Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) president Richard Cohen offered the Washington Examiner the SPLC’s views on Antifa, a violent, far-left movement responsible for many recent attacks on free speech.
They’re merely “wrongheaded” for using violence to achieve their ends, Cohen says. “We oppose these groups and what they’re trying to do.” But he won’t label Antifa a hate group, despite the group’s efforts to censor conservative speakers and disrupt lawful protests, because they don’t discriminate according to race, sex, religion, or other factors. Cohen offers flimsy reasoning:
Cohen’s euphemistic idea of “hate” conveniently allows the SPLC to avoid condoning Antifa violence without offering any real challenge to the far-left, but it can’t erase Antifa’s actions. Antifa, or “anti-fascist action,” has its origins in the 1920s and 1930s during the resistance to the rise of fascism in Italy and Spain, and National Socialism in Germany, but it quickly died out as a political movement after World War II.There might be forms of hate out there that you may consider hateful, but it’s not the type of hate we follow.
Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election triggered a new wave of so-called “anti-fascists,” who used the name “Antifa” to lend their terrorist movement an artificial legitimacy with the mainstream media. The black-clad group is known for damaging property, inciting riots, and assaulting individuals who doesn’t support their extreme agenda. Antifa is responsible for smashing windows and setting fires during protests at the University of California, Berkeley, and inciting a protest at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany that left 196 officers injured.
Naturally, Cohen’s refusal to identify Antifa as a hate group prompted outrage, but it’s consistent with the group’s strategy of assailing organizations which don’t hold to the SPLC’s ideology. Founded to combat legitimate hate groups, the SPLC initially earned respect by winning legal battles which helped to bankrupt groups the Ku Klux Klan. But it soon became a victim of its own success as hate groups largely died out and far-left leadership took over—prompting the SPLC to seek new, non-hate group targets such as the Family Research Council (FRC), a respected Christian charity. The group’s slander has inspired the hate crimes it was founded to prevent – as in 2013, when Floyd Lee Curtiss II assaulted FRC headquarters intending to shoot its employees and “smear  Chick-Fil-A sandwiches in [their] faces.” Curtiss later cited the SPLC’s hate group label as the reason he attacked the FRC.
Today’s SPLC is drastically different from its predecessor. With a gift shop sporting SPLC-branded water bottles and postcards and net assets topping $315 million, the organization has morphed into a moneymaking venture aimed at targeting conservative nonprofits by labeling them “hate groups” on its ever-growing HateWatch list. By lumping legitimate organizations in with neo-Nazis, SPLC’s smears have damaged numerous groups which dared to disagree with its leftist agenda. Politico’s Ben Schreckinger notes the strategy’s effectiveness:
SPLC’s hate group and extremist labels are effective. Groups slapped with them have lost funding, been targeted by activists and generally been banished from mainstream legitimacy. This makes SPLC the de facto cop in this realm of American politics, with all the friction that kind of policing engenders.
Criticism of the organization is widespread. William Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell and critic of the SPLC, says, “Time and time again, I see the SPLC using the reputation it gained decades ago fighting the Klan as a tool to bludgeon mainstream politically conservative groups.” Jacobson adds:
For groups that do not threaten violence, the use of SPLC ‘hate group’ or ‘extremist’ designations frequently are exploited as an excuse to silence speech…taint[ing] not only the group or person, but others who associate with them.
Labeling Antifa a hate group simply doesn’t fit the SPLC’s self-serving narrative—or its bottom line
Ken Silverstein, a liberal journalist and avid critic of the SPLC, attributes SPLC’s issues to their insatiable greed for donations. Silverstein writes, “The organization has always tried to find ways to milk money out of the public by finding whatever threat they can most credibly promote.”
As CRC’s Jacob Grandstaff notes, inventing hate crimes is lucrative:
In 2015, the organization spent $20 million on salaries, but only spent $61,000 on legal services. This, despite boasting of a staff of 75 lawyers for the purpose of litigating on behalf of “children’s rights, economic justice, immigrant justice, LGBT rights, and criminal justice reform.”
Labeling Antifa a hate group simply doesn’t fit the SPLC’s self-serving narrative—or its bottom line.