SPLC Apology Dings Media Schimel Criticism

The Southern Poverty Law Center, most commonly known for tracking “hate groups,” was recently forced to publicly apologize after losing a law suit for including Maajid Nawaz in their “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists.” This is not the first time their credibility has been challenged, as their “hate group” list contains many questionable categories such as “general hate” and “hate music.” But last week’s extreme rebuke of the SPLC is notable here in Wisconsin after Attorney General Brad Schimel was targeted by the media recently for attending a conference sponsored by an organization labeled by the SPLC as an anti-LGBT hate group. Defenders of the group, Alliance Defending Freedom, say it is far from a hate group and defends religious liberties.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is a non-profit based in Montgomery, Alabama, which claims to track more than 1,600 extremist groups. While the SPLC has a legitimate civil rights record to tout, including taking on the Ku Klux Klan, the vagueness of the definition of hate group, and categories such as “general hate” and “hate music,” leads to questions how the SPLC decides what qualifies as a “hate group” today.

Media Trackers previously reported that news outlets such as The Appleton Post Crescent and other Gannett Wisconsin newspapers reported that Wisconsin Attorney Brad Schimel was the subject of criticism by democrats after an annual financial disclosure revealed he had attended a conference paid for by the Alliance Defending Freedom. According to the article, Schimel responded to the criticism on conservative talk radio defending himself “saying in one interview that there is “nothing anti-gay” about ADF and he attended the conference to speak on a panel about states’ rights.”

Despite the SPLC’s labeling of the group, the ADF recently won a supreme court case 7-2 after representing a cake decorator who was initially punished after he declined to design a wedding cake to celebrate a same-sex marriage ceremony because of his religious views.

A Washington Post article also highlighted that the SPLC was recently forced to publicly apologize to Maajid Nawaz for including him in its “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists,” and paid Nawaz $3.375 million dollars in settlement. The apology reads:

…We’ve found that Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam have made valuable and important contributions to public discourse, including by promoting pluralism and condemning both anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamist extremism. Although we may have our differences with some of the positions that Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam have taken, they are most certainly not anti-Muslim extremists. We would like to extend our sincerest apologies to Mr. Nawaz, Quilliam, and our readers for the error, and we wish Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam all the best.

The roughly $3.4 million dollar settlement likely will have little financial impact on the SPLC, as it raises hundreds of millions of dollars from donors. But the rare and severe repudiation of its labeling of Nawaz and Quilliam further undermines it’s labeling of ADF and other groups, and the recent media shaming of Schimel.