawaz’s support for policies banning face veils in some public buildings a call to “criminalize” the niqab? Did a list of nonviolent Islamist organizations that he included in a report to British security amount to a blacklist?) But the real issue was his designation as an “anti-Muslim extremist,” and that, critics of the settlement argued, is ultimately a matter of opinion. While the basis for that opinion was bizarre—one of the things held against Nawaz was that he had tweeted a Mohammed cartoon—White notes that “drawing an irrational, unfair conclusion … is simply not defamation.”

White, Soave, and Graham believe this is a slippery slope. In an earlier blogpost taking issue with Nawaz’s planned lawsuit, White accused Nawaz of trying to “police political speech he doesn’t like through litigation.” As evidence, he cited a post on Nawaz’s website stating that legal action could deliver “a warning to those who think they can throw around damning labels like ‘Islamaphobe’ [sic], ‘racist’ and ‘Nazi’ without any evidence and simply get away with it.” White believes that, although the SPLC in its current form deserves plenty of criticism for sloppy labeling, its conduct is “classic political speech” protected by the First Amendment. Making such speech actionable, White and other critics say, creates a dangerous precedent.

It’s also worth noting that Nawaz is part of the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web,” the informal network of cultural dissenters whose shared values include a strong commitment to freedom of speech. Should fellow ‘Dark Webbers’ take a dim view of the settlement? Is it hypocritical for them to side with Nawaz?

The answer is complicated. The SPLC is not a blog or a news and opinion site, or your run-of-the-mill activist group. It is a legal advocacy and civil rights organization that, over its almost 50-year existence, has gained national recognition as the foremost authority on hate movements. Established in 1971 in Montgomery, Alabama, it fought the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups by filing lawsuits on behalf of their victims. It has also provided information on hate groups to law enforcement.

Because of its history and (former) reputation, the SPLC enjoys a special status that gives its opinions the cachet of fact. To say that a group has been “designated as a hate group by the SPLC”—or that a person has been designated as an extremist—carries the weight of more than mere opinion; it’s a quasi-official mark of pariah status. As Ahmari wrote, “Once the … outfit mislabels an individual or an institution this way, it becomes nearly impossible to clear the taint, since many reporters mistake the SPLC for a bona fide rights watchdog.” That’s what made Nawaz’s inclusion on the “anti-Muslim extremist” list so potentially damaging. In that sense, the SPLC was a victim of its own success at image-building.

Of course, just because the SPLC’s opinions are often issued and treated as statements of fact, that doesn’t mean that they are facts in a legal sense (as White has pointed out in a different context, just because some privately owned social media platforms present themselves as public spaces and often feel like public spaces doesn’t make them such legally). If Nawaz’s lawsuit had gone forward, the SPLC’s attorneys could have tried to argue that the Center’s list of “anti-Muslim extremists” was only an expression of opinion. But that would have required the SPLC to renounce any claim to special authority and expertise—and, in effect, to undermined its own raison d’être.

Perhaps that’s why SPLC leadership was willing to accept a settlement that amounted to a total capitulation. It is also possible that, as White speculates, they were worried that “discovery would have revealed ugly things about the SPLC’s process of writing such lists.” (Nawaz believes they may have taken their guidance from Muslim advocacy groups with an Islamist-leaning outlook.)

As White, Ahmari, and others have pointed out, in recent years the SPLC has increasingly departed from its own historical mission of combating extremist groups—particularly those that engage in violence and intimidation—and expanded its definitions of ‘hate’ and ‘extremism’ to include various groups and individuals that stray from the progressive creed. In 2010, SPLC designated several conservative groups that advocate moral and social traditionalism—the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and others—as anti-gay hate groups. The move drew criticism not only from conservatives but from liberal pundits such as the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank.

This year, an SPLC report on “male supremacy,” which included some genuinely alarming material on websites that traffic in overt, vicious misogyny and sometimes advocate violence against women, not only conflated these groups with men’s issues advocates who eschew such hateful rhetoric (such as author Warren Farrell), but also included a gratuitous guilt-by-association attack on author and scholar Christina Hoff Sommers. The report asserted that “men’s rights issues also overlap with the rhetoric of equity feminists like … Sommers, who give a mainstream and respectable face to some [men’s rights advocates’] concerns.” When Sommers responded, the SPLC published a snarky retort that justified its earlier statement by pointing to her writings about academic and social problems afflicting boys and about inflated sexual assault statistics.

The SPLC’s labeling is not harmless. In 2012, a man attempted a terrorist attack on the Family Research Council’s Washington, DC headquarters and shot a security guard after a leading gay rights organization issued a press release referring to the FRC as a “hate group,” based on the SPLC’s designation. One can easily see why Nawaz, whose work involves countering radical Islamism in the Muslim community, would feel that the SPLC “put a target on [his] head” by branding him an anti-Muslim extremist.

Now, in the wake of the settlement with Nawaz, dozens of groups on the SPLC’s “hate” lists are reportedly pondering lawsuits. Could this have a potentially chilling effect on other speech that would normally be protected as opinion under the First Amendment? Perhaps, although the circumstances are probably too unique to undercut such protections in general. In any case, the fault rests primarily with SPLC for reaching far beyond its self-proclaimed mission.

If the legal system needs to draw a clear line between libel and opinion in defamation cases, the SPLC needs to draw a clear line between hate and opinion in defining extremism. Perhaps, when Nawaz meets with the SPLC’s Cohen, they can talk about restoring that distinction.


Cathy Young is a Russian-born American journalist and author. She is a columnist for Newsday and a contributing editor for Reason magazine. Her work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the Weekly Standard, Foreign Policy, and Slate. You can follow her on Twitter 


  1. X. Citoyen says

    You answered your own question: SPLC is a special case that doesn’t generalize.

  2. One correction: the SPLC never designated Focus on the Family as an anti-gay hate group; in fact, they repeatedly cited them as an example of a group that morally disapproved of homosexuality but did *not* meet their definition of a hate group because they did not engage in vilification. The Family Research Council is another matter: they have a history of lobbying for the criminalization of gay sexual behavior abroad, against its decriminalization domestically, and distribute literature claiming that gay men have a high rate of child sexual abuse. I find their designation of them as a hate group perfectly reasonable.

    That doesn’t mean that their criteria haven’t suffered badly from concept creep; they certainly have. But the FRC just isn’t a good example of it.

  3. ga gamba says

    … the settlement could end up chilling free speech.

    Really? The laws against slander and libel have long existed. Free speech has existed under that as well as the prohibition on shouting fire in theatres.

    Face facts, the SPLC failed to perform its research, which it’s legally and ethically obliged to do. I’ll add it’s also financially obliged to check the facts since consequences may be costly, which it now learnt. A pretty stupid mistake when you think about it because it’s a law centre.

    I think a thorough explanation by the SPLC, one more in depth than the 50-second one offered by Mr Cohen, is owed to the public. Why? The organisation has been granted the authority by many social media platforms to decide the truth when it comes to news and commentary. Given how wrong it was on Mr Nawaz, I think we ought to wonder where else it’s erred.

    I reckon some time ago the SPLC did good work, but when any organisation is given carte blanche in sense making, e.g. “the SPLC says so, so it’s gotta be true,” this may create institutional hubris. I would not be surprised to learn many adherents to progressive dogma exercise great influence behind its closed doors. As we see with public uni administrators who keep flouting the First Amendment knowing quite well the courts have ruled against their suppression of on-campus speech repeatedly, these people operate in the fantasy land of ought to be than what reality is. This tends to happen when the consequences don’t hit you personally in the wallet.

    • Jack B. Nimble says

      As with the Peter Thiel vs. case, it is possible to criticize the use of litigation as a political weapon, without approving the behavior of either side.

      The firm representing Nawaz has an active practice suing media companies of all types, including NYT, WSJ, NBC, Oprah, Breitbart, Mother Jones, HuffPost, Forbes, Simon & Schuster, NY Daily News, etc. source: clarelocke [dot] com [slash] defamation. They are what is called a ‘hired gun’ without any apparent political motive, unlike, say, adflegal [dot] org.

      The framers of the US Constitution were wary of concentrated political power but didn’t consider concentrated economic power, since large corporations and super-wealthy individuals didn’t exist back then. Apart from any other issues with concentrated wealth, the super-wealthy have surplus cash that they can ‘invest’ in any causes they deem worthy, including SLAPP suits [strategic lawsuits against public participation]. The Nawaz lawsuit isn’t exactly a SLAPP suit, but it could still have a chilling effect on press freedom. There is nothing in US law that prevents other lawyers from ‘piling on’ and seeking multi-million dollar settlements from SPLC, even on a contingency basis. If nothing else, the outcome shows that media companies are generally risk-averse and willing to cut their losses when dealing with private citizens, whatever their stands might be regarding governmental intrusion on first-amendment rights. ‘Risk-averse’ here means not willing to defend their rights in court.

      Ironically, Nawaz himself is a compiler of lists:

      “….A secret list prepared for a top British security official accuses peaceful Muslim groups, politicians, a television channel and a Scotland Yard unit of sharing the ideology of terrorists.

      The list was drawn up for Charles Farr, the director general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT), a directorate of the Home Office. Farr is a former senior intelligence officer.

      It was sent to him in June by the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism thinktank which has received about £1m in government funding.

      Quilliam was co-founded by Ed Husain and Maajid Nawaz, former activists in the radical Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir. Critics of the foundation accused it of McCarthyite smear tactics and branded its claims ridiculous…..” source:

      Generally, I’m more concerned when governments start compiling secret lists for which the listees have no right of redress or removal. These include no-fly lists and the list of Black ‘subversives’ that the FBI kept during the JE Hoover years; the list included James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Richard Wright; source:

      • ga gamba says

        Yes, Nawaz compiles lists. Was the essence of his complaint ‘lists’ or wrongfully inclusion on a particular list? I think we’ll both agree it was the latter. Certainly Mr Cohen agrees too. Those who think they are wronged by their inclusion on Nawaz’s list(s) may petition the court for redress if their request for removal to Nawaz is ignored or rejected. So, for the irony you mention to exist, Nawaz too needs to mislabel individual(s) and group(s), claiming they are what they are not, and this needs to be defamatory. At this time I have no evidence (there are only claims) he’s done so (I ought to start making a list of list makers), so I would deem his list making coincidental.

        ‘Hired gun’ doesn’t bother me. It simply tells me the person or firm has specialist knowledge and capabilities. A hired gun has expertise, but rather than say this because it implies a positive attribute, those opposed to the firm or the type of lawsuits it pursues use emotive words and phrases that imply an immorality, malicious intent, or actual wrong doing, e.g. hit man, mercenary, and hired gun.

        The framers of the US Constitution were wary of concentrated political power but didn’t consider concentrated economic power, since large corporations and super-wealthy individuals didn’t exist back then.

        I don’t have the ability to enter the framers’ minds, but I suspect the light touch on commerce was due in part to the economic freedom colonists sought by leaving their homelands.

        I can neither agree nor disagree with you about the existence of “super-wealthy” because it’s kind of fuzzy to me. Globally super wealthy certainly not, but regionally and even trans-Atlantically the super rich of the era existed. Per corporations, they existed as the chartered companies that engaged in establishing the colonies to extract resources. They weren’t the manufacturing and services giants we know today, which of course are only a small per cent of total businesses.

        In the late sixteenth century… For the first time, the corporate form was used in risky “for profit” ventures. . . . The vast majority of these were
        incorporated for overseas trade. They were our first “transnational corporations” if you will. In the first two decades of the seventeenth century, some forty companies were granted trading monopolies by their respective governments over much of the known world.

        A central characteristic of these corporations was that they were granted
        monopoly powers by their respective governments. The English corporations were typically granted a monopoly over English trade that encompassed specified territory abroad. Additionally, the corporations received power to protect their monopoly and rights over English subjects within the territory. The grant of monopoly status encouraged investors to engage in often highly risky ventures. For the first time, money could be raised in return for shares, profits could be divided among shareholders, and shares could be transferred among members and outsiders. Importantly, new investors among the gentry could be involved in
        business enterprises alongside the merchants. Profit was the dominant motive of most of these companies and the commercial risk was high.

        They became the major source of public finance by which the monarch could raise revenue without Parliament and at the same time further foreign policy on a self-funding basis.
        (Source: www(dot)ilj(dot)law(dot)indiana(dot)edu/articles/79/79_2_McLean.pdf

        The thirteen British North American colonies were in their inception chartered companies, so I presume the colonials knew of chartered companies’ existence since they had relationships with them as well as hearing news of their ventures. East India Company’s first expedition was in 1601. In 1606 that the Virginia Company of London was chartered and funded – a share cost about £1,640 in today’s money. The Hudson Bay Company was founded in 1670, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Connecticut Colony were founded by the Winthrop family, whose descendants include John Kerry and Oliver Wendall Holmes. William Penn was a very wealthy man; King Charles II was so deeply indebted to his father that the territory we know as Pennsylvania was its payment. In 1774, the top 10 per cent of Boston citizens owned 57 per cent of the wealth in the city – the city was one of the Empire’s wealthiest. Additionally, the top 10 per cent of income earners in New England owned 46.8 per cent of the wealth. (Source: Jonathan Hughes and Louis Cain’s American Economic History).

        This article documents the concentration of wealth and power as well as connivance and corruption in colonial America viewed through the leftist lens of a professor of Afro-American Studies. It makes for an interesting contra narrative.

        Of course comparing 1718 to 2018 is fraught with many challenges and risks. The way money, power, and information moved though time and space were entirely different. Then it was resources and land, today it’s finance and technology services. Were the Van Cortlandts (that’s their summer home, built in 1748), Scuylers, Van Rensselaers, and Livingstons the same as Gates and Buffett? Evaluating them by today’s standards no, but of their place and time yes they were extraordinarily wealthy, perhaps even “super wealthy”.

        • Jack B. Nimble says

          @ga gamba

          Nawaz totally denies turning over a list of Islamists to British authorities:

          “….The SPLC claimed Nawaz had given a list of radicals to the Metropolitan police, which he firmly denies: “That is totally false. Absolutely false.” He attributes that allegation to a misreading of a public report on radical groups, and the machinations of a police officer who has been firmly discredited and dismissed from the force….” Source

          However, the litigious, ‘overbearing and abrasive’ [see above link] Nawaz has NOT sued the Guardian for their 2010 article that I linked to above, even though it is generally easier to win a defamation case in the UK rather than the US. Why is that?

          US courts are open to all comers, and that is how it should be. By coincidence, the famously litigious, overbearing and abrasive US sci-fi author Harlan Ellison died this week. Fans of his work, like me, need to acknowledge his sometimes wildly offensive comments and behavior, while paying tribute to his genius. The same is true for Nawaz–for example, no one who thinks seriously about religion should have anything to do with the crude ‘Jesus and Mo’ comic strip. Nawaz is neither hero nor villain–he’s a political pundit and organizer who sometimes goes too far.

          • ga gamba says

            Why is that?

            I don’t know. The last I checked I’m not Nawaz, I haven’t experienced a Freaky Friday-esque incident today, and I still haven’t completed my Mind Reading correspondence course, so I will wildly guess… he doesn’t care because not many people and media organisations search the Guardian for people-of-hate lists. Or maybe he’s a cricket fan and realises a lawsuit against the Guardian that prevails may damage the paper enough to force the elimination of its award-winning cricket reporting.

            I’m more a Viz fan myself, so I’m not the chap to ask about those “who think seriously about religion” and their comic viewing preferences.

      • X. Citoyen says

        A chilling effect can be positive. Spooking the press out of its return to yellow journalism would be a good thing for us and for the press. And who knows, a few successful lawsuits might even send a chill through the ranks of dirty denizens of antisocial media.

        The concentration of wealth is self-cancelling in this case because there’s one or more George Soroses for every Koch bothers. Last I heard, in fact, big-money left-wing foundations outnumbered big-money right-wing foundations by about five to one. Marxist and other overly abstract analyses overlook the empirical facts about the wealthy and their interests. For one, some of their interests overlap while others conflict. Even the automotive and oil industries have conflicting interests. Two, the wealthy and influential includes people as diverse as Katy Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and Donald Trump–no need to say more. Three, the turnover among the wealthy in contemporary America renders the idea of class interests insignificant. Those here today will be gone or succeeded by others with different interests tomorrow.

        A case in point–or hodgepodge in point–of media and big money. While the American press fulminates over Russia spending a couple million on fake Facebook news, the Canadian press yawns over the multi-million dollar outlays by left-wing American foundations to influence our elections, especially around oil sands and pipeline developments. The reason for the different reactions is obvious: Foreign influence only matters when it supports the wrong side. The wrong party won in the U.S. so a few million dollars in ads is a big thing in a country of 325 million; the right party won in Canada, so even many millions spent in a country of 36 million doesn’t matter to the press. The fact that foreign anti-oil election meddling is uninteresting to our big-money media conglomerates in a country with a petro-currency should give pause to any thoughtful person who imagines that concentrated wealth is a homogeneous force.

        • Jack B. Nimble says

          “…..A chilling effect can be positive. Spooking the press out of its return to yellow journalism would be a good thing for us and for the press. And who knows, a few successful lawsuits might even send a chill through the ranks of dirty denizens of antisocial media…..”

          From Pres. Trump repeatedly calling the press ‘the enemy of the American people,’ to MILO! texting a reporter that “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight” [but he was just joking, of course], to lethal attacks on reporters and editors, there is already a cold wind blowing through American journalism.

          As far as foreign money and the media are concerned, at least in the US, foreign firms are allowed to lobby Congress [but they have to register under the 1938 FARA act], and they can advertise on issues just like American firms. However, foreign firms can’t donate directly to candidates or to parties. That is a reasonable compromise, and the only real problem is when foreign money tries to ‘hide’ behind domestic groups–as when the US NRA acknowledged receiving small sums of money from Russian donors and may have received more [ ]. If US groups did set up dummy or false-flag operations in Canada to influence elections without revealing the source of funding, that would be a major scandal, but AFAIK, that didn’t happen. And, yes, the US CIA practically invented the game of overthrowing foreign governments in the Middle East and South America with undercover funding.

          Domestic donors in the US are legally free to set up advocacy groups that sound like innocuous grass-roots orgs, such as the Koch’s ‘Americans for Prosperity,’ without revealing donations. That is one way that people like the Koch brothers can leverage their political influence while [1] making relatively small donations in their own names and [2] keeping the big-money donors secret [ ].

          That NYT article should be read in full. NB: the $900,000,000 amount was disclosed to the Times by a loose-lipped donor, not by the Kochs themselves. As the article notes, the Kochs just recently set up ‘superPACs’ that can raise unlimited $$ but have to disclose donor lists; that is how we know that the Kochs contributed ‘just’ $4 million to their own superPAC in 2014. But most of the campaign money they control flies below radar.

          • Kurt says

            “From Pres. Trump repeatedly calling the press ‘the enemy of the American people,’ to MILO! texting a reporter that “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight” [but he was just joking, of course], to lethal attacks on reporters and editors, there is already a cold wind blowing through American journalism.”

            A text message, you say? From Milo the crude gay guy? Holy smoke, did you hear that, Martha? This is especially huge given how visible and influential Milo has been over the last year since his pedo problem.

            I even hear there are Oval Office meetings, where Milo and Trump hate watch Don Lemon together while planning violence and dog whistle codes. Milo just pretends to hate Don. He’s a actually turned on by the stupid-bordering-on-illiterate vibe that Don gives off.

            True story, which only backs up your lucid thesis.

    • George says

      “The SPLC failed to perform its research”

      Really? Given the laughable accusations they made against Naawaz, I suspect that they did their research, realised they barely had a case, but didn’t care as long as they could destroy a potential enemy. If you label someone an “anti-Muslim extremist” and the best evidence you can muster is that “he thinks certain businesses like banks should be allowed to ask women to take off their face veils, he says he’s not offended by innocuous cartoons of Mohammed, and he once visited a strip club”, then it’s clear that you have no claim to be taken seriously as a “researcher” here or anywhere else.

  4. fabio says

    “SPLC’s attorneys could have tried to argue that the Center’s list of “anti-Muslim extremists” was only an expression of opinion. But that would have required the SPLC to renounce any claim to special authority and expertise—and, in effect, to undermined its own raison d’être.”.

    That is the crux of the matter. If the SPLC clearly states their articles are their opinion, and if they use that argument in court, future lawsuits will not survive motions to dismiss. There is no risk of “chilling effect” on opinions. The SPLC just does not want to be on the record saying they publish “opinions”, ever.

    • Nick Ender says

      This is the crux! The SPLC makes “fact” claims. They know that’s how they are viewed by the majority of the public. If they had to openly admit to having just as much authority as your cousin on Facebook it would completely undermine their standing in the public eye. It’s not like they don’t have the money to fight the case in court. You could imagine that it would be in their best interest to do so. They could win, and bask in their commitment to free speech and social justice. But they chose to settle. Why? Because their standing as sense makers is more valuable than the truth. Which is exactly how they ended up in this position. The settlement is not the SPLC changing their ways, it’s a doubling down.

  5. Koos kleurvol says

    The SPLC by virtue of being a leading civil rights litigator, has to accept that it should not play loose and fast with their opinions on people. They are responsible for the effects of their speech. You can’t just accuse somebody of being racist if you are in their position, you need to willing to back it up.

    If SPLC says somebody is racist this is taken as established fact by large sectors of the population. Many universities use their lists as legal findings. You are royally screwed if SPLC names you a civil rights violator.

    They could easily escape this implication by launching a PR campaign that states that their hate list are merely their opinion and not established fact and should be treated as such. A disclaimer if you like.

    • Correct. Even where I work (big tech company known for phones) we’ve relied on the SPLC. So their reach goes pretty far. SPLC is THE go-to source. The FBI draws on it too.

  6. David Horák says

    I think that JP suing Wilfrid Laurier University is much more frivolous than what Maajid Nawaz did. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that IDW people are really concerned about what Peterson did. :-/

    • That may be so, but you don’t pay 4 million bucks and utter a public apology because you get hit with a “frivolous” lawsuit. That being said, I am surprised the SPLC is taken seriously by anyone anymore, given the subjectivity and the partisan nature of their work. It ought to be a government function to keep track of “extremist” groups anyways, not some unaccountable nonprofit group with a partisan axe to grind.

  7. The keystone to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s fundraising is its highly lucrative and highly inaccurate “Hate Map,” which is often cited by the media as factual.

    Of the 954 alleged “hate groups” across the US claimed by the SPLC for 2017, fully 300 of them are listed as “statewide,” meaning the company provides no verifiable information about the groups whatsoever, such as a city or town location or any kind of membership count. Other “groups” have been pinpointed to “Northern California,” “Central Pennsylvania” and two have been at large in “Incomplete, Georgia” and “Incomplete, Indiana” for years.

    In 2015 the company assigned 40 “hate groups” to New Jersey, giving that state the fourth highest total in the land and causing Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League to publicly denounce the SPLC’s bogus counts.

    “According to Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the SPLC has a habit of counting single individuals as groups or chapters, which can give a skewed impression of hate groups in any given state.”

    “The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list is wildly inflated,” said Pitcavage. “They list skinhead groups in places where there are no organized groups, but instead it’s just a couple of individuals.”

    After being publicly outed by the ADL, the SPLC slashed New Jersey’s count from 40 to 21 overnight.

    Also in 2015, the SPLC recognized exactly one chapter of the Daily Stormer, a one-man website out of Ohio that SPLC Intelligence Director Mark Potok described as “mostly Andrew Angelin, his dog, and a computer.”

    For 2016, Mr. Potok claimed there were 31 Daily Stormers in the land. How does that work? Did Angelin franchise his one-man website and sell local territories? Perhaps the dog had puppies.

    The SPLC will continue to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars until someone in the media finally examines the company’s claims once and for all.

    How about it, Quillette?

    • Prince of Slugs says

      Andrew Angelin’s dog mated with the Nazi pug in hopes of establishing the Fourth Galactic Reich.

  8. I think the SPLC does a great job.

    There are so many insipid books written by so-called “conservatives” and “right-wingers”, but I have found that every author tagged a “right wing extremist” by the SPLC has something insightful, intelligent and important to say, even if I disagreed with the author. In fact, many of them actually look at empirical data and consider history instead of just catechizing along the lines of “classical liberal” talking points.

    I wish progressives would just resurrect a “woke” version of the old Catholic Index of banned books, so I would know where I could find something good to read. But in the meantime, before we go back to burning books and heretics in order to purify our minds and restaurants, the SPLC is the only game in town.

  9. Jack B. Nimble says

    @KD — “…the SPLC is the only game in town…” Really?

    As I noted above, lots of groups keep lists of questionable provenance, including the FBI, US Homeland Security and the UK Home Office. And there are plenty of groups on the right that are collecting names and posting lists. Here are a few that relate to higher ed, my own area of interest:

    • I hear you, but I know of no other institution, other than the pre-Vatican II Church, which does as effective a job of “warning us” against high-quality intellectual work products. I’m not talking about their “hate group” business (that seems mostly about working class teenagers who drink too much and like to get in fist fights), but the scholars tagged as “right wing extremists” (like Nawaz apparently was) all seem to have produced thoughtful and engaging content. Without the SPLC to guide me, I would have to filter through a lot of crap to find anything worth reading. Its really too bad the Progressives don’t have an official list of Banned Books.

      • By way of further example, we can look at Henry Harpending, inducted in the National Academy of Sciences in 1996. From the NAS Memior, he sounds like a pretty well-grounded, empirically based bloke:

        Yet the SPLC really lays it out:

        You can see from the quotes that dear Henry embraces the heliocentric heresy, and hangs around with others who reject the Biblical truth that the sun revolves around the Earth.

        So now you have something very interesting, empirically grounded scientific work running up against a modern theological shibboleth, just like Galileo and Church. Not that every “right wing extremist” is scientifically-based or as brilliant as Harpending, but if you want to be an intelligent person, and understand both sides of the argument and the places in which modern (and not just medieval) social dogmas conflict with science, you have to turn to the SPLC to direct you in the right places.

      • Of course, I should note, only mature minds should engage with the heretics like Harpending, and only for the purpose of better refuting the heretics so they will not lead the masses into error. If they had only burned Galileo when they had the chance, instead of putting him on house arrest, we might never have these problems.

    • Nick Ender says

      The FBI takes its que from SPLC though. I imagine many of those other organizations you listed do as well.

  10. Andre says

    One argument discussed in a video I watched recently was that if this went through a lawsuit and the SPLC lost, it would set terrible precedent for them.

    On the other hand, by settling here, they avoid precedent setting, thus leaving open the possibility of picking a fight later that they may be more likely to win, thus improving their long term legal footing.

    I find this argument to be persuasive. In any event, this was one they would probably lose. They were completely in the wrong and I think most reasonable witnesses evaluating the evidence would agree.

  11. Coolius Caesar says

    “Could this have a potentially chilling effect on other speech that would normally be protected as opinion under the First Amendment?”

    Probably, but maybe the SPLC should have thought about that before they started abusing the first amendment to slander people.

  12. I think the very notion of a “hate group” is problematic. It would seem to be related in some way to the legal concept of “hate speech” and “hate crime”; all of these notions contradict free speech. If someone is physically attacked, then that is already a crime and invites legal punishment – why should the perpetrator’s opinions be part of the crime?

    The SLPC case seems similar in a way to #metoo: in both cases, there can be serious extra-legal consequences (potential or real), due to the huge reach of the internet. If someone is accused of some sexual impropriety which would not be punishable in law but the broadcasting of it has an effect on their employability and other aspects of their life, it may be difficult to make a case for defamation, if only because there isn’t a single entity to sue. I don’t know how this could be solved but I do feel that the Twitter mobs, in exercising their freedom of speech, are dangerous to free speech in general; and that the SPLC has something like the same effect.

  13. AliRadicali says

    I think it’s an incredible stretch to frame this settlement as an attack on free speech. For one, the case never reached the courts, so there’s no judicial precedent being set. Furthermore, I find the classification of “Maajid Nawaz is an anti-muslim extremist” as opinion rather than a factual claim to be rather unconvincing.
    Lastly I think it’s reasonable to assume the SPLC capitulated to avoid (further) damaging their reputation as factual arbiters of hatred, not because they were sure they’d lose. Most other parties would not be afraid to mount a “just my opinion, man” defense, unlike the SPLC.

    TL;DR: I don’t see any inconsistency in supporting this outcome and free speech.

    • nicky says

      Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali were always named in one breath in the SPLC’s ‘anti-muslim extremist’ list. They setteld with Mr Nawaz, I think they should reconsider Ms Hirsi Ali’s inclusion if they want us to believe they are serious there. Mending their ways, as it were.

  14. Pingback: That’s Just Like, My Opinion, Man – Rounded Peaks

  15. Draymond Green says

    Is there any organization in the U.S. that profits more from hate and bigotry than the SPLC?

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