Posted on May 1, 2023

Southern Poverty Law Center’s ‘Hate’ List Suffers ‘Monumental’ Legal Setback

Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, May 1, 2023

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s famous list of “hate” groups is under fire in a courtroom in Alabama, where a judge has opened the door for a group that opposes illegal immigration to challenge the SPLC for slapping it with the Scarlet H.

The Georgia-based Dustin Inman Society and founder D.A. King say they work against illegal immigration but have no problem with legal immigrants. Indeed, some legal immigrants are on the organization’s board, and Mr. King’s adopted sister is an immigrant.

He says it’s defamation for the SPLC to call him an “anti-immigrant hate group.”

The SPLC asked a judge to toss the case, but U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins refused in a ruling last week. He said Mr. King should have a chance to develop his case and seek more evidence against the SPLC through discovery.

“Plaintiffs have ‘nudged’ their defamation claims — premised on SPLC’s designation of DIS as an ‘anti-immigrant hate group’ — ‘across the line from conceivable to plausible,’” Judge Watkins wrote.

Mr. King still has a high hill to climb. Defamation cases are almost impossible to win, particularly for those deemed “public figures,” as Mr. King acknowledged he is for this case. To prevail, he must prove that the SPLC was wrong and showed “actual malice” in making the claims.

But Tyler O’Neil, author of “Making Hate Pay,” an examination of the SPLC, called the judge’s ruling “monumental.”

“This is the very first defamation lawsuit specifically challenging the SPLC’s ‘hate group’ accusation to make it to discovery,” Mr. O’Neil said. “Conservatives who have faced routine defamation may finally get some justice, and the American people may finally see behind the curtain how the SPLC runs its ‘hate group’ scam.”


In its legal briefs in Mr. King’s case, the SPLC has acknowledged that its labels are less science and more a political argument.

SPLC attorneys said the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee protects opinions, so the organization cannot be held liable for defamation.

“SPLC’s anti-immigrant hate group designation is not capable of being proved false, but is an opinion expressed as part of a political debate,” the organization argued.

The SPLC questioned whether there can be a fixed definition of hate or being “anti-immigrant.” If there is no definition, then there is no standard to judge the SPLC’s argument as false.

But Judge Watkins, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, said that doesn’t wash, at least for the anti-immigrant label. He said there is a fixed definition of “immigrant” in federal law, so it’s easy to figure out what anti-immigrant means. That should be clear to “SPLC’s attorneys, who encompass some of the brightest legal minds in the country,” he wrote.

So the inference of the anti-immigrant label is that the Dustin Inman Society and Mr. King hate legal immigrants, including those who have become citizens.

Mr. King says that’s ridiculous for many reasons — not least of which is his adoptive immigrant sister, the immigrants who are on the society‘s board and his organization’s repeated statements that its chief goal is to reel in illegal immigration.

In an email to The Washington Times, Mr. King said he and the Dustin Inman Society already have achieved something with the lawsuit by getting the SPLC to acknowledge that its vaunted hate list is a statement of opinion, not fact.


Other groups targeted by the SPLC are watching the case.

Among them is the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank that argues for stricter immigration limits, which the SPLC labeled an anti-immigrant hate group.


Mr. Krikorian said that if Mr. King prevails, “every other group that has been attacked with this label will be able to use the ruling to jujitsu SPLC and delegitimize it.”