Accuracy in Media

The mainstream media should reevaluate where it gets its source material on hate crimes, and soon.

In my article, “Right-Wing Extremism Explored,” I wrote that the oft-criticized Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report was “influenced by the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).” David E. Smith, Executive Director of the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), asked this correspondent what role the SPLC played in such profiling, since his own organization was listed as a “hate group” by the SPLC for being “anti-gay.”

While the SPLC may be embraced by mainstream media outlets such as CNN and the New York Times, its research is of questionable scholarship. In 2003, Chip Berlet wrote for the SPLC’s Intelligence Report that “an array of right-wing foundations and think tanks support efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respected.” He categorized the American Enterprise Institute, the free-market Ludwig von Mises Institute and the Free Congress Foundation, among others, as bigoted because of their policy stances.

(The late Paul Weyrich headed the Free Congress Foundation at the time of Berlet’s writing).

The left-wing SPLC’s “hate groups map” lists conservative organizations such as IFI, the DC-based Traditional Values Coalition and Catholic Family Ministries, Inc. as hate groups alongside Ku Klux Klan chapters and the New Black Panther Party. The only differentiation between them is their particular “hate” category, and labels on this can range from “Christian Identity” to “Black Separatist,” “Ku Klux Klan,” “Radical Traditionalist Catholic,” “Antigay,” and “General Hate,” among others.

Recently SPLC’s founder Morris Dees praised the aforementioned DHS report, saying the results “sync up pretty much.”

“The death of the three police officers in Pittsburgh about two weeks ago was committed by a guy…who was adherent to the hate websites and their belief that the United States government is evil, [it’s] gonna take away our rights, gonna take away our guns, and also we have to look at the returning veterans coming back from Iraq, the war that probably was ill-conceived,” asserted Dees on The Early Show on CBS (emphasis added).

CNN used SPLC’s director Mark Potok as a source both when profiling Pittsburgh cop-killer Richard Poplawski and when covering the DHS report. Both times the SPLC was identified as merely an organization which “tracks” extremist or hate groups.

“Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, agreed that Obama’s election may have boosted membership in such groups, but called any link to the economy ‘more questionable,'” reported CNN for the April article (emphasis added). “[Potok] said his group has documented ‘a steady, not dramatic,’ growth of extremist groups-from 602 in 2000 to 926 in 2008, an increase of more than 50 percent.”

Except that the Christian organizations listed above are listed as hate groups by the SPLC, and therefore part of the statistic simply regurgitated by CNN. “All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics,” states the SPLC website, later continuing, “Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.”

When speaking on The Early Show, Dees waxed apprehensive about possible violence from returning Iraqi veterans. “Well, it’s no question because they have the training in military explosives like McVeigh did and actually we at the Poverty Law Center have reported to the Department of Defense that there are active-duty extremist members in the military and some of these people have been removed by the Department of Defense,” he said. “It’s a serious issue, especially with a lot of these guys coming back with post-traumatic stress syndrome, coming back to a failing economy, inability to buy a home, get a job, and get credit.”

On July 7, 2006, the SPLC released a report which asserted that “Ten years after Pentagon leaders toughened policies on extremist activities by active duty personnel…large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists continue to infiltrate the ranks of the world’s best-trained, best-equipped fighting force. Military recruiters and base commanders, under intense pressure from the war in Iraq to fill the ranks, often look the other way.”

New York Times writer John Kifner broke the story the same day. “A decade after the Pentagon declared a zero-tolerance policy for racist hate groups, recruiting shortfalls caused by the war in Iraq have allowed ‘large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists’ to infiltrate the military, according to a watchdog organization,” wrote Kifner. “The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and right-wing militia groups, estimated that the numbers could run into the thousands, citing interviews with Defense Department investigators and reports and postings on racist Web sites and magazines” (emphasis added).

The SPLC also influenced this February’s Missouri Information Analysis Center (MIAC) strategic report, released in conjunction with the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The MIAC report on the “Modern Militia Movement,” states that “The SPLC reports that between the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 and 2005 that roughly 60-rightwing [sic] extremist plots were uncovered” and notes that in “11/09/95: Oklahoma Constitutional Militia members are arrested as they plan to bomb the [SPLC], gay bars, and abortion clinics.”

Under political paraphernalia, the report states that “Militia members most commonly associate with 3rd part political groups….These members are usually supporters of former Presidential Candidate[s]: Ron Paul, Chuck Balwin, and Bob Barr.” Such militia members also “commonly display” material which “depict the FRS, IRS, FBI, ATF, CIA, UN, Law Enforcement, and “The New World Order” in a derogatory manner. Additionally, Racial [sic], anti-immigration, and anti-abortion, [sic] material may be displayed by militia members.”

Á la ACORN’s funding eligibility under the stimulus bill, so it seems that the hate-crimes legislation which has passed the House might just drive more patronage to the non-profit SPLC and other groups like it. The grant program set up by H.R. 1913 allots a single jurisdiction up to $100,000 each year for a “State, local or Tribal law enforcement agency.” Two provisions thus remain troubling:

1. To be eligible for a grant, these agencies must “demonstrate that, in developing a plan to implement the grant, the [enforcement agency] has consulted and coordinated with non-profit, nongovernmental violence recovery service programs that have experience in providing services to victims of hate crimes” (emphasis added).

2. In addition, “The office of Justice Programs of the Department of justice may award grants” for state, local and tribal “programs designed to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles, including programs to train local law enforcement officers in identifying, investigating, prosecuting, and preventing hate crimes” (emphasis added).

It is worth noting that one of the SPLC’s major programs is training law enforcement officials about hate crimes, with a “focus on the history, background, leaders and activities of far-right extremists in the U.S.”

“Intelligence Project staff have been involved in the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center’s hate and bias crime ‘train-the-trainer’ program since its inception in 1992,” states their website. “FLETC trains personnel for more than 75 federal law enforcement agencies and provides services for local, state and international agencies.”

The bill authorizes up to $10 million for the grant program over the next two fiscal years.

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