March 28, 2014
Christian groups are celebrating with the news that the Federal Bureau of Investigation appears to have scrubbed the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) from its hate crimes webpage, where the controversial group was listed as a resource and referred to as a partner in public outreach.
A letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, drafted by Lieutenant General (Ret.) William G. Boykin, Executive Vice President of the Family Research Council (FRC), calls such an association “completely unacceptable.”
Signed by fourteen other conservative and Christian leaders, the letter calls SPLC “a heavily politicized organization producing inaccurate and biased data on ‘hate groups’ – not hate crimes.” It accuses the SPLC of “providing findings that are not consistent with trends found in the FBI statistics.” Where the FBI has found hate crimes and hate groups declining significantly in the past ten years, SPLC claims hate groups have increased 67.3% since 2000. Where once SPLC’s hate list was reserved for groups like the Aryan Nation and the KKK, in 2010 SPLC started citing as hate groups those Christian groups that oppose same-sex marriage or believe homosexuality is not inborn, or are otherwise critical of homosexuality. Among the Christian groups targeted by SPLC was FRC.
In the fall of 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins, armed with a loaded semi-automatic pistol and 100 rounds of ammunition, entered FRC headquarters not far from FBI headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. Corkins shot the front desk security guard and tried to gain entrance to the upper floors where he intended to kill FRC employees. Though wounded, the front desk security guard subdued Corkins, who became the first person ever convicted under the Washington, D.C., domestic terrorism law. Corkins said he got the idea of killing FRC employees from reading the SPLC hate list and made use of a map of the FRC office found on the SPLC website.
The Boykin letter concludes that “it is completely inappropriate for the Department of Justice to recommend public reliance on the SPLC hate group lists and data.” The letter demanded that all ties between the FBI and SPLC be severed.
SPLC has come under severe criticism from the left and the right in recent years.
Writing in the left-wing website Counterpunch, Alexander Coburn called SPLC founder Morris Dees “king of the hate business.” Coburn wrote, “Ever since 1971, U.S. Postal Service mailbags have bulged with Dees’ fundraising letters, scaring dollars out of the pockets of trembling liberals aghast at his lurid depictions of hate-sodden America, in dire need of legal confrontation by the SPLC.” In fact, so prolific is Dees at direct mail that he is in the Direct Marketing Association Hall of Fame.
Writing at the Harper’s Magazine blog in 2007, Ken Silverstein said, “What [the SPLC] does best… is to raise obscene amounts of money by hyping fears about the power of [right-wing fringe] groups; hence the SPLC has become the nation’s richest ‘civil rights’ organization.”
A critical analysis published recently by Professor George Yancey of North Texas University concluded that SPLC targets only those groups its leaders disagree with politically while leaving liberal groups who use extreme language alone.
A 2013 article in Foreign Policy concluded that SPLC exaggerates the hate crimes threat, saying SPLC is not an “objective purveyor of data,” instead calling them “anti-hate activists” and suggesting that their reports need to be “weighed more carefully by news outlets that cover their pronouncements.”
Though SPLC sits on a bank account of $250 million and raises some $40 million a year in direct mail, some have suggested that the decline of racist groups and therefore the need to tap new sources of funds might have led Dees and his colleagues to target Christian groups as new sources of revenue. Weekly Standard writer Charlotte Hays says, “…several critics with whom I spoke speculated that the last might represent another of Dees’s efforts to tap via mailing lists into a well-off and easily frightened donor base: gays.”
What has concerned Christian groups in recent years is that their inclusion on the hate list and the use of the hate list by the FBI is unfair and even dangerous to their civil liberties. After all, holding the view that gayness is not inborn and opposing same-sex marriage are hardly against the law.
FRC president Tony Perkins said, “We commend the FBI for removing website links to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that not only dispenses erroneous data but has been linked to domestic terrorism in federal court. We hope this means the FBI leadership will avoid any kind of partnership with the SPLC.”