Jeremy Tedesco: Southern Poverty Law Center wrongly targets conservative groups – like mine

There’s no question that monitoring hate groups – by which I mean violent and racist extremists – is a worthy, noble and necessary mission. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes itself as carrying out this mission, claiming on its website that it is the “the premier U.S. non-profit organization monitoring the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists.”

But in reality, the SPLC turns racial fears into a weapon to bludgeon its perceived political opponents – betraying its mission. And the SPLC is guilty of the very societal ills over which it has long claimed unrivaled moral authority to adjudicate.

Writing in The New Yorker last week, ex-SPLC staffer Bob Moser pegged the SPLC business model as “making hate pay.”

SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER, WHICH FREQUENTLY TARGETS CONSERVATIVES, REELS FROM HARASSMENT, INTOLERANCE CLAIMS

“It was hard,” Moser said, “not to feel like we’d become pawns in what was, in many respects, a highly profitable scam.” Indeed, “though the center claimed to be effective in fighting extremism, ‘hate’ always continued to be on the rise, more dangerous than ever, with each year’s report on hate groups.”

Moser, who identifies as gay and still holds views that line up with the SPLC’s, nonetheless painted a damning picture of the hypocrisy inside the nonprofit.

“All the time, dark shadows hung over everything: the racial and gender disparities, the whispers about sexual harassment, the abuses that stemmed from the top-down management, and the guilt you couldn’t help feeling about the legions of donors who believed that their money was being used, faithfully and well …. We were part of the con, and we knew it.”

SPLC’s recent ouster of co-founder Morris Dees and long-time president Richard Cohen confirms the worst. Both departures occurred amid numerous claims of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and racism within the organization. All of them arose on Dees’ watch, with Cohen sharing the blame for most as well.

Unfortunately, none of this should come as a surprise. Claims of race and sex discrimination have followed the SPLC for years.

So have warnings that the SPLC uses the hate label as a tool to silence groups whose views it dislikes. These warnings have become so frequent that even left-leaning sources like Politico have been forced to acknowledge that the SPLC has become “more of a partisan progressive hit operation than a civil rights watchdog.”

SPLC’s most recognized work – its Hatewatch project – is a perfect example of how it cynically preys on fears of racism to attack groups that disagree with its far-left agenda.

SPLC’s “hate group” list lumps conservative groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, and many others together with small cells of violent extremists like the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party.

The SPLC’s list is impressive in length – now over 1,000 groups – but destructive in effect when it comes to intellectual diversity and civility in the public square.

Indeed, that’s the point of the SPLC’s work, according to the group’s former senior fellow Mark Potok, who once explained: “Sometimes the press will describe us as monitoring hate crimes and so on ….  I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, to completely destroy them.”

SPLC’s destructive tactics rend our national fabric and destroy our rich free-speech tradition.  That tradition is marked by the robust exchange of the broadest possible views, jealous protection of minority views, and the belief that more speech, not censorship – and certainly never violence – is the best response to ideas you dislike or even despise.

The SPLC has this upside down. Its propaganda shuts down debate and breeds contempt for those who hold different views. And, foreseeably, it also inspires violence.

Floyd Corkins cited SPLC as motivation for his attempted mass murder at the Family Research Council in 2012. And students cited SPLC as a reason they rioted and assaulted a female professor at Middlebury College in 2017.

My colleagues and I at the Alliance Defending Freedom have been on the receiving end of the SPLC’s tactics ever since we landed on its “hate map” in 2016. Cobbling together an assortment of baseless lies and willful misrepresentations, the SPLC aims to marginalize ADF for views that are shared by millions of people the world over.

We’ve won nine First Amendment cases at the Supreme Court since 2011. We’ve been heralded as first among “the top performing firms” litigating First Amendment cases in a report called “Supreme Court All-Stars 2013-2017.” We’ve been a powerful force protecting the free speech and religious freedom rights of all Americans for nearly 25 years.

Yet solely because of the SPLC’s slanderous “hate group” label, we’ve been pilloried by uncritical journalists in the mainstream media as a “hate group.”

SPLC’s baseless allegations have also resulted in ADF getting the boot from the Amazon Smile donation program, being declined nonprofit pricing with Microsoft, and forced us to hire plain-clothes police officers to protect our attorneys when they speak on hostile campuses

Thanks to the SPLC, our employees have been verbally accosted in public places – and much more. We are concerned for our own and our families’ safety.

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Sadly, this is exactly what SPLC wants. But the question we must ask ourselves is whether the SPLC’s hyper-partisan and violence-inciting approach to “hate group” monitoring is what this country needs.

It’s not. It’s time for the media, major corporations, and big tech companies who rely on SPLC (to their legal and public relations peril) – plus everyday Americans – to shut the door on this fraudulent organization.