WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - A coalition of conservatives is firing back at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to counter its politically motivated campaign against them.
In the nation's capital Wednesday, 47 conservative groups, including the Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom, released an open letter to the media, collectively urging journalists to reject the SPLC as an information source.
"The SPLC is 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 that is not only false and defamatory but that also endangers the lives of those targeted with it," they cautioned.
The SPLC has provoked a backlash by adding dozens of mainstream conservative groups to its so-called "Hate Map," a list of more than 900 organizations throughout the United States that includes groups like the Nation of Islam, Neo-Nazis and White Nationalists.
Last month, Protestant outreach D. James Kennedy Ministries filed suit against the SPLC, claiming defamation and religious persecution.
Founded in 1971 as a non-profit legal advocacy group, the SPLC began nobly, battling and winning against racist factions like the Ku Klux Klan.
But over the years, the SPLC began to shift ideologically and is now widely-regarded as "an attack dog of the political left." Detractors allege that at its base, the center's turn to the left is less about principle than it is about money.
Since its founding, "The SPLC has ... established itself as the nation's most prominent hate-group watchdog," notes Politico writer André Chung. "It has also built itself into a civil rights behemoth with a glossy headquarters and a nine-figure endowment, inviting charges that it oversells the threats posed by Klansmen and neo-Nazis to keep donations flowing in from wealthy liberals."
The Family Research Council underscores the financial motive behind the SPLC's attacks:
As genuine "hate groups" such as the Ku Klux Klan have dwindled, the SPLC has broadened its target list in order to justify its continued existence. In recent years, whole categories and new groups have been added not because of actual "hate" activities, but because they hold conservative positions on controversial political issues such as immigration and homosexuality.
The center went so far as to designate Dr. Ben Carson an "extremist," owing to his Biblical views on social issues. It removed him only after a widespread public outcry.
The SPLC has been dogged by accusations of hypocrisy, even by some on the Left.
As long ago as 1995, one liberal writer observed in The Humanist, "The SPLC campaigns for laws that will effectively deny free speech and freedom of association to certain groups of Americans on the basis of their beliefs. ... [T]hen, with no discernible irony, it goes on to justify its Big Brother methods in the name of tolerance."
Even the SPLC's own Mark Potok, editor-in-chief of the group's Intelligence Report, admits the center exhibits "an element of hypocrisy" in going after conservatives while saying nothing against Leftist groups using "exactly the same kind of tactics."
Cornell University law professor William Jacobson has condemned the SPLC for pursuing a decidedly partisan political agenda under the banner of civil rights. "Time and again, I see the SPLC using the reputation it gained decades ago fighting the Klan as a tool to bludgeon mainstream politically conservative opponents," he said.
"For groups that do not threaten violence, the use of SPLC 'hate group' or 'extremist' designations frequently are exploited as an excuse to silence speech and speakers," Jacobson notes. "It taints not only the group or person but others who associate with them."
The authors of Wednesday's open letter agree. "To associate public interest law firms and think tanks with neo-Nazis and the KKK is unconscionable and represents the height of irresponsible journalism," they warned. "All reputable news organizations should immediately stop using the SPLC's descriptions of individuals and organizations based on its obvious political prejudices."