“Better late than never,” we always say. While the folks at the Southern Poverty Law Center released their annual “Hate Map” fundraising tool right on schedule last March, we at Watching the Watchdogs are just now getting around to having a peek under the hood. As usual, nothing adds up.
Longtime Watching the Watchdogs readers may want to scroll down to the numbers section of this post, but at this juncture, a recap for the benefit of new readers is in order:
There is no standard or “official” definition for “hate group.” There is no legal definition, which is why the FBI doesn’t designate “hate groups.” Even the SPLC doesn’t have a firm definition for the term, and what boilerplate language they do attach is contradictory and/or flat out false, and this, friends, is entirely intentional. Here’s what the company has to say on the subject:
“The Southern Poverty Law Center counted 784 active hate groups in the United States in 2014. Only organizations and their chapters known to be active during 2014 are included.
All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.
This list was compiled using hate group publications and websites, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports.
Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing. Websites appearing to be merely the work of a single individual, rather than the publication of a group, are not included in this list. Listing here does not imply a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity.”
Let’s take a moment to unpack this content systematically.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center counted 784 active hate groups in the United States in 2014. Only organizations and their chapters known to be active during 2014 are included.”
It should be noted that when the SPLC releases its annual “Hate Map,” usually in the month of March, it refers to the count for the previous fiscal year (with the accent on fiscal). For the past decade, the “Hate Map” tool was the work of the SPLC’s Public Relations Guru, Mark Potok, but in recent years the map has alluded to another hand at the wheel, Mr. Potok’s successor, Dr. Heidi Beirich.
Why the map should be static in the Age of the Internet has always been a mystery. For example, if a hundred new “hate groups” should spring up like mushrooms on April 1, the donors and the world at large would not know of the dire threat for an entire year.
There is no good reason why an online map cannot be dynamic, showing up-to-the-minute information every time you visit the website, other than the fact that the entire purpose of the “Hate Map” is not to inform, but rather, to persuade.
As for “only organizations and chapters known to be active,” we’ll have a look at that claim shortly.
“All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
This statement is as close as the SPLC comes to an actual definition for their lucrative “hate group” brand, as it is also as far as the company is willing to stick out its neck. The term “attack or malign” is deliberately vague and subjective, and pretty much what you’d expect coming from a company run by lawyers. The phrase is deliberately subjective, meaning whatever the SPLC intends it to mean, depending on the audience at hand.
And when you come right down to it, the SPLC’s entire “hate group” definition boils down to little more than “People who say mean things about other people.” It seems like a pretty slender thread upon which to hang a multi-million dollar operation, but the numbers don’t lie.
It’s worth noting that when the SPLC refers to entire classes of people as “right-wing,” “radical” or “extremist,” they are not attacking or maligning, merely informing.
“This list was compiled using hate group publications and websites, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports.”
Mr. Potok’s “hate maps” have never been what one could call “academically rigorous.” For the most part they seem to be the work of interns and paid newspaper clipping services, which is not nearly as problematic as one might imagine, as nobody in the Media has an interest in performing even the most rudimentary fact checks on Mr. Potok’s claims, even when he comes right out and undermines the maps’ credibility himself:
“Mark Potok, who has directed the SPLC’s Intelligence Project for 12 years, said the report relies on media, citizen and law enforcement reports, and does not include original reporting by SPLC staff.” (www.postcrescent.com, July 6, 2009)
“Potok acknowledged that some of the groups may be small and said it is impossible for outsiders to gauge the membership of most of the groups.” (David Crary, Associated Press Online, March 10, 2008)
“Potok says inclusion on the list might come from a minor presence, such as a post office box.” (www.sanluisobispo.com, March 25, 2009)
“The numbers are absolutely soft,” said Mark Potok, a Southern Poverty Law Center spokesman. “We are talking about a tiny number of Americans who are members of hate groups – I mean, infinitesimal.” (Arlene Levinson, “Hate Groups, Crimes Said Rare in US,” Associated Press, July 8, 1999)
Easily the most disturbing claim Mr. Potok has made over the years is:
“Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.”
Back in the days when the SPLC was promoting itself as a “non-profit civil rights organization” it was incomprehensible how anyone could conflate six of the most fundamental, First Amendment civil rights with “criminal acts” and “hate group activities.”
Now that the company has dropped all pretenses of being a civil rights organization, the ploy makes perfect sense.
“Websites appearing to be merely the work of a single individual, rather than the publication of a group, are not included in this list.”
Even the most casual glance at the “Hate Map” shows how patently false this claim is:
Above is just a partial list of one-man/woman websites, t-shirt and flag vendors and other “groups.” Daniel Greenfield has a field day on his one-man blog explaining “How I Became a Hate Group,” noting that, in all fairness, he often writes with the assistance of his cat, who admits to “hating” mice, birds, and the like.
Our personal favorite “group” is Casa D’Ice, an Italian restaurant and bar near Pittsburgh, famous for its marquee signs.
Obviously, friends, the threat to the Republic has never been greater. Donate to the SPLC, early and often.
The final blurb on the “Hate Map” legend speaks for itself:
“Listing here does not imply a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity.”
Obviously, the whole point of the entire “Hate Map” marketing tool is precisely to imply that the people in the “hate groups” are doing something illegal. Otherwise, what interest would a “law center” possibly have in groups of people engaging in protected, though admittedly often offensive, free speech?
As Mark Potok has said on many occasions, and is quoted here from a 2008 interview available on the Internet Archive:
“Our criteria for a “hate group,” first of all, have nothing to do with criminality, or violence, or any kind of guess we’re making about ‘this group could be dangerous.’ It’s strictly ideological.“
You’re not going to raise tens of millions of dollars a year defending the civil rights of the unpopular, but if you can turn it into a war of ideologies the donors will beat a path to your door.
Now that we’ve reviewed the “facts,” let’s have a look at the figures.
For as long as we’ve been reviewing Mr. Potok’s annual “Hate Map,” it has consisted of a pretty straight-forward map with numbers purporting to identify the number of “hate groups” in any particular state.
It was a fairly clean design that was easy to read and just as easy to analyze. Sometime over the summer of 2015 the company came out with a new-and-improved website that deliberately obfuscates Mr. Potok’s numbers so that the readers and donors won’t ask a lot of questions. Behold the improved “Hate Map”:
Much better, no? Fortunately, while the map itself is now completely incomprehensible, the company still provides a “list of active hate groups” that can be dumped into a spreadsheet and sorted, so that the donors can see first hand the number of “hate groups” in their home states.
If you are of a mind to create such a spreadsheet, the first thing you notice is that the latest “Hate Map” only contains 735 alleged “groups,” as opposed to the 784 advertised. A little “bait and switch” tactic, perhaps? Or, more likely, more blundering from the SPLC’s inept webmaster.
Even if we use the higher figure, it is worth noting that the totals haven’t been this low since 2004, dropping 27% in just the past three years. Since the SPLC is the sole arbiter of the lucrative “hate group” label, and since no one in the Media will ever vet then numbers, why wouldn’t the numbers, and there for the perceived threat, continue to increase year after year?
The most logical answer is that it was becoming harder and harder to keep up the ruse in the Age of the Internet. The spurious “Hate Map” is simply collapsing under its own bloated weight. Now that Dr. Beirich is taking over as “Intelligence Director” she may have elected to do a little much-needed housekeeping.
Still, as with every “Hate Map” in the past dozen years, the spreadsheet reveals an embarrassing phenomenon in the fact that ought to tip off any thinking person. Of the 784, (or 735), alleged groups on his map, Mr. Potok cannot locate 195 of them in any known city or town. That’s 25% of the total right off the top.
Mr. Potok claims he knows of 22 chapters of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK, but can’t locate 18 of them, or 82% of the total.
Of the 49 chapters of the National Socialist Movement Mr. Potok warns of, 29 are floating about in limbo, or 59%.
The National Socialist Freedom Movement: 11 out of 12 are homeless, or 92% of the claim.
Aryan Nations Ohio, 80% phantoms.
Creativity Alliance: 14 out of 15.
Every single chapter of both Free America Rally and the White Boy Society, or 100% of the total. Really… 100%.
And the insanity goes on and on, for a grand total of 195 homeless “hate groups.” And yet the Media and the donors gobble it all down as “fact.”
As for the other groups, Potok provides nothing that researchers could use to verify his claims. In 1998, respected investigative journalist Laird Wilcox, who describes himself as a Liberal, pointed out this lack of verifiable evidence in his seminal work, The Watchdogs.
“When the SPLC releases their list, either in print or on the Internet, it fails to contain actual addresses that might be checked by journalists or researchers. Several listings refer to “unknown group” and the name of a city or town.” — The Watchdogs, p. 79
Again, such incongruities would normally present obvious credibility issues for any other group making these claims, but Mr. Potok and the SPLC get a free ride from the Media and researchers year after year.
Except from us.
Sorry for the delay. We promise to be more on top of things when the next installment of the insanely lucrative “hate map” comes out next March.