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The Southern Poverty Law Center has become the go-to “expert” on “hate groups” for establishment media and companies such as Amazon, but when a Washington Post Magazine reporter was commissioned to produce an in-depth feature on the organization, he came away with a least some doubt about SPLC’s credibility as an arbiter of “hate.”

The reporter, David Montgomery, clearly is an admirer of SPLC, but his article was titled “The State of Hate: Researchers at the Southern Poverty Law Center have set themselves up as the ultimate judges of hate in America. But are they judging fairly?”

The Post writer points out that SPLC has expanded its scope of “hate groups” from the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists to conservative organizations that defend traditional marriage, opposed illegal immigration and warn of the threat of supremacist Islam to Western civilization.

Jihad Watch Director Robert Spencer, who has been a target of SPLC, commented on his website that it’s “astonishing that this evisceration of the SPLC would appear in the Washington Post, and it indicates that even the Leftist media is finding the SPLC too partisan, too unfair, and too biased to continue to defend.”

SPLC casts Spencer as “one of the most prolific anti-Muslim figures in the United States.”

But Spencer, who argues he’s often criticized for merely pointing out that supremacist Muslims cite Islamic texts as the motivation for terrorist attacks and other threats to civilization, contends he is not “anti-Muslim.”

“I oppose jihad terror and Sharia oppression of women, non-Muslims, and others. I am no more ‘anti-Muslim’ than foes of the Nazis were ‘anti-German,'” he writes.

Spencer noted that companies such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, Amazon, Patreon and GoFundMeWe rely on SPLC’s “hate” designation, and he hopes the Post article will help them “reconsider their reliance on this dishonest, hate-filled group, and begin to treat all organizations fairly.”

Defensible expressions of truth’ or ‘hate’?

Spencer observed that the Post’s Montgomery “likes the SPLC, and wants to admire it, but finds it difficult to do so.”

Spencer points to a “telling passage” in the lengthy piece about Montgomery’s visit to the Center for Security Policy in Washington and founder Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official.

While Montgomery characterizes Gaffney’s views as “frankly disquieting” — Spencer argues the point is not whether they are “disquieting” but whether they are based on fact — the Post writer seems to cast doubt on SPLC’s absolute judgments.

I left Gaffney’s office with a tote bag full of 14 books buttressing his worldview. A 15th came later in the mail. In thinking about my interview, I was struck by just how little he had disputed the SPLC’s claims about the frankly disquieting positions he has taken. To some extent, it was similar to my experience at the FRC and ADF. They simply saw those positions as admirable, or at the very least defensible, expressions of truth — whereas, to the SPLC, they were expressions of hate.

Montgomery also visited the Family Research Council, whose defense of traditional marriage is an affront to SPLC.

He interviewed retired Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, FRC’s executive vice president, who pointed to a bullet hole in the ceiling from the Aug. 15, 2012, shooting attack on FRC’s headquarters by Floyd Lee Corkins.

“He came in here to kill as many of us as possible because he found us listed as a hate group on the Southern Poverty Law Center website,” Boykin told Montgomery.

“We and others like us who are on this ‘hate map’ believe that this is very reckless behavior. … The only thing that we have in common is that we are all conservative organizations.”

Montgomery, in a visit to SPLC headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama, asked SPLC President Richard Cohen “whether advocates like the FRC, or proponents of less immigration like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or conservative legal stalwarts like the Alliance Defending Freedom, really have so much in common with neo-Nazis and the Klan that they belong in the same bucket of shame.”

“Obviously the hate label is a blunt one,” Cohen replied. “It’s one of the things that gives it power, and it’s one of the things that can make it controversial. Someone might say, ‘Oh, it’s without nuance.’ … But we’ve always thought that hate in the mainstream is much more dangerous than hate outside of it. The fact that a group like the FRC or a group like FAIR can have congressional allies and can testify before congressional committees, the fact that a group like ADF can get in front of the Supreme Court — to me that makes them more dangerous, not less so. … It’s the hate in the business suit that is a greater danger to our country than the hate in a Klan robe.”

Expanded scope

Montgomery notes SPLC was founded in 1971 to take on legal cases related to racial injustice, poverty and the death penalty. In the early 1980s, it expanded to monitoring Klan groups, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists. In recent years, he writes, “the list has swept up an increasing number of conservative activists — mostly in the anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim categories — those conservatives have been fighting back.”

He cites Mathew Staver, chairman of the Christian legal advocacy group Liberty Counsel, saying 60 organizations are interested in suing SPLC. And last year, GuideStar, a widely consulted directory of charitable organizations, removed its flags of 46 charities listed by SPLC as hate groups after pressure from critics.

Montgomery points to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ condemnation of SPLC for using its hate label “to bully and to intimidate” groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom  “which fight for religious freedom.”

And the Post writer says SPLC “undermined its own credibility with a couple of blunders.”

In 2015, it apologized for listing Ben Carson as an extremist, and this past June, the group paid $3.4 million to Muslim activist Maajid Nawaz and his Quilliam organization to settle a threatened lawsuit.

Montgomery visited the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which supports reduced legal immigration and tougher border security. He quotes executive director Mark Krikorian saying the center supports a policy “that admits fewer people but does a better job of welcoming and incorporating those people.”

Mongomery says that among the factors that got CIS added to the SPLC hate list is “the center’s habit of circulating links to articles from arguably noxious sources in its regular email roundup.”

“Providing links to immigration articles written by people who in other venues wrote things on other topics that are objectionable, and that I myself almost certainly would object to — so what?” Krikorian told Montgomery. “You’ve got to admire the Inspector Javert-like obsession to go through hundreds of these links and find out who the author was and then Google the author and see what he — I mean it’s just, get a life, people!”

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