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Neo-Vigilantism and the Southern Poverty Law Center

After the D.C. shooting, is The Remnant next?

Michael J. Matt POSTED: 8/16/12
Editor, The Remnant  

"I think it's time for people to realize what the Southern Poverty Law Center is doing with their reckless labeling of organizations that they disagree with."...Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council

( A security guard at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Family Research Council was shot yesterday, after an altercation with a Left-leaning terrorist who’d entered the lobby with a gun.  According to a spokesman for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the suspected gunman entered the lobby of the building in downtown Washington at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday morning. He was confronted by the security guard and then opened fire.

According to a Fox News source, the shooter “made statements regarding their policies" before firing his weapon. Authorities are treating the attack as a case of domestic terrorism, while hailing the security guard as a hero, whose defensive actions likely saved the lives of others in the building.

Pro-Family = Pro-Hate?

The rest of the story, of course, is that the Family Research Council (FRC) was recently designated as a “hate group” by the powerful Left-wing lobbying group, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  In fact, FRC is even included on the SPLC’s actual “hate map”, which, curiously enough, pinpoints their location: Washington, D.C.

For many Americans, it is unthinkable that a Christian organization and conservative lobbying group that promotes the traditional family and Judeo-Christian values in America could be thus slandered and placed in the ugly company of racists, lunatical neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen.  But according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, this is necessary because the FRC, whose motto is "Advancing Faith, Family and Freedom”, opposes abortion and gay marriage and thus “denigrates LGBT people in its battles against same-sex marriage, hate crimes laws, anti-bullying programs and the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.”

Of course in today’s volatile political climate it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to acknowledge that such bald faced demagoguery could at the very least be seen as an implicit call for retaliation against the “haters”, especially when a convenient “hate map” provides the city and state of the “offending” party.

This is why a number of conservative voices, and even some fair-minded members of the media, have been calling out the Southern Poverty Law Center for years—most recently Penny Nance, president of the conservative Concerned Women for America: "This shooting is yet another reminder that recent comments by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Human Rights Campaign labeling FRC a 'hate group' are false, intolerant and irresponsible.”  

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told Fox News’ America Live that he blamed the suspect for the shooting, but said he was "given a license" by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which labeled the Family Research Council as a hate group. "I think it's time for people to realize what the Southern Poverty Law Center is doing with their reckless labeling of organizations that they disagree with," he said. The Southern Poverty Law Center declined an interview request from the program.

So the question on the minds of many conservatives is this: Just how many innocent people have to be shot before the SPLC decides to knock it off!  They themselves seem to recognize the potential for legal action against their reckless hate map.  On the Active U.S. Hate Groups section of their web site, for example, the following contradictory qualification appears front and center beneath the actual hate map:

All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics...Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing...Listing here does not imply a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity. (emphasis added)

So according to the SPLC, hate group activity can include criminal acts.  But also according to the SPLC, listing said groups on the SPLC hate map does not imply that any criminal acts have actually been committed or even advocated.  Well, let's just hope Johnny Nutball with the Uzi in his trunk and murder on his brain catches that distinction. 

 Is The Remnant Next?

Like so many pro-family, pro-life conservative organizations, The Remnant is also on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate map. In fact, just 6 days before the shooting at the Family Research Council, I received the following email from a reporter at the Minneapolis Star Tribune—the largest newspaper in the Twin Cities:


I’m a reporter at the Star Tribune and I am writing about “hate groups” as designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  I see that your organization, The Remnant, has been designated as an active hate group by the center, and I am hoping to talk to someone about that.  My questions include: Are you aware of that designation? What is your response to that designation?  Please let me know where I could reach someone by phone by tomorrow early afternoon, which is my deadline.  Thanks in advance for your help.

Pam Louwagie

Star Tribune Staff Writer

I replied to Ms. Louwagie the following morning, then just five days before the D.C. shooter would open fire:

Hi, Pam:

I’ll be happy to speak to you.  This is old news, of course—the SPLC attack having taken place some five years ago or more. But I’m always eager to set the record straight for anyone who has the good grace to ask me what really happened.  

For the record: I am a happily married husband, and father to 7 young children. I don’t hate anyone, and, in fact, believe it would seriously violate the tenets of my religion were I to in any way encourage hatred of any group or individual. We believe that hating someone or wishing harm to befall them or just trampling on their dignity as human beings would by definition make us really terrible Christians, not at all worthy of the name.  In fact, it would constitute what the Catholic Church calls a “mortal sin”.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the level to which the SPLC has slandered our name, misunderstood our Church’s teaching, and evidently sought to use its inane caricature of us to scare old people out of their Social Security checks. Yes, I truly believe the SPLC attacked us Catholics back in 2007 as part of a fundraiser.   Notice they have not revisited the issue since.  Why?  Because that particular attack against us fell flat on its face and really, I believe, made them look pretty ridiculous.

I wrote a response at the time, and there have been many since.  Here’s one example:  

The tactic of the organization evidently goes something like this: Since 911, everyone is understandably fearful of haters, extremists and fundamentalists who might at any second “lose it” on society around them.  The accusation of hate is thus pretty easy to throw around in order to get people nervous.  Nothing has to be proved. No law is being broken or even alleged to be.  So all you have to do is say:  “He’s a hater” and then sit back and see if anything sticks. In our country, as opposed to Canada and other countries, there’s no law against this.

In our case, not much of the SPLC mud stuck, even if it did cause my wife and family an awful lot of grief. We had to install a security system in our home, for example, and of course we were concerned of reprisals from vigilantes who might have figured:  “Well, since The Remnant is a hate group, and haters hurt people, I might as well make a preemptive strike.”   Can you imagine living with that over your head?  My wife and I were raising little kids at the time… still are in fact.

It’s pretty sad that in America such Nazi-style terror tactics can be employed against those with whom a given party may have some ideological disagreements, with no law to protect the innocent.  If you have enough money you can smear and slander anyone as a hater or a racist, and pretty much get away with it.  The truth has nothing to do with it!   

Call me any time after 9 tomorrow on my cell, and thank you for having the integrity to contact us before piling on.  We’re a small family-run business with a long-established reputation for integrity in journalism, and I’m always eager to defend that reputation no matter how unfounded the accusations against it may be.   Thank you, and I look forward to speaking with you.

Michael Matt

Editor, The Remnant

To her credit, Ms. Louwagie telephoned the next day to assure me that in light of the details provided in that email, The Remnant would not be mentioned in her story. As a competent journalist, she obviously recognizes a smear campaign when she sees one.  So, at least here in Minnesota the media acknowledge their duty to try to discourage—rather than encourage!—unstable reactionaries, motivated by inflammatory fundraising rackets, from taking the law in their own hands.

Where The Remnant is concerned, the Minneapolis Star Tribune did the right thing.  It remains to be seen if the Southern Poverty Law Center will follow suit and finally begin to clean up its act.

In the meantime, I wonder:  When some crazed gunman decides to shoot up The Remnant office, will the Southern Poverty Law Center remove us from their hate map?  And, for that matter, is the SPLC so ideologically driven and so irresponsible that the Family Research Council will also remain on their hate map, even after yesterday's shooting?

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