The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that years ago anointed itself the country’s watchdog over “hate” groups, has fired its latest salvo at the Values Voter Summit. Having determined that the host, the Family Research Council, and a major sponsor, the American Family Association, are “haters” and “bigots,” the SPLC sent a letter to many of the slated speakers calling on them to decline the invitation to speak at the summit because of the “demonizing lies about the LGBT community spread by the host.” The SPLC sent similar letters in 2011 and 2012.
The letter goes on to detail how “the FRC has amassed an extensive record of vilifying gays and lesbians with falsehoods” and how the AFA demonizes the LGBT community. The implication is that such rhetoric increases the likelihood that LGBT people will be chosen as the victims of violent hate crimes.
The SPLC, founded in 1971 as a small civil-rights law firm, eventually became an organization “dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seek[ing] justice for the most vulnerable members of society,” as its website puts it. The SPLC is proud of its history of having shut down or silenced many organizations over the years.
Yet the SPLC also has a history of lumping together truly hateful groups with groups it finds offensive, vilifying the latter in an attempt to curtail free debate. In calling the FRC a “hate group,” the SPLC bunches it with true hate groups such as neo-Nazis, the Klan, white supremacists, and Aryan Nations. By giving the FRC and the AFA the same rhetorical treatment as groups that represent true evil, the SPLC effectively says that opinions promoted by the FRC and the AFA should not be debated — they should be destroyed.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center’s latest letter seeking to intimidate speakers at the Values Voter Summit is further evidence of desperation from an organization linked to domestic terrorism in federal court,” Tony Perkins, president of the FRC, wrote to me. (In 2012 a would-be mass shooter targeted the FRC, using the SPLC’s “hate map” to identify the group.) “We will not be intimidated by the SPLC’s inciteful rhetoric and reckless labeling. We again ask the SPLC to send another message: Civil discourse is essential to a democratic republic.”
When asked specifically about the SPLC’s accusation that the FRC “hates” homosexuals, Perkins told me, “As a Christian organization, we have an obligation to love our neighbor — including our neighbors who experience same-sex attractions. However, we believe sexual acts between persons of the same sex are objectively harmful to those who choose to engage in them and to society at large, in addition to being forbidden by Scripture.”
Similarly, AFA president Tim Wildmon wrote, “The SPLC has taken snippets of comments of American Family Association personnel, ripped them out of their context, distorted their meaning, and then used these snippets to paint a false picture of the AFA.” He continued, “The truth is that the American Family Association doesn’t hate anyone. We love everyone, including homosexuals, enough to tell them the truth about the moral, spiritual, and physical dangers of homosexual conduct. Disagreement about the normalizing of homosexual behavior is not hate; it is simply disagreement.”
Seeing as the SPLC labels groups from the Ku Klux Klan to neo-Nazis to the AFA and FRC as “hate groups,” I asked the SPLC’s campaign director, Josh Glasstetter, how bad, exactly, the SPLC thinks these organizers of the Values Voter Summit are. He wrote, “No one is equating the Family Research Council or American Family Association with the Ku Klux Klan. ‘Hate group’ is a general designation that we use to refer to groups that ‘attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.’” He said many of the groups the SPLC tracks “could not be more different but for the common thread of hate.” Yet still the FRC and the AFA remain listed as “anti-gay hate groups” because of “their demonization of gays and lesbians.”
The Values Voter Summit starts today and runs through Sunday at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. As of this writing, the SPLC has received no responses to its letter.
— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow with the National Review Institute.