The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

How SPLC Hypes the Hate

Posted on | March 2, 2010 | 52 Comments

Dangerous extremist militias taking over America? The Southern Poverty Law Center reports “an astonishing 363 new Patriot groups appeared in 2009, with the totals going from 149 groups (including 42 militias) to 512 (127 of them militias) – a 244% jump” from 2008.

OK, so let’s ask a question: How does the SPLC get these numbers? Do a “find” search on the their list of “Patriot” groups and you discover:

  • 37 listings of the John Birch Society;
  • 48 listings of We the People;
  • 49 listings of Oath Keepers; and
  • 50 listings of the Constitution Party.

According to the SPLC’s math, then, state-by-state representation of these four organizations count as 184 “Patriot groups” —  36 percent of the SPLC’s total. Let’s ask a few more questions:

  • Are these groups dangerous?
  • Are they criminal?
  • Do they pose a threat to public safety?

After some quick Googling, I picked up the phone:

“We the People” appears to be generally libertarian in orientation: 2004 Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik addressed the group’s 2009 “Constitutional Convention,” and [founder Robert] Schultz himself was a guest (along with libertarian figures like Reason magazine editor Nick Gillespie and Rep. Ron Paul) on an August 2009 broadcast of Judge Andrew Napolitano’s Fox News TV program.
After finding the Web site of the Alabama chapter of “We the People,” I phoned Huntsville resident Lesha Martin, one of the members listed on the site. Is “We the People” some kind of violent militia-type outfit?
“Good heavens, no,” said Ms. Martin, an admirer of Ron Paul who described herself as devoted to individual freedom and “resurrecting the Constitution.”
How many peaceful citizens like Lesha Martin are lumped together to create the “grim and alarming portrait . . . of extremist organizations” presented by the SPLC?

Of course, we cannot rule out the possibility that some of these groups are unwittingly harboring wannabe terrorists — short-wave wackos building pipe-bombs or stockpiling AK-47 ammo in their garages — but the claim of an “astonishing” increase in dangerous extremism looks very much like the kind of irresponsible exaggeration we’ve come to expect from The Church of Morris Dees. And of course, MSNBC books the SPLC’s Mark Potok, who gleefully uses this report to smear the Tea Party movement:

I don’t deny that there are kooks in America or that some of those kooks are dangerous, but the SPLC purposely hypes this kind of hysteria — using dubious statistics to inflate the numbers — for their own lucrative aggrandizement.

UPDATE: Is Rhode Island a Klan stronghold? Professor William Jacobson is skeptical of the SPLC’s claim.

UPDATE II: Jesse Walker of Reason magazine:

The Southern Poverty Law Center . . .would paint a box of Wheaties as an extremist threat if it thought that would help it raise money . . . To illustrate how dangerous these groups are, the Center cites some recent arrests of right-wing figures for planning or carrying out violent attacks. But it doesn’t demonstrate that any of the arrestees were a part of the Patriot milieu, and indeed it includes some cases involving racist skinheads, who are another movement entirely.
As far as the SPLC is concerned . . . skinheads and Birchers and Glenn Beck fans are all tied together in one big ball of scary. The group delights in finding tenuous ties between the tendencies it tracks, then describing its discoveries in as ominous a tone as possible.

A fool and his money are soon parted. Morris Dees was finance director of the George McGovern 1972 presidential campaign and figured out that hyping the “right-wing extremist” threat was a surefire strategy for separating those particular fools from their money.

For nearly 30 years, Dees and his crew have been working the same formula: Send scary letters to rich liberals, suggesting that if they don’t send the SPLC a check today, the brownshirts will be goose-stepping down Main Street tomorrow.

Comments