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Southern Poverty Law Center Inflates “Domestic Terrorism”

The Southern Poverty Law Center is out with a brand new report on “the year in hate and extremism” and an accompanying letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking them to reevaluate the nation’s ability to respond to the “growing threat of non-Islamic domestic terrorism.”

The warning is somewhat ironic because earlier this year the SPLC’s own work had the effect of painting a target for a domestic terrorist.

CNN spoke to Reason editor and SPLC skeptic Jesse Walker:

 But Jesse Walker, of the Reason Foundation and author of an upcoming book, “The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory,” said counting groups isn’t a good way to measure the threat. “I’m dubious to assume growth in numbers is related to violence.”

Also, the center’s definition of hate groups has changed in the past year, kicking up a controversy. Critics accused the group of unfairly bundling together organizations with vastly different points of view — and painting them all as potentially violent.

For example a North Carolina-based group calling itself “Granny Warriors” appears on the SPLC list of active “patriots.”

It’s well known that the SPLC employs a pretty broad definition for what constitutes a hate group or domestic threat. Objectionable as the Family Research Council can be, especially now that they’ve brought on frothing Islamophobic hawk Jerry Boykin as a VP, few would consider them worthy of DHS’s attention. Even the Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank condemned the FRC’s “hate group” designation after it nearly led to a mass shooting.

The SPLC’s listing of “patriot groups” is even more broad and pointless: if you look at the 2011 list, every state chapter of the Constitution Party and the John Birch Society is counted separately. The Tenth Amendment Center is listed along with Nullify NOW!, even though the latter is a campaign put on by the former. The numbers are inflated to the point of meaninglessness, and though I can’t find a link to the organizations included on this year’s list, one wonders if the number of patriot groups really has had “explosive growth” or whether the dragnet has just gotten wider.

Ken Silverstein’s 2000 profile of the organization is worth a re-read:

 who could object to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Montgomery, Alabama-based group that recently sent out this heartwarming yet mildly terrifying appeal to raise money for its “Teaching Tolerance” program, which prepares educational kits for schoolteachers? Cofounded in 1971 by civil rights lawyer cum direct-marketing millionaire Morris Dees, a leading critic of “hate groups” and a man so beatific that he was the subject of a made-for-TV movie, the SPLC spent much of its early years defending prisoners who faced the death penalty and suing to desegregate all-white institutions like Alabama’s highway patrol. That was then.

Today, the SPLC spends most of its time—and money—on a relentless fund-raising campaign, peddling memberships in the church of tolerance with all the zeal of a circuit rider passing the collection plate. “He’s the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of the civil rights movement,” renowned anti- death-penalty lawyer Millard Farmer says of Dees, his former associate, “though I don!t mean to malign Jim and Tammy Faye.” The Center earned $44 million last year alone—$27 million from fund-raising and $17 million from stocks and other investments—but spent only $13 million on civil rights program, making it one of the most profitable charities in the country.

I’m willing to believe that the niche the SPLC fills ought to exist, that it ought to be someone’s job to keep tabs on neo-Nazis and the KKK. But the way the SPLC goes about it—and it seems like they’ve only gotten worse since Silverstein took them to task—it’s pretty hard to take them seriously.

about the author

Arthur Bloom is the former editor of The American Conservative online. He was previously deputy editor of the Daily Caller and a columnist for the Catholic Herald. He holds masters degrees in urban planning and American studies from the University of Kansas. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Spectator (UK), The Guardian, Quillette, The American Spectator, Modern Age, and Tiny Mix Tapes.

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