National News

Conservative Groups Push Back Against ‘Hate Group’ Labeling by SPLC

The Southern Poverty Law Center, headquartered in this Montgomery, Ala. building, is a high-profile group in the fight against racism. But it is also criticized by pro-family groups complaining of unfair inclusion on the SPLC’s annual list of dangerous “hate groups.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

WINDSOR TERRACE — The Southern Poverty Law Center, a high-profile group in the fight against racism, is being criticized by pro-family groups complaining of unfair inclusion on the SPLC’s annual list of dangerous “hate groups.”

On Feb. 1, SPLC published its latest hate-group list with an accompanying report, titled “The Year in Hate and Extremism 2020.” The list includes “anti-LGBTQ hate groups” — among them are the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, and the Center for Family and Human Rights.

Jeremy Tedesco, ADF senior counsel, responded by accusing SPLC of lying about conservative groups, like his, that make the annual list year after year.

The ADF describes itself as a Christian ministry founded in 1993 to advocate and fight for religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, marriage, and the family.

In a statement to The Tablet, Tedesco said the ADF “has won 11 cases at the U.S. Supreme Court since 2011.”

“Once a respected civil rights organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center has destroyed its own credibility because of its blatant partisan agenda,” Tedesco added. “It has devolved into a group that attacks and spreads lies about organizations and people who do not agree with its far-left agenda.”

Founded in 1971, the Alabama-based SPLC has a reputation of fighting for civil rights by identifying and calling attention to organizations that engage in racist rhetoric or violence. The center has also sued the Ku Klux Klan and other groups, winning damages for racial violence victims. In 1990, it started publishing an annual list of hate groups, including various KKK chapters, neo-Nazis, and anti-government militia groups.

In the list released this year, SPLC identified 838 hate groups in the U.S. in 2020. The center said that is “a decrease from the 940 documented in 2019 and the record-high 1,020 in 2018.”

Jeremy Tedesco is senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom in Scottsdale, Arizona.

SPLC noted, however, that the violent rioting on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol revealed a dangerous presence of right-wing extremism gaining momentum across the nation.

In an introduction to the report, Susan Corke, the center’s new Intelligence Project director, said the Jan. 6 rioting was “the culmination of years of right-wing radicalization.”

The SPLC has also been accused in the past of inciting violence. Officials for the Family Research Council noted that a man admitted to targeting their Washington, D.C. offices in August 2012 because he saw the FRC on the SPLC list of hate groups.

The gunman, Floyd Lee Corkins II, armed with a 9 mm pistol and 50 rounds of ammunition, wounded an unarmed security guard, who overpowered the shooter with help from other officers. Authorities said the guard might have prevented a mass shooting. Corkins was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

In recent years, SPLC added “anti-LGBTQ hate groups” to the list, like the Family Research Council, which is the lobbying arm of the pro-life group Focus on the Family. The Center for Family and Human Rights is a conservative advocacy group that monitors and comments about the United Nations’ activities.

The report also said that “influential anti-LGBTQ hate groups became further entrenched in the Trump White House, and the Trump Administration continued its years-long pattern of appointing federal judges with ties to anti-LGBTQ groups.”

It also says that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett “has ties to Alliance Defending Freedom,” which the SPLC has designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

Last fall, senators questioned Barrett about the ADF during the confirmation hearings for her nomination to the Supreme Court. They asked if she knew that the group had a long history of pushing for the criminalization of homosexuality.

Barrett said she did not know that, although she had been a guest speaker at a few of the group’s functions and that her speeches were about judicial originalism.

ADF built a web page titled “Setting the Record Straight” to address SPLC’s allegations.

“ADF has never supported the passage of laws criminalizing homosexuality,” the page states. “ADF believes that all people are made in the image of God and that everyone is worthy of dignity and respect.

“While ADF takes legal and policy positions that are informed by a biblically-based understanding of marriage, human sexuality, and the sanctity of life, we respect the human dignity of those with whom we disagree and win legal cases that also protect their freedom to express and advocate for their beliefs.”

The SPLC report suggested several actions to fight hate groups. One is the “de-platforming” from social media of any “public figures involved in inciting and giving encouragement to the armed insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.”

Also, the SPLC challenged corporations to “permanently suspend political donations to members of Congress and other elected officials that helped incite the violent siege.”

Five people died in the Capitol rioting, including Brian Sicknick, 42, a Capitol Police officer, and 35-year-old protestor Ashli Babbitt. Sicknick was fatally struck in the head during the riot, and Babbitt was shot by police while climbing through a broken window. Both were veterans; Sicknick served in the Air National Guard, and Babbitt had been in the U.S. Air Force.

William Boykin, FRC’s executive vice president, told Catholic News Agency that the SPLC is “a political defamation machine that has little respect for freedom of thought and expression.”

Consequently, Boykin added, the SPLC has become “a thoroughly disgraced organization that seeks to silence its political opponents with false and defamatory smears that endangers the lives of those targeted with it.”