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SPLC 'hate group' listing merits a dose of skepticism

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: March 8, 2013

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

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!

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