There are, in increasingly frightening numbers, cells of angry men in the United States preparing for combat with the U.S. government. They are usually heavily armed, blinded by an intractable hatred, often motivated by religious zeal.
They're not jihadists. They are white, right-wing Americans, nearly all with an obsessive attachment to guns, who may represent a greater danger to the lives of American civilians than international terrorists.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking hate groups for 30 years, released its latest report on the growth of these organizations this week. Its findings were, to say the least, alarming. The center divides its subjects into militias, which are mostly groups of weekend warriors who train for combat against imaginary foes; hate groups, which target minorities; and "patriot" groups, whose beef is with the U.S. government. Patriot groups first began surfacing after the massacre of a bizarre sect by federal agents in Waco, Texas, in the early 1990s. They showed their teeth in 1995, when a patriot adherent blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City.
Since then, the patriot movement has been growing at a blistering pace, especially following the election of President Obama in 2008, according to the report. From just 149 groups in 2008, the number jumped to 512 in 2009 and has been rising sharply since. In 2012, it hit 1,360. Now that Obama is seriously pushing for tougher gun laws, further growth is a near certainty. The result? There's no knowing, but some kind of serious attack is increasingly possible.Reading this, you would think that the greatest threat to Americans were white-males from "fly-over" country, ignoring the continuing slaughter in minority inner-cities, which is the result of decades of failed liberal policies.
But ignoring the obvious misdirection, the way the SPLC counts and reports on "hate groups" is, itself, dishonest and inaccurate. J.M. Berger writes at Foreign Policy:
... The SPLC looms large in most discussions of American extremism, in large part because they have little or no competition. Very few journalists cover domestic extremism on a regular basis, and those who do tend to work for publications that have an overt political slant.It is not just counting the same organization multiple times that is a problem. The SPLC counts as "hate groups" entities that are not "groups."
... For better or worse, the SPLC remains the go-to media source for data on domestic extremists of the non-Muslim variety, with the Anti-Defamation League coming in second in terms of published resources. Those journalists who do cover domestic extremism often rely on the SPLC for facts and figures.
The problem is that the SPLC and the ADL are not objective purveyors of data. They're anti-hate activists. There's nothing wrong with that -- advocating against hate is a noble idea. But as activists, their research needs to be weighed more carefully by media outlets that cover their pronouncements.
"The Year in Hate and Extremism" report classified domestic extremists in two broad categories: hate groups and antigovernment organizations. The raw numbers for antigovernment outfits were unavailable, but the data on the 1,007 hate groups cited in the report can be found online.
Many groups take exception to their inclusion on the hate list, arguing their content is legitimately political. Rather than get bogged down in that particular argument, let's simply look at the methodology of the list.
The SPLC presents its hate group data by state, rather than in one unified list. When the state entries were gathered into a single spreadsheet, the total number of groups came to 1,007, as advertised. But once you get past simply counting the rows, serious questions arise.
The biggest issue raised by the hate list is when a local group should be deemed a separate entity from a national group. When you go to find the raw data online, the SPLC's site explains that it counts counted "1,007 active hate groups in the United States in 2012," including "organizations and their chapters." But "The Year in Hate and Extremism" did not make the "chapter" distinction explicit. ...
... When you filter the list for organizations with identical names, the list of 1,007 becomes a list of 358.
The list isn't pristine on other fronts either. The Political Cesspool is a website and podcast, the Crocker Post is a blog, and Silver Bullet Gun Oil is a business that markets offensive tchotchkes to anti-Muslim extremists. VDARE is a white nationalist website with multiple authors, but it does not on the face of it appear to be a traditional boots-on-the-ground organization, at least not according to a profile written by the SPLC.Patrick Brennan at National Review takes Berger's analysis a step further. Brennan writes:
... Radical bookstores and racist record labels also appear on the list. Are these hate groups, or hate businesses, or just businesses? Are they peddling specific ideologies or making a buck off of several? Do they hold meetings? Write tracts? Burn crosses?
Reasonable people can debate these reasons for including or disqualifying each of these listings, but the number of entries that require such debate is staggering given the specificity of the SPLC's reporting. We're not talking about a difference of 5 or 10 percent in the relative counts; it's 65 or 70 percent.
Berger’s absolutely right that the media should be more circumspect in reporting the SPLC’s observations as fact, in part because of they are an advocacy group, not a research organization. But another problem runs beyond what he identifies: The SPLC is not just far from an un-biased source because it’s an anti-hate activist group, but because it’s a leftist anti-hate activist group. They definitely don’t regularly say this (while they acknowledge themselves to be activists), but they eventually admitted as such to NR’s Charlie Cooke back in 2011. Not only does the SPLC have a liberal stance, they actually just do not consider or research leftist domestic-terror or hate groups (except those that are otherwise racist, such as black nationalists, it appears). When Charlie asked them about whether, in light of a serious bomb plot uncovered at Occupy Cleveland, they were going to cover the Occupy movement, an SPLC rep told him, “We’re not really set up to cover the extreme Left.”
The fact that they are “anti-hate activists” and not objective researchers only suggests subtle and implicit bias and sloppiness, like what Berger documents, but further, the SPLC’s bias is explicit: They purposefully do not cover or condemn the hateful or violent groups on their end of the ideological spectrum. It is scandalous, therefore, for the media to report the SPLC’s findings without fairly explaining what they do, no matter if they are the only source of data on this topic or not.
If that is not enough, William Jacobson points out that the SPLC list includes hate groups that do not exist.
In February of this year, the Daily Caller noted:
As I noted yesterday, Floyd Corkins, the guy who planned to kill a bunch of people at the Family Research Council offices in Washington, DC and then rub Chick-fil-A sandwiches in their faces as they died, pleaded guilty yesterday. And he admitted that he picked the FRC and several other targets based on a “Hate Map” at the Southern Poverty Law Center website....
Related thoughts here from Rich Lowry at National Review. Lowry observes, moreover:
The SPLC calls the Family Research Council a “hate group.” This puts it in the same league as the True Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation, the Supreme White Alliance, the Old Glory Skinheads and, of course, the American Nazi Party.
... What the SPLC is doing is profoundly illiberal. The whole idea of a “hate group” is an organization that is so irrational and beyond the pale that it has no legitimacy. The SPLC brags about shutting down such groups, and rightly so. You presumably don’t have an argument with the White Patriot Party militia, unless you bring along a lead pipe. Putting the Family Research Council in the same category is a statement that it isn’t worthy of a democratic society — that its views shouldn’t be debated so much as shunned and marginalized.
This is the trend in the gay-marriage debate. The attempt to punish Chick-fil-A for the opinions of its founder and CEO, although an abject failure for now, will probably be the template of the future. “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views,” William F. Buckley Jr. once said, “but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.” The SPLC and its allies on the left won’t be satisfied until there are no other views on gay marriage.
William Jacobson (in a different article) concludes:
As long-time readers surely know, I have examined the pernicious methodology of the Southern Poverty Law Center in moving from fighting Klan and neo-Nazi groups to fighting for the Democratic Party agenda against conservatives and the Tea Party.He goes on to give specific examples. Read the whole thing.
In seeking to justify its hefty salaries, budget and fundraising, SPLC made a very dangerous leap to treating political opponents as “hate groups” and speech it didn’t like as “hate speech.”
(See also here, describing the influence of liberal media and ideas on mass shooters).