Posted on January 28, 2024

Defame and Punish

Christopher Rufo, City Journal, January 26, 2024

The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project recently procured a cache of government documents that expose a disturbing pattern: left-wing NGOs seeking to mobilize the state against political opponents on specious accusations of “violent extremism.”

According to the report, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) urged Washington State’s “unified counterterrorism” center to investigate me, Daily Wire host Matt Walsh, and social-media influencer Libs of TikTok, under the false pretext that our reporting on gender theory in schools and transgender medical interventions constitutes “hate,” “extremism,” and “violence.”

The campaign to mobilize law enforcement against critics of gender ideology or critical race theory is not a limited affair. The ADL and a related organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), have developed it as a scalable, repeatable tactic to silence political opponents.

The playbook is simple. The SPLC and ADL paint a target on an individual critic, then mobilize a decentralized network of private and public assets to degrade, censor, and punish that target. On the private side, the groups activate left-wing journalists to smear the target in the press, demand that social media companies censor the target’s online speech, and encourage left-wing editors to denigrate the target on his Wikipedia page. On the public side, the groups send notices to state and federal law enforcement, hoping to mobilize the government to open investigations and intimidate critics with the threat of state repression, even incarceration.

Sometimes it works. The SPLC and ADL have damaged the reputations of innocent journalists, driven negative media coverage against mainstream conservative groups, and influenced social media firms’ censorship policies. Seeing the success of this model, other left-wing pressure groups have followed suit, demanding full-scale state repression. The National School Boards Association, for example, persuaded the Biden administration to mobilize the FBI’s counterterrorism division against parents who opposed critical race theory.

How are groups such as the SPLC and ADL able to call upon such a wide range of assets? By exploiting their reputations for being honest brokers. The SPLC and the ADL have been able to trade on their supposed moral authority on racism and anti-Semitism to silence critics of social-justice politics. {snip}