Posted on November 9, 2018

The State of Hate

David Montgomery, Washington Post, November 8, 2018

“See that speck there?” retired Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin says, directing my gaze to the ceiling of the Family Research Council’s lobby in Washington. I spy a belly-button-size opening in the plaster. “That’s a bullet hole.”

The blemish has been preserved for six years. “See that?” he asks, now indicating a cratered fire alarm panel near the reception desk. “That’s a bullet hole. That’s the first round. The second went through the arm of the building manager. The third round hit the ceiling. … Fired on August 15th, 2012, by Floyd Lee Corkins.”


“He came in here to kill as many of us as possible because he found us listed as a hate group on the Southern Poverty Law Center website,” continues Boykin, FRC’s executive vice president, who is dressed today in a leather vest over a shirt and tie. “{snip} If they wrote op-eds about us and all that. But listing us as a hate group is just a step too far because they put us in the same category as the Ku Klux Klan. And who are they to have a hate-group list anyhow?”

Eight hundred miles south, the modernist, glass-and-concrete headquarters of the Southern Poverty Law Center etches the skyline of Montgomery, Ala., {snip}. On display in the SPLC’s lobby is a melted clock. It marks the time at 3:47 a.m., July 28, 1983, when Klansmen torched a previous SPLC headquarters. Over the years, according to the organization, more than two dozen extremists have been jailed for plots to kill its employees or damage its offices.

Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC, {snip} says {snip}, “Labeling people hate groups is an effort to hold them accountable for their rhetoric and the ideas they are pushing,” says Cohen, who is dressed in a polo shirt, khakis and running shoes.

“Obviously the hate label is a blunt one,” Cohen concedes when I ask whether advocates like the FRC [Family Research Counsel], or proponents of less immigration like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or conservative legal stalwarts like the Alliance Defending Freedom, really have so much in common with neo-Nazis and the Klan that they belong in the same bucket of shame. “It’s one of the things that gives it power, and it’s one of the things that can make it controversial. Someone might say, ‘Oh, it’s without nuance.’ … But we’ve always thought that hate in the mainstream is much more dangerous than hate outside of it. The fact that a group like the FRC or a group like FAIR can have congressional allies and can testify before congressional committees, the fact that a group like ADF can get in front of the Supreme Court — to me that makes them more dangerous, not less so. … It’s the hate in the business suit that is a greater danger to our country than the hate in a Klan robe.”

The SPLC was founded in 1971 to take on legal cases related to racial injustice, poverty and the death penalty. Then, in the early 1980s, it launched Klanwatch, a project to monitor Klan groups, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists. Their hate seemed self-evident. But eventually the SPLC began tracking — and labeling — a wider swath of extremism. And that’s when things became more complicated.

Today the SPLC’s list of 953 “Active Hate Groups” is an elaborate taxonomy of ill will. There are many of the usual suspects: Ku Klux Klan (72 groups), Neo-Nazi (121), White Nationalist (100), Racist Skinhead (71), Christian Identity (20), Neo-Confederate (31), Black Nationalist (233) and Holocaust Denial (10). There are also more exotic strains familiar only to connoisseurs: Neo-Volkisch (28; “spirituality premised on the survival of white Europeans”) and Radical Traditional Catholicism (11; groups that allegedly “routinely pillory Jews as ‘the perpetual enemy of Christ’ ”). Then there are the more controversial additions of the last decade-and-a-half or so: Anti-LGBT (51), Anti-Muslim (113), Anti-Immigrant (22), Hate Music (15), Male Supremacy (2). Finally, the tally is rounded out by a general category called Other (53) — “a hodge-podge of hate doctrines.”

For decades, the hate list was a golden seal of disapproval, considered nonpartisan enough to be heeded by government agencies, police departments, corporations and journalists. But in recent years, as the list has swept up an increasing number of conservative activists — mostly in the anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim categories — those conservatives have been fighting back. Boykin, of the FRC, recently sent a letter to about 100 media outlets (including The Washington Post) and corporate donors on behalf of four dozen groups and individuals “who have been targeted, defamed, or otherwise harmed” by the SPLC, warning that the hate list is no longer to be trusted. Mathew Staver, chairman of the Christian legal advocacy group Liberty Counsel, told me 60 organizations are interested in suing the SPLC.

{snip} The FBI has worked with the SPLC in the past on outreach programs, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled a very different attitude. At a meeting of the Alliance Defending Freedom in August, Sessions said, “You are not a hate group,” and condemned the SPLC for using the label “to bully and to intimidate groups like yours which fight for religious freedom.”

Along the way, the SPLC undermined its own credibility with a couple of blunders. In 2015, it apologized for listing Ben Carson as an extremist (though not on the hate list), saying the characterization was inaccurate. Then, this past June, the group paid $3.4 million to Muslim activist Maajid Nawaz and his Quilliam organization to settle a threatened lawsuit. The SPLC had listed them in a “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists” (again, not on the main hate list). The SPLC apologized for misunderstanding Nawaz’s work to counter Islamist extremism.

Ironically, the assault on the SPLC comes at a time when, by other measures, it has reached a new peak of public regard. Last year the group raised a whopping $132 million through its famously relentless direct-mail appeals and other giving. (Disclosure: Last year my wife gave $25 to the SPLC, as I learned from her after I started working on this story.) That’s a 164 percent increase over the $50 million it took in a year before. The SPLC’s endowment is up to $433 million. SPLC leaders explain the jump as a reaction to the tone unleashed by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and continued by the Trump administration.

{snip} By getting specific about the SPLC’s particular charges against particular organizations, I thought I might be able to try to separate hate from hyperbole.

The SPLC’s definition of a hate group is “an organization that — based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities — has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics,” including race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation. It’s a standard that is in line with the latest thinking among scholars of hate, and also one that intentionally parallels the FBI’s definition of a hate crime.

Does an alliance of lawyers with conservative Christian leanings that has won nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in the past seven years meet that criteria? According to Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project — which produces the hate list — the decision to put the Alliance Defending Freedom on the list for 2016 was a judgment call that went all the way up to top leadership at the SPLC.


Tedesco, like representatives of other organizations characterized as haters by the SPLC, said that since the ADF was added to the list, the group has been barred from raising money through AmazonSmile, a program set up by to help customers designate nonprofits to receive a portion of the price of purchases. According to an Amazon spokeswoman, Amazon relies on the SPLC alongside an arm of the U.S. Treasury Department to determine if a group is ineligible because it promotes intolerance, hate or criminal activity. {snip}


In the middle of my tour of alleged hate groups, I made a trip to a Georgia satellite office of the SPLC, where much of the team that researches the hate list is based. On my way, I read the autobiography of SPLC co-founder Morris Dees. A born raconteur, Dees proved to be as good a marketer as a lawyer. He hit on the novel strategy of shutting down Klan groups by suing them, and he spun equally compelling tales of injustice to juries and to recipients of the fundraising appeals he used to finance the nonprofit law center. Now 81, Dees doesn’t come into the office regularly anymore, according to a spokeswoman, and I never got to meet him. He still was paid $358,000 last year, just ahead of Cohen, who earned $351,000.

The SPLC may be best known for its hate monitoring, but that work takes up a fraction of the total budget and staff — about $4.6 million out of $72 million, and 30 employees of a total of 330. The post-Trump fundraising boom has allowed anti-hate resources to double since 2015, to meet what the SPLC says is a rising need, while the overall budget is projected to reach $85 million with 400 employees by the end of next year. The bulk of the center’s work is legal advocacy. {snip}


Next, I visited the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington. The CIS supports reduced legal immigration and tougher border security. The lobby is decorated with executive director Mark Krikorian’s collection of kitsch renderings of the Statue of Liberty — Barbie, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, covers of the New Yorker and the Saturday Evening Post, Eddie Murphy in the movie poster for “Coming to America,” even a vintage Peace Corps recruiting poster that says: “Make America a better place. Leave the Country.”

The CIS has testified before Congress 100 times and publishes studies purporting to show the burden of immigration. The center supports a policy “that admits fewer people but does a better job of welcoming and incorporating those people,” Krikorian said. Among the factors that got CIS added to the SPLC’s hate list: the center’s habit of circulating links to articles from arguably noxious sources in its regular email roundup. Also, a series of harsh-sounding quotes about immigrants by Krikorian and some of his colleagues.

Krikorian indulged my desire to go deep into the SPLC’s 14-page hate dossier. The SPLC (with research help from the civil rights group Center for New Community) found that in 450 emails over 10 years, the CIS circulated 2,012 pieces from what the SPLC deems white nationalist websites. The total includes more than 1,700 from, an anti-immigration site that promotes white-identity politics. Popular article tags on Vdare include “minority occupation government,” “anti-white hate crimes,” “immigrant mass murder” and “white guy loses his job.”


The dossier leaves unclear how many of the 2,012 articles themselves were hateful, as opposed to having been published on platforms that the SPLC deems hateful. It offers only a handful of examples of the actual articles, and Krikorian maintains that most were legitimate immigration commentary. “The point is to cast a wide net,” he said. “There’s all kinds of stuff on Vdare that I have problems with. … But you know it is one of the main sources of commentary on immigration, and I’d be doing a disservice to readers not including immigration-related stuff that appears at Vdare.”

Beirich countered that readers who clicked on the links still found themselves on hateful websites, and the center’s aggregation helps legitimize those sites. Moreover, according to the SPLC, dozens of the pieces the CIS circulated were by authors whose work elsewhere is hateful.

“Providing links to immigration articles written by people who in other venues wrote things on other topics that are objectionable, and that I myself almost certainly would object to — so what?” Krikorian says. “You’ve got to admire the Inspector Javert-like obsession to go through hundreds of these links and find out who the author was and then Google the author and see what he — I mean it’s just, get a life, people!”

I read to Krikorian excerpts of pieces that the SPLC does cite. He owned up to some mistakes, {snip},

“When you cast the net wide you’re going to catch some crap along with the fish,” Krikorian said. “I’m happy to disavow that article, but we don’t avow anything we’re distributing anyway.”

Turning to his group’s eyebrow-raising quotes the SPLC had culled, Krikorian knew which one I was going to mention first — because he’s been trying to explain it ever since: In 2010, after the Haitian earthquake that killed more than 200,000, he wrote in a six-paragraph blog post on another site: “My guess is that Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough.”


Krikorian told me his point was historical: “Haiti probably has had all the problems it’s had over the past couple hundred years precisely because it succeeded in breaking away from France almost too early. In other words if they had — obviously anybody who’s a slave has the right to rise up at any time you want — if they had failed, at this point France would be shoveling money at them just like they are to their other black slave sugar colonies in the Caribbean, Guadalupe and Martinique.” {snip}

Next, from the dossier, Krikorian in 2015: “The diminution of sovereignty engineered by the EU is bad enough for some share of the population, but many more will object to extinguishing their national existence a la ‘Camp of the Saints.’ ” {snip}

“Like the book or don’t like the book” — Krikorian said he could only get through a few pages — “the concept is real,” he told me. “When immigrants from poor countries come up and basically present a potential threat to the integrity of prosperous modern societies … it’s not just economic because that’s not what people are reacting to. They’re reacting to a kind of cultural assertion that the host societies are reluctant to push back against.”

One more: “We have to have security against both the dishwasher and the terrorist because you can’t distinguish between the two with regards to immigration control,” Krikorian said on none other than Frank Gaffney’s radio show in 2014. {snip}

“I’m not even sure why they pulled that out,” Krikorian said. “That’s sort of a truism. The point is you can’t have immigration security that magically knows ahead of time who the terrorist is and who the dishwasher is. … There’s not that many terrorists among illegal aliens, but you can’t pick and choose who you’re going to try to enforce the law against.”

The dossier contains more of the same. {snip}

With the SPLC relying upon such a seemingly objective and widely accepted definition of hate, why do the vast majority of the groups on the hate list fall on the right side of the ideological spectrum? {snip}

Can that possibly be true? What about antifascists, or antifa, those black-clad anarchists who hate capitalists and even Democrats, and who love to run amok during events like Trump’s inauguration?

While often violent, the antifa movement doesn’t have an ideology against people for their immutable characteristics, Cohen says. The SPLC has condemned antifa’s violent tactics and has spotlighted acts of ecoterrorism and animal rights extremism. But to the SPLC and other hate watchdogs, not all violent groups are hate groups, and not all hate groups are violent.

What about Black Lives Matter? “We have heard nothing from the founders and leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement that is remotely comparable to the racism espoused by, for example, the leaders of the New Black Panther Party — and nothing at all to suggest that the bulk of the demonstrators hold supremacist or black separatist views,” the SPLC says in its online FAQ on hate.

Boykin of the FRC — the first group on my itinerary — scoffed at these distinctions. “At the same time we’re listed as a hate group … antifa, which advocates violence, is not,” he said. “Black Lives Matter, which advocates killing cops, is not.” {snip}


Its view, the FRC says, is based on science. Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow and the FRC’s expert on sexuality, laid out the case on the phone after my visit to the council. It starts with the fact that nearly all child molesters are men — whether their targets are boys or girls. Then, the proportion of male abusers who attack boys is significantly greater than the estimated proportion of gays in the general population. “That in itself would seem to indicate that the relative rate of sexual abuse of minors by homosexual men is disproportionate to their representation in the overall population,” Sprigg said.


In the end, it seemed to me that the four groups I visited contained unequal quantities of what even the SPLC calls hate. Yet by its nature, the hate list draws no distinctions, and the SPLC is unapologetic in its view that hate is hate: “I don’t see gradations with these organizations,” Beirich says.


Meanwhile, both sides of the debate over the meaning of “hate” continue to make their cases to the public and, specifically, to donors — ensuring that the war will go on. “If you’re outraged about the path President Trump is taking, I urge you to join us in the fight against the mainstreaming of hate,” stated an SPLC direct-mail appeal sent last month over Dees’s signature. “{snip} Working together, we can push back against these bigots.”

Messages like that are what the FRC’s Boykin cited to me as proof that the SPLC invokes the specter of hate to promote and finance a left-wing agenda. I mentioned to Boykin that I had heard that the SPLC’s enemies, including the FRC, similarly raise money by invoking the boogeyman of the SPLC. He chortled in response. “Prove that one,” he said. “I don’t think you’ll find any evidence of us specifically using the SPLC to raise money. … We appeal to our people based on a more positive message.”

Later, four of the FRC’s 2018 fundraising appeals mentioning the SPLC came into my hands, {snip}.

As these letters make painfully clear, hate, like so much in American life, has become highly ideological. In this climate, seeking widespread credibility for a hate list — with its inherently blunt methodology — seems at once quaint, noble and, possibly, futile.