ABC Smears Religious Conservatives Using Partisan SPLC's 'Hate Group' Label

This week, ABC News went out of its way to smear Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a religious freedom organization, and, by extension, most religious conservatives across the country.

In an article shamelessly titled "Jeff Sessions addresses 'anti-LGBT hate group' but DOJ won't release his remarks," ABC uses an egregious label slapped on the Alliance Defending Freedom by the deeply partisan and increasingly wealthy and influential Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to paint those who believe in the traditional view of marriage and sexuality as an "anti-LGBT" hate group.

ABC's use of the SPLC label to portray as "anti-LGBT" extremists those who push back against the Left's "sexual liberty" agenda and define marriage as between a man and a woman (in other words, define marriage in the same way Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did a few short years ago) was noted by The American Conservative's Rob Dreher. The premise of the ABC hit-piece was based on the SPLC's "hate group" designation of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian, pro-religious freedom legal group.

Here's the key passage from the story (emphasis added):

Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered a speech to an alleged hate group at an event closed to reporters on Tuesday night, but the Department of Justice is refusing to reveal what he said.

Sessions addressed members of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which was designated an “anti-LGBT hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2016, at the Summit on Religious Liberty at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, in Dana Point, California.

The event promised to “bring together prominent legal advocates, scholars, cultural commentators, business executives and church leaders to examine the current state of religious freedom” and “develop legal and cultural strategies to allow freedom to flourish in the United States and around the world.”

Dreher, who notes that he attended that ADF meeting last summer, describes the passage as "genuinely shocking to read."

"It was a normal gathering of religious conservative lawyers and others, who talked about various challenges to religious liberty," writes Dreher. "Yet those scamming trolls at the Southern Poverty Law Center tagged them a 'hate group,' and ABC News repeats that slur. What ABC says is technically true. SPLC does in fact call ADF a 'hate group.' The shocking thing is that ABC News takes that incredible charge for granted, and uses it to trash both ADF and Attorney General Jeff Sessions."

Sadly, this is not an anamoly for the SPLC, or their allies in the mainstream media. Various left-leaning outlets frequently use the partisan SPLC's often flagrant abuse of their "hate group" and "extremist" designations to besmirch right-leaning people who hold innocuous and widely held views. While many of those the group designates "extremists" deserve the label, like members of the KKK, others are simply religious or political conservatives who hold rather common and/or traditional views. SPLC is also increasingly targeting those who criticize fundamentalist Islam.

The egregious bias of the SPLC has gotten so glaring that even Politico recently published a lengthy piece wondering aloud if the former "civil rights stalwart" had "lost its way." Though the piece deserves to be read in its entirety, below are a few examples the author cites of what critics describe as the SPLC's transformation into "more of a progressive hit operation than a civil rights watchdog" (formatting below adjusted, emphasis added):

  • Former Islamist and self described “counter-extremist” Maajid Nawaz appeared in the SPLC’s 2016 “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists” for using his platform "to savage Islam."
  • The Family Research Council — a conservative Christian nonprofit led by Tony Perkins—has been classified by the SPLC as a hate group since 2010 for spreading “false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people.” In 2012, a gunman who read on the SPLC’s website that the FRC was anti-gay shot up the group’s lobby.
  • The Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit led by Mark Krikorian that supports lower immigration, appeared in the SPLC’s 2017 “Year in Hate and Extremism” report for producing “fear-mongering misinformation about Latino immigrants.”
  • Political scientist Charles Murray has been a fixture on the SPLC’s roster of “extremists,” in part for his writing on race-based intellectual disparities. In March, Middlebury students informed by the SPLC’s designation violently prevented Murray from speaking on campus.
  • Somali-born Dutch activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali was stoking controversy for her vocal criticism of Islam long before she found her way onto the SPLC’s 2016 “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists.” But while some say she is a bigot, others laud her as a human rights icon. ...

The SPLC has included Senator Rand Paul and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson among the neo-Nazis and white supremacists on its extremists lists (Paul for suggesting private businesses shouldn’t have to adhere to the Civil Rights Act and criticizing the Fair Housing Act; Carson for his views opposing same-sex marriage). The group did back down after it put Carson on the 2014 “extremist watch” list—removing his name and issuing an apology that earned a lot of coverage in the conservative media. “This week, as we’ve come under intense criticism for doing so, we’ve reviewed our profile and have concluded that it did not meet our standards,” the organization’s statement said, “so we have taken it down and apologize to Dr. Carson for having posted it.”

Dreher updated his original article by including excerpts from a piece on "the insidious influence of the SPLC" by the Wall Street Journal's Jeryl Bier, who likewise cited the SPLC's targeting of libertarian Charles Murray and Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi, a widely celebrated human rights advocate who was forced to undergo female genital mutilation as a child by her Muslim elders.

As Dreher puts it succinctly, the SPLC "is not remotely a non-partisan group," so how does the media rationalize citing them as an authority on who is or isn't an "extremist"?

Would ABC News quote from Don Wildmon’s American Family Association calling the Human Rights Campaign a “hate group”? Of course not. But ABC News is so far removed from the lives of ordinary Americans, and what they believe and stand for, that they take SPLC’s disgusting slur as a putatively neutral description of an Evangelical Christian legal organization that fights for religious liberty.

Closing thoughts from Dreher, who ends his piece by urging religious Americans to ask themselves some hard questions: "What are you going to do in a world where your religious beliefs and practices are stigmatized in law and custom? When your church is designated a 'hate group'? How are your kids going to hold on to the faith when doing so will cost them professionally, socially, and perhaps even legally?"


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