THE Southern Poverty Law Center paints with the broadest possible brush in warning of the dangers of hate, extremist and “Patriot groups.” The media typically gives cover to SPLC's over-general characterization of these groups as being primarily driven by white supremacy and anti-Barack Obama, anti-immigrant viewpoints.
One man's hate talk is another's constitutionally protected free speech. Populating a list with so many hate groups (20 in Oklahoma alone) will detract from the focus on the truly dangerous among us, the people who do violence without first advertising their intent on vitriolic websites or at rallies.
Also of concern is the counter-hatred that can be fueled by political and philosophical differences, as opposed to violent intent and actions. Ugly as it sometimes is, free speech is a cherished right. Those exercising it should not be labeled as “extremist” solely because we disagree them. As for white supremacy, three of the “hate groups” on SPLC's Oklahoma list, released Tuesday, are churches in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Lawton that are described as black separatist organizations.
Another Oklahoma City church, Windsor Hills Baptist, made the list for its anti-gay tenets. The church is lumped in the same category as Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., whose members show up at the funerals of soldiers killed in battle. Nothing on the Windsor Hills website remotely resembles Westboro's godhatesfags.com.
News stories on the annual unveiling of SPLC's list are never complete without a mention of the Oklahoma City bombing, which was conducted by an anti-government loner rather than an operative for an identified hate group. SPLC warns of a growing “Patriot” movement, “which in the 1990s led to a string of domestic terrorist plots, including the Oklahoma City bombing.” One outbreak of “patriotism” led to the deaths of 168 men, women and children. Ergo, watch out for what the current outbreak will lead to!
This is useful as a cautionary tale. The problem is that “hate groups” and “Patriot groups” are arbitrarily defined and overly inclusive. This casts suspicions on people who haven't expressed hate and have no intention of hurting anyone.
Another danger is guilt by association. That McVeigh and his compatriots frequented gun shows is a known fact. That a lot of people are doing so today isn't necessarily cause for alarm. It certainly doesn't put gun show buyers in the same camp as McVeigh. Yet this is the impression that SPLC tries to make.
The SPLC and its founder, Morris Dees, earn money from donations fueled by its alarmist communications and from suing on behalf of the victims of hate crimes. The group's name — which includes the words “poverty law center” — is a clue to how far it's strayed from helping the economically disadvantaged in the South. Why stray? Sensationalism sells. It brings in more money for SPLC and its wealthy founder.
When the epithet “extremist” is thrown out too loosely, it cheapens the term — just as “racism” has been cheapened by inappropriate usage. If everything is racist, then nothing is racist. Labeling has consequences, sometimes violent ones. Last month, Floyd Lee Corkins II pleaded guilty to shooting a security guard at a Family Research Council office in 2012. The Washington Examiner reported that Corkins said he targeted the office because FRC was labeled by Dees as a hate group.
Americans have no reason to fear the FRC. They have many reasons to fear Islamic extremists. These are the hate groups we need to focus on, yet the SPLC makes no mention of them in touting its latest hate group tally.