The Left has a long and ignoble history of grasping at straws to demonize conservatives, but one organization arguably encapsulates this strategy more than any other. That group may finally have to face accountability for its defamation.
The Southern Poverty Law Center publishes a “hate map” plotting “hate groups” across the United States. Of course, the map features chapters of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups like the National Socialist Movement, but it also includes a broad swath of conservative organizations whose major crimes amount to disagreeing with the SPLC's policy positions.
Take the Dustin Inman Society, for example. This small Georgia-based nonprofit essentially consists of one man, D.A. King, who was moved to advocate against illegal immigration by the story of a Georgia boy who lost his life at the hands of an illegal immigrant in a 2000 car crash.
King advocates for enforcing immigration laws, something the SPLC once apparently found unobjectionable. In 2011, Heidi Beirich, then-director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project—which publishes the “hate map”—told the Associated Press that the society was not a hate group, although she did brand it "nativist.”
Yet the SPLC turned on a dime in 2018. Suddenly, the Dustin Inman Society found itself on the “hate map.” King hadn't changed his positions, and the SPLC hadn't altered its definition of a "hate group." What changed? An SPLC staffer registered as a lobbyist opposing legislation the Dustin Inman Society supported.
To make matters worse, most of the evidence the SPLC cited in branding the society a “hate group” traced back to before the 2011 Associated Press interview in which Beirich specifically stated it was not a “hate group.” The SPLC made many basic factual errors in attacking King's organization, as well, such as misstating King's own history and when the society was founded.
King sent a letter to the SPLC, demanding a retraction. When the SPLC did not respond, he filed a defamation lawsuit.
Most of the time, courts do not grant conservatives the time of day to defend their good names after the SPLC defames them. The SPLC repeatedly urges Big Tech, government, and others to take action against conservatives unlucky enough to end up on the “hate group” list, then hides behind the First Amendment in court, minimizing its accusations as “mere opinion” rather than a statement of facts.
That strategy failed in this case, and a judge denied the SPLC's motion to dismiss King's claim.
This represents a monumental victory, not just for King but for conservatives across the country who had their names dragged through the mud because they don't support the SPLC's radical agenda. The judge's move allows the case to proceed to the discovery phase, where the Dustin Inman Society can request SPLC documents to prove its case.
This means documents revealing the SPLC's process for determining what is and is not a “hate group” may finally see the light of day, and that will further expose just how unreliable this organization's smears truly are.
As I wrote in my book, Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the SPLC took the project it used to monitor the Ku Klux Klan and expanded it to target conservative and Christian organizations. Organizations dedicated to religious freedom, such as Alliance Defending Freedom, appear on the map as “anti-LGBT hate groups,” while nonprofits dedicated to enforcing immigration law, like the Center for Immigration Studies, appear as “anti-immigrant hate groups.”
In 2019, amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal that led the SPLC to fire its cofounder, a former employee said the “hate” accusations are a "highly profitable scam.” The SPLC has an endowment of over $730 million. It uses a mix of quotes taken out of context and guilt by association to suggest its ideological opponents are fomenting hate, and then presents reports of “hate on the rise” to urge donors to empty their pockets.
Meanwhile, the SPLC's targets face growing opposition and mistrust. Media outlets that had previously interviewed D.A. King suddenly gave him the cold shoulder, and his small organization suffered financially from the smear campaign. King says he had to take out a second mortgage to keep his organization running.
In one terrifying instance, an SPLC accusation inspired a terrorist attack. A gunman targeted The Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., in 2012, planning to kill everyone in the building. He told the FBI he targeted the council because he found it on the SPLC's “hate map.” He's now serving 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to terrorism. While the SPLC condemned the attack, it has kept the council on its “hate map.”
The SPLC engages in routine defamation of character through its “hate group” accusation, and it is high time this leftist smear factory faces the music. While the Dustin Inman Society has cleared a major legal hurdle, D.A. King is raising money to make sure he can keep the legal effort going. His small organization needs help to combat the multi-million-dollar outfit seemingly intent on destroying his good name. If he wins, it may save many others from having to face a similar fate.
This piece originally appeared in Newsweek