The Southern Poverty Law Center and yesterday’s wars
The coronavirus pandemic has produced an unexpected and welcome political truce. Facing a viral enemy that does not distinguish between us, previously unthinkable alliances have formed across the political spectrum. Even President Donald Trump and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have come together productively to make some degree of bipartisan peace amid this public health crisis.
CNN’s Dana Bash observed, “If you look at the big picture, this was remarkable from the president of the United States. This is a nonpartisan [and] an important thing to note and to applaud from an American standpoint, from a human standpoint.”
That’s why last week’s release of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s partisan “Year in Hate and Extremism” report dropped like a mistimed cymbal crash at the symphony. It’s the annual document that supports its daily publicized “hate map,” which redefines political disagreement as “hate.” In this “report,” the SPLC attempts to smear principled and mainstream conservative organizations by associating them with truly deplorable groups, such as white supremacists.
The SPLC’s former senior fellow Mark Potok once explained the group’s goal in doing that: “Sometimes the press will describe us as monitoring hate crimes and so on…. I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, to completely destroy them.”
The group apparently had no qualms about demonstrating its dedication to that goal by releasing the latest version of the central document behind its smear and fundraising campaign even at a time like this. That decision demands a sober review of the partisan organization behind this divisive campaign.
In 2018, the SPLC paid a nearly $4 million settlement for defaming Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamic extremist who has since devoted his life to opposing violence. The following year, the SPLC fired its founder, and its president resigned after numerous employees claimed that the SPLC suffers from a systemic culture of racism and sexism. And last year, the SPLC’s workforce unionized to address discrimination within their own ranks. As the editor-in-chief of Current Affairs noted, the SPLC’s “hate” list is an “outright fraud” and “a willful deception.”
We’ve all felt the growing polarization in our society, especially over the last eight years. This division has been fueled by social media and new forms of anger amplification that no other generation’s cultural partisans have experienced. Partisan-oriented, opinion-heavy news has magnified our differences. Yet, in the first two weeks of March, the world has changed, and Americans have too.
Trump and Cuomo are collaborating and praising each other. California Governor Gavin Newsom said Trump is more than “on top of it” and called their recent conversation regarding coronavirus needs in that state a “privilege.” Even Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), one of Trump’s staunchest critics, praised his coronavirus response as “incredible and the right response in this critical time.” Unity has swept across the country, as it has many times before, and we are standing shoulder to shoulder against a global health threat.
Yet the SPLC is attempting to sow division and discord — to silence dissent when we need to come together as Americans. The SPLC is pointing fingers when America has chosen to join hands. Its propaganda, its interactive maps and its cartoonish infographics are all out of touch. It is fighting a distant and petty political war with tactics that divide.
The SPLC should retract its “Hate and Extremism” report, and join the rest of society as we unite to confront our truly common enemy, the coronavirus and the threat it poses to the health and safety of every American.