After the 2016 election, the Southern Poverty Law Center accepted every accusation of racism or sexism provided to it as evidence of America’s decline after electing President Donald Trump.
But even before the election, the discredited “anti-hate” group was sounding the alarm on any story that could be used against Trump before waiting for the actual details. On November 2, 2016, the SPLC’s “Hatewatch Staff” posted a story titled “Authorities Suspect Voter Intimidation in Burning, Vandalism of Mississippi Church.”
The article was about the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church being set on fire and the words “Vote Trump” spray-painted on the side of the building. SPLC also mentioned this incident in its massive list of alleged hate crimes following Trump’s election (the vast majority of which were allegations from people reaching out to SPLC without providing a shred of evidence for their claims).
Eventually, the SPLC had to append an Editor’s Note to its story, which reads in big bold letters: “In December 2016, a suspect, a member of the church, was arrested in connection with the crime, and authorities now believe the attack was not politically motivated.” The title and original article remain.
The man who actually set the fire, 47-year-old Andrew McClinton, is African-American and a member of the church. On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to arson, according to the Associated Press. He will be sentenced in late April.
The state fire marshal and insurance commissioner, Mike Chaney, told the AP it is now believed that McClinton set the fire to distract from other wrongdoing, though he wouldn’t elaborate on what that might be.
“He tried to make the arson appear it was politically motivated, but it was not,” Chaney told the AP.
So, in a way, it was politically motivated, just not the way the SPLC claimed.
The AP also reported McClinton would be sentenced “as a habitual offender because he was convicted of attempted armed robbery in 1997 and armed robbery in 2004, both in another part of Mississippi.”
After the fire, members of the Hopewell community worshipped at the First Baptist Church of Greenville, which according to the AP “has a predominantly white congregation.” A new church has since been built where Hopewell burned.
The SPLC’s claims of heightened hate crimes in the wake of Trump was a piece of propaganda designed to make America look more racist and sexist than it actually is. Ironically, the SPLC is now being investigated for allegations of racism and sexism from members of its female and minority staff members.
Morris Dees, who co-founded the organization, was fired. SPLC President Richard Cohen resigned about a week later. Other members of leadership and minority staffers have also left. A black female attorney who resigned alleged the organization does not allow minorities to adequately succeed. Insiders said Dees routinely hit on young female staffers and had been investigated twice for such incidents.
Along with internal strife, the SPLC also faces numerous lawsuits from conservative groups who say the organization has put them on “hate lists” for political disagreements.