Recently the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) — an Alabama-based civil rights organization — has been experiencing backlash from the various organizations it’s designated as “hate groups” over the past several years. For example, the SPLC is fending off frivolous lawsuits from D. James Kennedy Ministries (DJKM) and British activist and author Maajid Nawaz.
DJKM (formerly Coral Ridge Ministries) was listed as an anti-gay hate group for smearing gays and lesbians as child molesters and hiring virulent homophobes like Robert Knight. Last month DJKM announced it would be filing a federal lawsuit against the SPLC on the grounds that their “hate group” designation constitutes defamation.
Similarly, Maajid Nawaz, who claims to be an ex-radical Muslim, was placed on a list of “anti-Muslim extremists” published last year by the SPLC. Nawaz took umbrage at this, arguing that he is, in fact, a Muslim reformer and that the SPLC’s criticisms of him were spurious. However, Nawaz’s eventual response — a crowdfunded defamation suit — is even more ludicrous, since being labeled an “extremist” constitutes an opinion and cannot be proven or disproven.
And on September 9, 2017, the Colorado Springs Gazette stepped into the fray, publishing an article by its entire editorial board denouncing the SPLC and requesting that media outlets disassociate themselves from it. According to the article, titled “Media should not embrace far-left ‘poverty’ law firm,” the SPLC is tarring even innocuous conservative groups as hateful and bigoted and, thus, reporters should no longer treat them as a reliable source.
The writers of the Gazette complained that:
We have all seen the propensity of friends, neighbors and colleagues to thoughtlessly charge “racism” when someone disagrees with anything from immigration policy, to a proposal for health care reform, to tax cuts.
Most rational people despise racists, so charging another person with racism feels like a win-win for the accuser. “I’m not a racist, but you most certainly are. Therefore, we must discount anything you say.”
Unlike amateur pundits, professional media cannot whimsically lodge hate accusations. Even under today’s lowered standards of media conduct, reporters and editors know they need a third-party, authoritative “source” to accuse individuals or groups of racism and other forms of hatred.
They typically rely on the Southern Poverty Law Center, quoting it liberally as an ostensibly objective, knowledgeable source on all things hateful, racist and anti-Semitic.
They went on to note that a “group of 47 prominent conservatives asked journalists to knock it off” in an open letter. They claimed that the letter’s signers represented “diverse” groups including Refugee Resettlement Watch, the American College of Pediatricians, and the Alliance Defending Freedom.
However, the Gazette staff fails to note the reasons why any of those organizations were designated as hate groups in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, the SPLC does not list every conservative organization and website as a “hate group.” It does not list organizations as “hate groups” for believing that marriage is between a man and a woman, for example.
It does include groups that spread dangerous and demonstrably false claims about LGBTQ people, however. Take the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), for example. While it bills itself as a run-of-the-mill civil liberties group, the ADF works with anti-gay groups abroad to criminalize homosexuality — often in countries that are already hostile to LGBTQ rights like Jamaica.
Or take the so-called American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds). Despite its official-sounding name, ACPeds was founded by former members of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) — an actual medical organization — after the latter issued a 2002 policy statement affirming that same-sex parents pose no threat to adopted children.
And unlike the organization they broke away from over a decade ago, ACPeds distorts science in order to fearmonger over abortion and LGBTQ rights. According to the SPLC, ACPeds “has a history of propagating damaging falsehoods about LGBT people, including linking homosexuality to pedophilia, and claiming that LGBT people are more promiscuous than heterosexuals, and that LGBT people are a danger to children.”
You can be sure that none of these facts were mentioned in the Gazette‘s anti-SPLC article. Instead, the Gazette staff quoted the aforementioned open letter at length, allowing its authors to condemn the SPLC as a “discredited, left-wing, political activist organization that seeks to silence its political opponents with a ‘hate group’ label of its own invention and application.”
And they went on to accuse the SPLC of “carelessly hate-list[ing] Coloradans,” including one instance when they allegedly labeled a “Denver-area radio talk show host” anti-Semitic, despite the fact that this unnamed individual “was Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust.” The article ends by calling the SPLC “left-wing think tank that acts like a bombastic social media bully” and claiming they are “confounded and slightly scandalized” by the media’s reliance on them.
And, believe it or not, this isn’t the Gazette‘s first time defending professional gay-bashers from civil rights groups. In 2008 the newspaper’s staff published the article “Hate Crimes & Hate Groups,” which attacked the SPLC for publishing a list of 12 hate groups, including Paul Cameron’s Colorado Springs-based Family Research Institute (FRI).
Paul Cameron is a 77-year-old anti-gay researcher whose junk science purportedly proves that gays and lesbians have shorter lifespans than their heterosexual counterparts, are more likely to sexually abuse children or commit other crimes, and have hundreds or even thousands of sexual partners per year.
His 1983 ISIS Survey in particular made ridiculous assertions about how “80% of gays” consume human excrement, “23%” of gay men admitted to engaging in “urine-sex,” that “70% to 78%” of gay men “reported having had a sexually transmitted disease,” and that “[f]oreign homosexuals regularly visit the U.S. and participate” in what Cameron calls a “biological swapmeet.”
And even though this data is plainly fraudulent, it was nonetheless well-received by many Christian Right leaders who sought proof that homosexuality wasn’t just sinful, but medically harmful. One publication that prominently featured Cameron’s work was a comic called Homosexuality: Legitimate, Alternate Deathstyle by Dick Hafer, which is especially notable because of a glowing endorsement it received from D. James Kennedy, whose namesake organization is suing the SPLC.
In 1982, a year before his infamous anti-gay “study,” Cameron became the chairman of the Committee to Oppose Special Rights for Homosexuals, and terrified a church congregation with a bogus tale of a gay man dragging a small child into a bathroom to castrate him. And in 1986, he was busy stirring up fears over the AIDS epidemic, and coauthored a book that advocated putting gay men in concentration camps.
But here’s what the Gazette said about Cameron in 2008:
There’s no question about it: The Family Research Institute opposes homosexuality, and goes out of its way to discourage and besmirch it. It’s controversial, ideological, politically incorrect and unpopular. But is it a hate group, like the Ku Klux Klan or a Nazi skinhead club? Far from it.
I wonder exactly what the Gazette‘s threshold is for “hate group” status. Evidently it isn’t spreading pernicious lies about a vulnerable minority group which, in turn, fuels moral opprobrium and violence. No, that’s just “politically incorrect and unpopular” speech from a conservative group. And the real villains are the organizations who speak out against it, like the “thoroughly discredited” SPLC which “labels organizations with opposing political philosophies as hate mongers.”
What might be more accurate is the conclusion that the Colorado Springs Gazette is staffed by right-wing cranks and contrarians who deliberately whitewash the bigotry of the groups they’re working so hard to defend.
What’s worse is that the newspaper prominently displays this caption at the top of its Web page: “PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING JOURNALISM, EST. 1872.” True, the paper did win a Pulitzer in 1990 for feature writing, and another in 2014 for a three-day investigative series by reporter David Philipps called “Other Than Honorable.” (Philipps left the Gazette shortly thereafter.) But however much the Gazette hides behind this veneer of respectability, their shoddy defense of homophobia and racism is anything but respectable.