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Who gets to define a hate group?

How do we prevent “hate” from becoming a badge of honor? By defeating all haters and hate groups, I would hope.

Unfortunately, the matter is not so simple. The fight against hate is complicated by a certain degree of indiscriminate application of the term “hate.” If groups that are not hate groups are labeled as such, then the defeat of real hate groups will still leave the hate label tossed around. Fallaciously, the problem will still fill us with angst or fear.

Assuming that we can all agree that terrorist groups are hate groups, we have the case of Jonathan Xie of New Jersey, who was arrested last May 22 for trying to provide support to Hamas, which the US and many others define as a terrorist organization. According to NBC4 in New York, Xie said last year on Instagram:

“Just donated $100 to Hamas. Pretty sure it was illegal but I don’t give a damn.”

I won’t debate whether “don’t give a damn” is equivalent to “badge of honor.” The point is clear: American society has, alas, devolved to the place where, for some, hate is not a matter of shame, but a matter of pride. The onus for this rests mainly on the haters and hate groups themselves.

To a lesser extent, however, the onus falls on those who apply the hate group label to groups who merely disagree with them.

Take the case of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

It was founded for noble purposes: to fight the KKK. It had notable successes in this regard. That was almost 50 years ago. For some reason, a phrase uttered to me by the late Rabbi Nathan Bulman decades ago has stuck in my mind: “the inherent conservativism of all institutions.” Institutions want to preserve themselves, no matter what. This can be a fine thing, but in the case of the SPLC (as it initials itself), it long ago stopped fighting the KKK, and to an extent has made a business out of hate — not to mention soiling its own house.

Item: SPLC’s co-founder and former chief trial counsel, Morris Dees, was fired last March. Former employees accused him of being “complicit” in harrassment and racial discrimination within the organization, and one employee accused him of sexual harassment. The organization itself did not give a reason for Dee’s firing, but did say it needed to “rebuild its mission.”

I would argue that if an anti-discrimination group such as SPLC is guilty of discrmination within itself, then its labeling other organizations outside itself as hate groups is suspect; not necessarily wrong, but not to be taken at face value, either.

Item: Not only is SPLC Co-founder Dees no longer with the group. Shortly after Dees’ firing, SPLC’s President Richard Cohen resigned for undisclosed “misconduct.” That is the official version. But in a letter obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Cohen acknowledged allegations of “females and black employees” facing discrmination within SPLC.

Item: SPLC’s legal director also resigned.

This is the organization that gets to stigmatize others with the hate label? Physician, heal thyself!

Who gets to define a hate group? Not SPLC, I would argue. To the extent that non-hate groups or individuals are labeled as such, SPLC loses credibility even when it correctly pegs a real hate group. Make no mistake. SPLC does mislabel and defame others. Case in point:

SPLC lost a $3.375 million defamation suit in 2018 for labeling Quilliam International and Naajid Nawaz “anti-Muslim extremists.” This wasn’t one of those lawsuits that “settled,” with the loser paying out a big sum but not admitting to any wrongdoing. In this case, SPLC admitted its wrongdoing.

Clearly, the hate (or “extremist”) label applied by SPLC cannot be taken at face value. The organization has a credibility problem.

Another group that SPLC calls a hate group is the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal organization. This is the group that successfully defended the Lakewood, Colorado cakeshop before the Supreme Court. Clearly, the Alliance has a different view of biblical norms than SPLC. That’s OK, on both sides. Let them disagree. For Alliance to disagree with SPLC shouldn’t earn SPLC a “hate group” label. Equally, for SPLC to disagree with Alliance shouldn’t earn Alliance a “hate group” label. But that is how SPLC stigmatizes Alliance.

This casts doubt on the real dimensions of hate in this country claimed by SPLC, which is too bad, since, measuring by mass shootings alone, not to mention hate online, we have a serious problem of hate in America. But not so big as SPLC’s defamatory or indiscriminate use of the term would have us believe. According to SPLC, mere disagreemeent is elevated to “hate,” and conclusions are reached that end in millions of dollars lost in court.

Who gets to define a hate group? An organization that does not overuse the term, a practice which, in part, exacerbates the very problem it professes to want to solve.

I don’t know whether it is true that SPLC mainly hired white people. I do know that its sits on an endowment of close to one-half billion dollars.

This, of course, would be a good thing, if the organization were squeaky clean, if it did not try to ruin the lives of people with whom it disagrees, if it did not mislabel as “extremists” some people who it later had to confess were not extremists — if, in short, it did not act like an organization merely trying to preserve itself.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

One thought on “Who gets to define a hate group?

  1. Richard Keefe

    Excellent article.If permitted, I would like to offer a point of clarification:

    The SPLC was actually founded in 1971 to litigate violations of the recently-passed Civil Rights acts of the 1960s. The kind of anonymous, thankless “poverty law” work the company was named for. Its theater of operations was specifically the Deep South. It wasn’t until a decade later that Morris Dees discovered that there was a lot more publicity and money to be made by fighting the Klan.

    “The money poured in,” according to Randall Williams, a journalist hired by Dees in 1981 to form Klanwatch, a unit of the SPLC specifically designed to promote the SPLC’s work against the Klan. In a 1988 cover story in The Progressive magazine, Williams recounted,

    “Everybody, it seems, was against the Klan. We developed a whole new donor base anchored by wealthy Jewish contributors on the East and West Coasts, and they gave big bucks.” In particular, Williams noted, “Our budget shot up tremendously—and still, we were sometimes able to raise as much as $3 million a year more than we could spend.”

    Egerton, J. (1988). Poverty palace. (Cover story). Progressive, 52(7), 14.

    When real hate groups, like the rag-tag remnants of the Klan ran low, Mr. Dees, who made his millions in direct-mail marketing, not law, simply invented new ones and the cash kept pouring in.

    As the article points out, America does have a hate problem, or perhaps a mental health problem would be more accurate, and no, it is not as big as organizations like the SPLC, which rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars from selling a never-ending stream of fear and outrage to its carefully targeted Progressive donor-base, would have us believe.

    There are roughly 330 million people in the US today. If only 1% of them (and that’s likely a very gross under-count) are criminally violent, that’s 3,300,000 very dangerous people walking around. By that measure, we should be seeing far more senseless violence than we do.

    SPLC “hate group” counts are for fundraising, not fact finding.


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