Posts Tagged ‘Amana’

Challenge Your Area’s SPLC “Hate Group” Designation

September 11, 2017

Two recent news events have brilliantly demonstrated just how unreliable and deceptive the Southern Poverty Law Center’s lucrative “Hate Map” really is. The SPLC releases this annual fundraising tool every February or March, to enormous media fanfare and the donor-dollars flow faster than the company can spend them.

Two small towns that were falsely smeared with “hate group” designations, Amana, Iowa, and Gurnee, Illinois, recently fought back and got the SPLC to rescind its spurious claims, though with very different results.

In the Amana case, the “town” is actually a collection of seven small villages known as the Amana Colonies. These villages were settled by German farmers in the 19th century and today the Colonies are on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. People take their families there to see the old farms, blacksmith shop and grist mill. Think: Colonial Williamsburg or Plimoth Plantation.

So how does a tourist destination like Amana get listed on the “Hate Map”? Simplicity itself. Someone at the SPLC found a single troll posting on the Daily Stormer website saying that several neo-Nazis got together on a single afternoon in an Amana coffee shop as a “book club” and they haven’t been back since.

There’s no indication of how many people actually showed up at the coffee shop, but the SPLC’s definition of “group” can mean one or fewer individuals.

Amana officials fought back, demanding that the SPLC’s new PR Guru, Ryan Lenz, remove the phony “hate group” designation from their town. Lenz, who replaces veteran SPLC “Former Employee” Mark Potok, initially refused. A local TV news team, KCRG out of Cedar Rapids, did the unthinkable and followed up on Amana’s complaint. You can see the report here (after a 30-second ad spot). On August 28, Lenz and the SPLC eventually relented and agreed to remove the hate group designation… sort of.

What Lenz did was to simply relocate the alleged Daily Stormer site from Amana to “Statewide.” “Statewide” is where the SPLC puts “groups” they cannot locate on any map, including their own. There are currently 191 “Statewide” groups on the most recent “Hate Map,” or nearly one-in-four. The SPLC provides no information whatsoever about the alleged groups and the media say “sounds good to us.”

Iowa still has four “hate groups,” (three of which are now “Statewide”), and the national “hate group” count remains at 917 for 2016.

In 2011, long before he was unthinkably kicked to the curb, we had the opportunity to ask Mark Potok directly about these phantom “groups.” At that time, Potok could not account for 262 of his 1,002 alleged groups, and though a small number of them were marked “Statewide” on the map, the vast majority were simply empty slots with no location whatsoever, other than a particular state.

After acknowledging that the question “was not illegitimate,” Mr. Potok sputtered along, making several astounding admissions, such as the “Hate Map” was based largely on anecdotal reports, was “… a very rough measure,” and “an imperfect process,” which is hardly the impression the SPLC gives in its annual “Hate Map” press releases.

In the end, Potok stated, “What those basically are, those are state-wide units… that’s what those groups are…” And with that, the interview was pretty much ended, but it confirmed Potok’s high standards for inclusion on the lucrative “Hate Map.”

On March 25, 2009, Potok had told the San Luis Obispo (CA) Tribune that “…inclusion on the [hate group] list might come from a minor presence, such as a post office box.”

On July 6, 2009, Potok told the Appleton (WI) Post-Crescent that, “…the [hate group] report relies on media, citizen and law enforcement reports, and does not include original reporting by SPLC staff.”

With such high standards and scrupulous research methods as that, it is a wonder that any “hate group” could wind up on the “Hate Map” in error, but this year it happened, twice. Or not.

The second location to fight back against the “hate group” smear was the village of Gurnee, Illinois. On September 8, 2017, the local paper, the Lake County News-Sun reported that:

“Gurnee police and village officials said they have been told by the law center that the village was included after the center found that someone who listed his address as Gurnee had registered on a KKK website.

Gurnee police said an investigation into the name concluded there is no record of anyone by that name having been a Gurnee resident.”

Once again we see how the SPLC spins any microscopic link it can scrape up into a full-fledged “group.” And despite being contacted by the mayor and local police on the scene, the SPLC made the demonstrably false claim that:

“Nonetheless, officials said they were told by a representative of the Law Center that they only review and revise the map once a year, and it will be reviewed again in January.”

It was less than two weeks earlier that the SPLC actually DID revise it’s “Hate Map” tool for Amana, sort of, so why won’t the company do the same for Gurnee? The simple fact of the matter is that they can’t.

The annual “Hate Map” is a fundraising tool, and, as shown above, has very little connection with reality (Mr. Potok’s “very rough measure”). Each winter the six-digit-salary executives at the SPLC come up with a “hate group” count upon which they will build all media and fundraising claims for the following year. Once a number is fixed, someone like Mark Potok or Ryan Lenz will get busy finding enough “groups” to match the prescribed quantity.

As we have noted in the past, the SPLC’s “Hate Map” tool is static. You can move a few deckchairs around, as they did with Amana, but you cannot change the magic number. As we pointed out in August, 2016, even though the SPLC announced that the rag-tag group “White Lives Matter” posed an immediate existential threat, they would not add them to the “Hate Map” for another six months.

(The company eventually conjured up three “White Lives Matters” “groups” for the 2017 map, all of which are… “Statewide.”)

In an age where any elementary school child can update a website in seconds, this makes no sense whatsoever, unless the “Hate Map” is a sham.

While Mr. Lenz can hide nearly 200 “groups” under the “Statewide” label, in the Gurnee case, he assigned a chapter of the Ku Klos Knights of the KKK to that location in addition to a second, “Statewide” iteration of the group to Illinois overall.

Even by SPLC standards, having two “Statewide” entries for the same “group” in the same state stretches credulity. Therefore, the village of Gurnee is stuck with it’s “hate group” until next year.

This brings us back to the point of of this post. The mayor of Gurnee is rightfully dissatisfied with the SPLC’s “tough luck” reply: “We’re going to continue to pursue it,” Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik said. “There is no reason to shame a whole community like that for no reason.”

Mayor Kovarik is completely in the right. There is no reason why any community or state should have to suffer the SPLC’s spurious “hate group” fundraising label. It unfairly smears the entire community based on nothing tangible whatsoever. The elected officials of Gurnee, Amana and every other locality falsely smeared have the reputation of their towns to protect and need to stand up against these unsubstantiated claims.

“Statewide,” governors, state and federal Senate and House members have the same, if not greater obligation to call out the SPLC and demand evidence. Serious claims require serious proof.

In 2015 the SPLC assigned 40 “hate groups” to New Jersey, (a state that doesn’t get enough negative publicity as it is…), giving that state the fourth highest total in the land and causing Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League to publicly denounce the SPLC’s bogus counts.

“According to Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the SPLC has a habit of counting single individuals as groups or chapters, which can give a skewed impression of hate groups in any given state.”

“The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list is wildly inflated,” said Pitcavage. “They list skinhead groups in places where there are no organized groups, but instead it’s just a couple of individuals.”

After being publicly outed by the ADL, the SPLC slashed New Jersey’s count from 40 to 21 on the next “Hate Map,” which was not issued until a full fundraising year later.

If the ADL can call the SPLC out for its “wildly inflated” “Hate Map,” so can local, state and federal representatives. Millions of people swallow the SPLC’s annual “hate group” numbers each year and few in the media will challenge the claims.

Huge corporations like Apple and Google are already making business decisions based on these bogus numbers. What legitimate company would build a new plant in a state with record numbers of “hate groups”? Why would skilled workers move their families to such “hate-ridden” states to work there?

While the SPLC rakes in tens of millions of dollars each year from its fraudulent “Hate Map,” the consequences for local and state economies could run into the billions.

Hold the SPLC responsible for its claims. Demand to see the proof.

 

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