By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
Nearly 50 prominent conservatives and far-right lawyers have penned an open letter to the media, asking reporters not to use statistics and information gathered by the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center.
The letter was penned by leaders of fundamentalist and conservative groups, many of which are listed as anti-LGBT hate groups on the SPLC’s Hate Map. The signers call the SPLC a “discredited, left-wing, political activist organization that seeks to silence its political opponents with a ‘hate group’ label of its own invention and application that is not only false and defamatory, but that also endangers the lives of those targeted with it.”
Since 1990, the SPLC has tracked hate groups like the Klan, Neo-Confederate, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT, and black separatist groups. And the SPLC often partners with and reports those statistics to the FBI and the Department of Justice, which do not independently track domestic hate groups.
The SPLC’s “Hate Map,” which lists and locates more than 917 hate groups currently operating the U.S., was used widely by the media in the aftermath of the Charlottesville, Virginia, terrorist attack to identify white nationalist and KKK groups nationwide. No other organization has such a comprehensive list of domestic hate groups.
Hate groups, according to the SPLC, have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.
But in the letter, signed by leaders from such groups as the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and the Heritage Foundation, the critics say the SPLC falsely slap the hate group label on groups that hold “traditional values” on hot-button issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.
The signers blame the SPLC for a shooting in 2012 at the offices of the Family Research Council, during which a building manager was shot and injured. The shooter, Floyd Lee Corkins, said in a police interrogation that he chose the building because the AFA had been listed as an anti-LGBT hate group by the SPLC.
“We believe the media outlets that have cited the SPLC in recent days have not intended to target mainstream political groups for violent attack, but by recklessly linking the Charlottesville melee to the mainstream groups named on the SPLC website — those that advocate in the courts, the halls of Congress, and the press for the protection of conventional, Judeo-Christian values — we are left to wonder if another Floyd Lee Corkins will soon be incited to violence by this incendiary information,” the signers wrote in their letter.
The SPLC was founded in 1971 and began litigating civil rights cases, including many cases against the KKK and other white nationalist groups that resulted in payouts for victims. The SPLC has in recent years been the leading legal group battling discrimination against LGBT groups in the court system, which has drawn the ire of anti-LGBT conservative groups.
“We’re not the least bit surprised that hate groups don’t want the media to listen to us,” said Heidi Beirich, the director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, which publishes the Hate Map. “We expose them for what they are: organizations that spread divisions among Americans with dehumanizing rhetoric and lies. Our hate group list has been widely cited by journalists and academics since we began publishing it in 1990, and the groups we include there deserve the label.”
Last month, the Fort Lauderdale-based D. James Kennedy Ministries sued the SPLC over being labeled as an anti-LGBT hate group on the SPLC’s Hate Map. In the lawsuit filed in federal court in Montgomery, the group said it is being slandered and that it is not a hate group. Other anti-LGBT hate groups on the list include the Liberty Counsel, whose founder Mat Staver defended former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in his case before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary.
Frank Wright, the CEO and president of D. James Kennedy Ministries, and Staver both signed on to the open letter against the SPLC. Staver has called gay rights activists “demonic” and likened them to terrorists. He also called for a “new revolutionary war” or “civil war” when the Supreme Court issued its Obergefell v. Hodges decision that gave same-sex couples the right to marry, which are listed by the SPLC as reasons why the organization is a hate group.
Seven of the nine anti-LGBT groups on the SPLC’s Hate Map explicitly prohibit violence by their members, according to a report by Fox News.
But the Hate Map isn’t just about physical violence, the SPLC has said.
Another group that signed on to the letter against the SPLC, the Alliance Defending Freedom, also made it onto the SPLC’s Hate Map. It defended a French law in the European Court of Human Rights that required the sterilization of transgender citizens seeking recognition of their gender change. In other cases, the ADF has argued, like it did in the EU, that anti-discrimination protections do not extend to LGBT groups.
The American Family Association, another group on the hate list that signed the letter, has called Islam a religion of war and violence and their officials have blamed LGBT people for Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust, despite the fact that that group was one of the targets of Hitler’s persecution. The group has published films advocated conversion therapy, a now discredited technique used to “treat” gay people, and has said more than 80 percent of gay men have sexually transmitted diseases.
Either way, the groups say the SPLC is an “attack dog of the political left” and that anti-LGBT views do not amount to hate and should not be lumped into a list populated by skin heads, white supremacists and the KKK.
“To associate public interest law firms and think tanks with neo-Nazis and the KKK is unconscionable, and represents the height of irresponsible journalism,” the letter reads. “All reputable news organizations should immediately stop using the SPLC’s descriptions of individuals and organizations based on its obvious political prejudices.”
In Alabama, the SPLC has fought successfully in court against prison overcrowding and inadequate medical and mental resources in the state’s prison system.
Last month, the SPLC came under fire after an article in The Weekly Standard highlighted the group’s investments across the globe including $69 million the group has invested in offshore equities and other investments, which amounts to nearly 20 percent of its $320 million endowments. The remainder of their endowment is invested domestically.
The SPLC has said it invests its money in a way that is common for universities, foundations and other non-profits that also have portions of their endowments invested in off-shore funds. Groups that have endowments use the payoff from dividends as income to fund their activities.