The SPLC headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama. Public Domain, via Wikipedia
The Granny Warriors are a dangerous hate group. Just ask Mark Potok and his crack staff of investigators at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Just one problem. Try finding the Granny Warriors. There is a website with that name; a fashion blog of sorts that has not been updated since 2015. There is another one-page website that shows pictures of an RV with the name Granny Warriors on the side. When the Granny Warriors first appeared on Mark Potok’s list, CNN was able to find the woman who founded the group who at the time was 74, making a quilt and suffering from congestive heart failure.
The richest poverty group in history
What is the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)? They fashion themselves as the protector of America from hate. They issue reports on “hate groups”, and occasionally sue one of them, usually those so poor they can’t muster a defense. And they have gotten fabulously wealthy doing it. Charlotte Allen, writing in the Weekly Standard, called it “the richest poverty organization in the history of the world.” The group is sitting on cash reserves of $350 million and raises upwards of $50 million every year, mostly from direct mail, making northern liberals believe we still live in a world where black men are lynched with impunity and KKK riders-in-the-night burn crosses and even houses.
There is obviously a large dollop of hucketerism in what SPLC does. Morris Dees, who founded SPLC in 1971, got rich long ago on direct mail selling “everything from doormats to cookbooks,” says Allen. Dees is even in the Direct Mail Hall of Fame. Like any good carnival barker, he must scare the rubes into the tent and shake the shekels out of their pockets. He does this by making them think the dark night of fascism is upon us at every moment. Hence, even Granny Warriors are a threat.
Skeptics to the right of them, skeptics to the left of them
There are many SPLC skeptics, certainly on the right, but many on the left as well. Leftist Alexander Cockburn went after Dees et al at Counterpunch saying they were taking advantage of Barack Obama’s election to frighten “trembling liberals” into thinking “millions of extremists [were] primed to march down Main Street draped in Klan robes, a copy of Mein Kampf tucked under one arm and a Bible under the other.” Left-leaning Harper’s ran a 2000 piece called The Church of Morris Dees” charging that most of those on the SPLC list were fringe groups that perpetrated no violence and that most of the examples of violence cited by SPLC were lone wolves associated with no groups whatsoever.
When SPLC’s new list came out in 2013, the one with Granny Warriors, no less than Foreign Policy Magazine asked, “is American really being overrun by right-wing militias.” That year, SPLC claimed to have identified an all-time high 1360 hate groups, up from 1007 the year before. Foreign Policy questioned SPLC’s motivations and their methodology. SPLC is not an “objective purveyor of data,” they reported. “They’re anti-hate activists….their research needs to be weighed more carefully by media outlets that cover their pronouncements.”
Foreign Policy charged SPLC with using tricks to drive up the numbers. They do this by not making a distinction between national groups and local chapters. American Third Position Party, for instance, something you have certainly never heard of, is listed 17 times in SPLC’s 2012 report. The American Nazi Party is listed six times and the Council of Conservative Citizens is listed 37 times. Foreign Policy says when you eliminate multiple listings, the 1007 groups in 2012 becomes 358.
And among the remaining 358 are a blog called Crocker Post, a website/podcast called The Political Cesspool, and an anti-Islam site called Silver Bullet Gun Oil. Foreign Policy scoffs at the notion that these are “groups” at all.
‘Hate’ labeling is not harmless
The charges made by Mark Potok and his colleagues are far from harmless even if some of their targets are. Charles Murray was targeted as a hater by SPLC and this caused the now famous riot of students who attacked him and a Middlebury College professor who hosted him.
To this day, you can visit the downtown Washington DC offices of the Family Research Center and see the bullet holes left by Floyd Corkins who invaded the office 4 years ago with the intent of mass murder. He testified under oath that he decided to attack FRC based on Potok’s listing of FRC as a hate group. The attack came only months after the release of SPLC’s 2013 report.
Potok himself has said the intention of his group is not to simply monitor hate groups but to “destroy them.” Given the propensity of the left to resort to violence these days, this is of increasing concern to the other Christian groups who are in the crosshairs of Mark Potok and his chief “investigator” Heidi Beirich. It is reported the shooter of Congressman Steven Scalise on a ballfield in Northern Virginia had “liked” SPLC on Facebook.
SPLC’s campaign against the Center for Family and Human Rights
Of the many problems when considering SPLC’s hate list is how any group lands on the list. What is the criteria and methodology? How did the Granny Warriors land on Potok’s list? Frankly, it’s hard to tell.
The Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), the group I run, landed on the list a few years ago. In the report issued at the time, SPLC accused us of having “lauded” Scott Lively. You would be forgiven for not knowing Lively’s name. Hardly anyone does. He runs a tiny organization with a miniscule budget. He’s an Evangelical pastor who has worked with Christian groups in Uganda against what Pope Francis has called “ideological colonialism.” The left says Lively is responsible for the Ugandan “kill the gays bill”, a charge that is laughable on its face. Nonetheless, how did we “laud” him? In a news story about a federal lawsuit brought against him by a group of Ugandan homosexuals, we described his ministry in Massachusetts of giving out coffee and bibles to homeless men. That makes us a hate group, according to SPLC.
The SPLC report also cited our legal work in Belize when there was a national debate about their sodomy laws. We were asked for our expert legal opinion on Belize’s obligations under international law regarding sodomy and informed them they were free to decide the issue on their own, that international law did not require them to change their laws. My group did not take a position for or against sodomy. We never have. Giving legal advice on international law makes you a hate group, according to SPLC.
The goal: ‘destroy them’ – with the help of the media
SPLC likes to portray itself as a neutral referee, merely involved in calling balls and strikes when it comes to “hate.” But in a 2008 speech, Mark Potok let slip the mask when he said, “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.”
The problem here is that the media gives SPLC a free ride. Whenever my group is covered in the press, or FRC, or Alliance Defending Freedom, or American Family Association, or any of the many other conservative Christian groups, the report inevitably tags us “designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.” No reporter that I know of has ever done his own research to determine if this label fits or is fair. Consider also the word “designated”, as if SPLC is a governmental entity with the authority to determine such things.
The media is not the only group utilizing SPLC’s hate-labeling. So does Wikipedia. Every article in Wikipedia about a Christian group on the SPLC list also mentions their “designation” as a hate group. Keep in mind that Wikipedia is among the very first places anyone goes to research a group they are interested in.
Amazon is in on it, too. It does not allow “hate groups” to participate in its affinity “Smile” program whereby a piece of every purchase can be earmarked for a designated charity.
Within the past few weeks the non-profit monitor/reporter Guidestar has incorporated SPLC’s “designation” into its listing of charities. Guidestar is often the first stop for donors when considering a gift because it has complete tax information for every non-profit in the United States. So now, when you turn to the Guidestar page for Family Research Council, blazoned across the top is SPLC’s logo and the warning that FRC is a hate group. Stay away donors.
Suing the defenceless
Besides their hate list, one of SPLC’s specialties is suing small groups or individuals who barely have the wherewithal to defend themselves so when SPLC inevitably wins, they get to claim once more to have beaten back fascism. Even though they sit on a mountain of cash, they also get to ask their donors to fund the suit, which they almost certainly do.
Two years ago, SPLC sued Arthur Goldberg who then ran a New Jersey-based psychological referral service for those wishing to leave the homosexual life. SPLC sued under the New Jersey consumer fraud law accusing Goldberg of duping his clients with the bogus theory that they could stop acting out sexually with men. Goldberg was well-represented with pro-bono attorneys from California. At any one time, however, SPLC had 15 attorneys working on the case. To give you an idea of what Goldberg was up against, the judge wouldn’t even allow expert testimony on change therapy since he said it was a crackpot theory. Goldberg lost and now owes millions. SPLC now goes around with Goldberg’s scalp and extracts beaucoup bucks from grateful gays.
It is a neat trick to be able to label your political opponents “hate groups” and get the media and major corporations to go along, and to get rich doing it. The purpose, of course, is to silence free speech, to end debate, and in the words of SPLC’s Mark Potok “to completely destroy them.” Many are asking how this has any place in our modern political discourse.
Austin Ruse is president of C-Fam (Center for Family & Human Rights), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute in Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council. He is the author of “The Littlest Suffering Souls: Children Whose Short Lives Point Us to Christ” (Tan, 2017) and the upcoming (Fake Science: Exposing the Left’s Skewed Statistics, Fuzzy Facts, and Dodgy Data” (Regnery, 2017).