The Southern Poverty Law Center has built a legacy around pointing out instances of hate and dangerous extremism in the United States. As times change, however, so do those examples of hate and extremism; but many people have suggested in recent years that the SPLC has lost its way in keeping up with those changes and simply moved to cry “hate” in the direction of any group out of line with its left-leaning philosophy.
The validity of such criticism is perhaps more evident than ever in the case of domestic terrorist Floyd Corkins II, which has been largely ignored by the mainstream media.
Corkins carried out a shooting attack on the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the conservative Family Research Council last year. Upon entering the building posing as an intern, the man opened fire on security guards, wounding one, before being wrestled to the ground. Had his plan not been thwarted early on, a much grislier scene would have unraveled, as the perpetrator reportedly planned to maim and kill as many people in the building as possible before smearing their faces with Chic-fil-A sandwiches he carried with him as a political statement.
Corkins has since pleaded guilty to an act of armed terrorism and assault with intent to kill.
Earlier this year, it was reported that Corkins made the decision to attack FRC based on their designation as an anti-gay hate group by the SPLC. The report was largely disregarded by mainstream media outlets and bears mention again because the FBI released video of the interrogation that revealed the connection for the first time this week.
“Southern Poverty Law lists, uh, anti-gay groups,” Corkins told agents who asked how he found the organization. “I found them online — did a little research, went to the website, stuff like that.”
The day after the attacks last year, FRC President Tony Perkins said that SPLC gave homicidal zealots like Corkins “license” to violently attack conservative organizations by labeling them as hate groups.
“I believe he was given a license by a group such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, who…labeled us a hate group because we defend the family and we stand for traditional, orthodox Christianity,” Perkins said. “It’s time for people to realize what the Southern Poverty Law Center is doing with their reckless labeling of organizations who they disagree with.”
More recently, SPLC has defended the basis upon which it designates groups or individuals as hateful. Heidi Beirich, a representative of the organization, said during an MSNBC interview earlier this month:
The criticism that we get most heavily from the right-wing are complaints about our listing of groups like the Family Research Council or the American Family Association as anti-gay hate groups. And the fact of the matter is that those organizations are akin to many of the white supremacist organizations that we list in the sense that they lie about gay folks.
White supremacist groups lie about African-Americans.
In the case of something like the Family Research Council, they put out all kinds of defamatory information about how gays are child molesters at higher rates and so on, with the intention of destroying that particular population and making them appear to be lesser. So, you know, for us, it’s a no-brainer to put groups like that on our hate list.
And other organizations on the left have also jumped to defend SPLC. The left-leaning website ThinkProgress published a column this week contending that Corkins’ use of the SPLC website to pick his victims simply confirms that FRC is an anti-gay organization.
From the article: “The video of Corkins’ interrogation proves only one thing: the Family Research Council is anti-gay. This is a true fact regardless of whether the SPLC posts a list of anti-gay groups or not, and certainly there are plenty of other websites (including this one) that describe FRC as anti-gay.”
The author also cites another “true fact”: Corkins also told investigators that he visited the FRC website, acting on the SPLC suggestion that the conservative organization hates gays, to learn more about the organization. The author opines that this helped the sick individual to concrete his belief that FRC was indeed a hateful, anti-gay group.
Of course, if you visit the FRC website and are a reasonable person, the assertion would seem hard to believe.
In fairness, FRC does use statistics to its own advantage by interpreting numbers in a way that helps to make its case for traditional family values. But certainly SPLC representatives have not been deaf to similar criticisms made about the way that organization goes about compiling facts in ways that suit its agenda.
While not exactly a scientific method of examining SPLC’s preferential qualifying characteristics of boogeymen, a visit to the organization’s website to conduct a few searches of published material offers a cursory view: White, conservative, small government, Constitutionalist, Christian and fearful of Federal authority are all present. The organization does include a handful of write-ups and examinations of black separatist groups and even extremist Muslims (though most of the Muslim-related stories are about discrimination against Muslims by the greater American public); but those topics are approached with nowhere near the bravado of stories about Christian groups and small-government advocates.
For conservatives, the problem is that SPLC is accepted widely as an authority on discrimination, hate and extremist dangers by all manner of mainstream media organizations and is quoted widely in stories covering these topics. Meanwhile, SPLC routinely lists conservative politicians and benign religious organizations whose only real goals are to proselytize and influence public opinion in a way that furthers the Christian religious agenda alongside groups with dangerous and inflammatory radical histories like the Aryan Brotherhood, Ku Klux Klan (which, by all accounts is pretty powerless in modern America) and the joke that is Westboro Baptist Church.
By allowing political motivation to trump its stated mission of seeking justice and equality for society’s most vulnerable, SPLC has become no better than the most hateful of hate groups it has historically rallied against in the eyes of people who don’t adhere to leftist ideology. Corkins’ lethal actions last year are representative of hate. The bombings carried out by Islamic extremists in Boston earlier this month are representative of hate (SPLC did cover some of this, but with a decidedly apologist bent). And it seems that in the eyes of conservatives, SPLC — in spite of its claim to seek justice and equality for all members of society — is and will remain as culpable as any actors in these hateful activities as long as it allows political ideology to construct its definition of tolerance.