SPLC’s “Hate List” Label Will Face Legal Scrutiny

Jul 18, 2023

MONTGOMERY, AL – Liberty Counsel has joined the legal team representing the Dustin Inman Society (DIS) and its founder and president, D.A. King, in their claims against the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Attorneys Todd McMurtry and James McKoon are also part of the legal team with Liberty Counsel. 

On April 24, 2023, U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins denied the SPLC’s motion to dismiss the case. This is a significant development because this is now the first case against the SPLC regarding its so-called “hate list” and “hate map” that will move forward with full discovery. 

On March 31, 2023, U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins rejected the SPLC's motion to dismiss the DIS defamation case. Judge Watkins wrote, the “SPLC argues that labeling DIS as an anti-immigrant hate group is ‘an expression of opinion protected under the First Amendment’ because the term ‘anti-immigrant hate group’ ‘is not capable of being empirically proven true or false.’ SPLC argues that the designation is a ‘political opinion’ on a ‘highly controversial matter’ that is not provable as false. Plaintiffs counter that SPLC’s classification of DIS as an anti-immigrant hate group on its online publications of the Hate Map and Intelligence Report is not ‘merely an opinion’ but conveys to a reasonable reader a fact reached after ‘some rigorous analysis.’ Plaintiffs have the better argument.”

The court wrote, the “SPLC’s statements were not made during a heated public debate, but rather were published, arguably after deliberation and investigation. Construing the inferences in Plaintiffs’ favor, a reasonable reader could conclude that SPLC was ‘literally contending’ that DIS is a group that hates and vilifies all immigrants. These circumstances are enough ‘to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence,’ that SPLC’s designation of DIS as an anti-immigrant hate group ‘is sufficiently factual to be susceptible of being proved true or false,’” wrote Judge Watkins. 

The SPLC falsely designated the DIS as an “anti-immigrant hate group,” in its annual Intelligence Reports published in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 and classified it as a “hate group” in its annual Intelligence Reports and Hate Maps published in 2019, 2020, and 2021. The SPLC also stated that King “focuses on vilifying all immigrants.” 

However, in 2011 the SPLC had explicitly stated that the DIS was not a “hate group” and it did not meet its definition of an “anti-immigrant hate group.” An SPLC representative, Heidi Beirich, stated that King’s “tactics have generally not been to get up in the face of actual immigrants and threaten them[.]… Because he is fighting, working on his legislation through the political process, that is not something we can quibble with, whether we like the law or not.” Yet the SPLC reversed course in 2018, right after registering a lobbyist to oppose a bill the DIS supported. 

Mark Potok is a former senior fellow at the SPLC who served as the editor-in-chief of its quarterly journal, the Intelligence Report, and its investigative reports. At the 2007 Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes Conference, Potok publicly said, “We try and tackle these groups. Let me say that our aim, and sometimes the press describes us as monitoring hate groups, but I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, to completely destroy them.” 

On August 15, 2012, Floyd Corkins intended to commit mass murder at the headquarters of the Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, D.C. Armed with a gun, about 100 rounds of ammunition, and a bag filled with Chick-fil-A sandwiches, his stated purpose was to kill as many FRC employees as possible and then to smear Chick-fil-A sandwiches in their faces since the founder of the food chain said he believed in marriage as between a man and a woman. Fortunately, Corkins was stopped by the security guard, who was shot in the process. Corkins confessed to the FBI that he intended to commit mass murder and was motivated by the so-called “Hate Map” on the SPLC website that listed FRC as a “hate group.” In 2013, Corkins was sentenced to 25 years in prison. 

In June 2017, James Hodgkinson gunned down Rep. Steve Scalise, Zach Barth, a staff member for Congressman Roger Williams, former Congressional staff member Matt Mika and two U.S. Capitol Police officers at a practice for a charity baseball game for members of Congress. Hodgkinson died of his wounds after first responders successfully stopped his rampage. The SPLC admitted that Hodgkinson “liked” the SPLC on Facebook. In posts on its website dating back to 2014, SPLC had repeatedly implied that Scalise associated with white supremacists and other groups the organization had deemed “hate groups.” In its Spring “Intelligence Report” in 2015, the SPLC implied that because Scalise lives in the same state as Ku Klux Klan members, he “associated” with them. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “To falsely label nonviolent people or organizations with whom you disagree as ‘haters’ or ‘hate groups’ is irresponsible, dangerous and deadly.” 

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