Leading conservative organizations had a request Wednesday for journalists: Stop relying on the Southern Poverty Law Center and its “hate map” as a credible source on political extremism.
In an open letter, 47 conservatives led by Media Research Center President Brent Bozell asked media outlets to “cease using the SPLC’s data and its various maps in your reporting,” describing the Alabama-based group as an “attack dog of the political left.”
“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,” said the letter to “members of the media.”
They cited the 2015 shooting of a Family Research Council building manager in Washington, D.C., by gunman Floyd Lee Corkins, who said he was inspired to attack the organization after finding it on the SPLC’s “hate map.”
“We believe the media outlets that have cited the SPLC in recent days have not intended to target mainstream political groups for violent attack, but by recklessly linking the Charlottesville melee to the mainstream groups named on the SPLC website — those that advocate in the courts, the halls of Congress, and the press for the protection of conventional, Judeo-Christian values — we are left to wonder if another Floyd Lee Corkins will soon be incited to violence by this incendiary information,” the letter said.
The plea comes after CNN published last month the SPLC “hate map” under the headline, “Here are all the active hate groups where you live,” shortly after the violent rally led by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The map depicts mainstream conservative groups like the FRC and Alliance Defending Freedom alongside the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
In their letter, conservatives described the article as the equivalent of running a map of abortion clinics compiled by a pro-life advocacy group under the headline, “Here’s Where the Baby Killers are Located in Your State.”
“[W]ould the media run the story? Would it reprint the map and discuss the location of these ‘pro-death’ doctors throughout the news day? Clearly, it would not,” the letter said.
CNN had no comment but later changed the headline to, “The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups.”
Two television networks, ABC and NBC, referred to the ADF as a “hate group” in their coverage of a speech to the Christian legal foundation in July by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The SPLC has defended its “hate map,” saying in a July 13 statement that the ADF “spreads demonizing lies about the LGBT community.”
After the Liberty Council sued GuideStar in June for adding the “hate group” tag to its list of charities, the SPLC responded that the “lawsuit and other recent attacks against GuideStar are simply attempts to distract the public from Liberty Counsel’s hateful agenda.”
Conservatives noted in their letter that the SPLC once listed Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson as an “extremist” — he was later removed — and included human-rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali in its October 2016 publication, “A Journalist’s Manual: Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists.”
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer attacked the manual’s description of Ms. Ali in a December speech, saying he regarded her as a “hero” and “one of the world’s great champions of freedom, pluralism and tolerance.”
“Yet in an Orwellian inversion of reality, a woman whose life is threatened every day by extremist Muslims is labeled by the SPLC an anti-Muslim extremist,” said Mr. Dermer, as reported in the letter. “Have those who put Ayaan on that list no shame? Have they no decency?”
Others signing the letter included former Attorney General Edwin Meese, Jenny Beth Martin of Tea Party Patriots, and Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy.
The SPLC has been accused for years of whipping up fears of the Ku Klux Klan to juice its fundraising operation, which is extensive: The group raised $54 million and spent 22 percent of its budget on fundraising in Fiscal Year 2015, with 65 percent going to programs, according to Charity Navigator.
Based in Montgomery, Alabama, the SPLC has also sent millions to offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands, according to a report last week in the Washington Free Beacon.