An Open Letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center: What is a Hate Group?

In today’s political climate, the word “hate” gets thrown around a lot, and over the last ten years, it has lost nearly all meaning. While some still view hate as it should be seen–an intense feeling of dislike towards someone of a different race or culture–some have decided that “hate” is an idea they disagree with. Not one person or organization has taken the term as strongly as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Founded in 1971, as a sister group to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the organization has done plenty of good over the years. However, that does not excuse the fact that, in recent history, some believe they have become just as politicized as CNN and Fox. In 2001, they created a branch called “Hatewatch,” in which they monitor different alleged hate groups. Labeling actual hate groups is one thing, but to label half the church assemblies in the United States as “hate groups” is completely ill-founded and bound to lead nowhere good for the churches in question or the SPLC. In their 48 years of operation, the SPLC has faced more law-suits for defamation than any other non-profit in the country.

One of the many slandered was the conservative organization, Patriot Prayer, which clashed with Portland Antifa in 2018. This riot was covered thoroughly by the media, but nearly every media outlet got the story wrong from the outset. Antifa went after the alleged “nazis,” and when they were done, they went after random civilians and journalists. Patriot Prayer took most of the blame for the violence because of their retaliation, which caused their leader, Joey Gibson, to lose his Senate nomination in the wake of the attack. According to the Portland Police Department, it was a mostly peaceful event. Yet Antifa had, and still has, a long history of violence against alleged “nazis,” especially in Portland, and even far left outlets such as MSNBC went out to investigate who was really responsible. The SPLC, however, decided to put the blame on Patriot Prayer for the riots, claiming that they were responsible for millions of dollars in property damage. To this day, they still hold this claim, despite a lawsuit by Patriot Prayer itself and an abundance of evidence in support of the contrary.

In February of 2019, the founder of the Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes, sued the SPLC for defamation on behalf of himself and the group he founded. This was in response to them placing his organization on their hate map, which damaged the Proud Boy’s reputation. Alongside Buzzfeed and MSNBC, the SPLC not only claimed that they were a hate group, but they also argued that the courts should rule the group unconstitutional and regulate their speech because of “an infringement on the public order.” 

In this case, the SPLC was operating much less on objective thought and more about subjective feelings. Disagreeing with a group like the Proud Boys is acceptable; disagreement and argument is a crucial part of any democracy. However, lumping them in with groups like Neo-Nazi’s of America and the Klu Klux Klan is so bizarrely nonfactual. According to the SPLC, the Proud Boys had “documented instances of misogynistic and white-supremacist rhetoric.” But they never provided any evidence for these claims, and in the end, lost the lawsuit and were forced to issue a retraction. 

The Three Percent is a far-right militant group based out of Georgia, often referred to by locals as the Georgia Security Force and recognized as a part of the Georgia Army National Guard. They are probably the most grotesque example of defamation on behalf of this non-profit. The SPLC labeled them under the category of “general hate” with no substantiation at all. The group did not see any media coverage until Vice produced a documentary. But before this, the group had never expressed hate towards any particular person or group on account of race, religion, or gender and they still have not to this day. The Three Percent has yet to take this issue to court, yet the SPLC removed them from their hate map not long after the Vice documentary came out. 

According to the SPLC’s website, there are over a thousand hate groups currently tracked across the country. These groups could range anywhere from the Nation of Islam in South Carolina to the American Nazi Party right here in California, but they also track churches across the country labeling their religious beliefs as hate speech. Which is why many people, on both the political left and right, no longer take this group seriously. Even Pete Buttigeig, an openly gay candidate for the presidency, has spoken out against the idea of condemning churches that oppose same-sex marriage.

Over nearly 50 years, the SPLC has done nearly just as much good for Americans than the ACLU and NAACP. However, they’ve stretched this idea of “hate groups” way too far, and they are showing no indication of slowing down. This kind of rhetoric on behalf of the SPLC enables more and more groups like Antifa and Refuse Fascism to operate violently off of false data. This kind of ideology the SPLC promotes goes against nearly everything the United States stands for as a country. They preach their own political beliefs as objective truth while denouncing those they disagree with as intolerable. It’s this kind of behavior that enables similar actions in political protests today.