No fewer than 60 organizations branded "hate groups" or otherwise attacked by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) are considering legal action against the left-wing smear factory, a Christian legal nonprofit leader confirmed to PJ Media on Tuesday. He suggested that the $3 million settlement and apology the SPLC gave to Maajid Nawaz and his Quilliam Foundation on Monday would encourage further legal action.
"We haven't filed anything against the SPLC, but I think a number of organizations have been considering filing lawsuits against the SPLC, because they have been doing to a lot of organizations exactly what they did to Maajid Nawaz," Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, told PJ Media on Tuesday.
Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against the charity navigation organization GuideStar for defamation after GuideStar adopted the SPLC's "hate group" list. That lawsuit is ongoing.
In 2016, the SPLC published its "Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists," listing Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, a practicing Muslim, as one such extremist. The left-wing group listed various reasons for including him, changing the reasons every so often, and even at one point mentioning that he had gone to a strip club for his bachelor party.
On Monday, SPLC President Richard Cohen extended his group's "sincerest apologies to Mr. Nawaz, Quilliam, and our readers for the error, and we wish Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam all the best." In settling the suit, the SPLC paid Nawaz's organization $3.375 million.
"This is a significant settlement," Staver told PJ Media. "3.375 million dollars, and it did not even go to litigation; it was a result of a demand letter."
Importantly, "the allegations that were at issue here were very similar to the allegations against the other groups," the Liberty Counsel chairman explained. "The SPLC promotes false propaganda, demonizes and labels groups they disagree with, and that labeling has economic as well as physical consequences."
The SPLC started as a group to oppose racist terrorism, and its first legal action targeted the Ku Klux Klan. In recent decades, the organization has begun marking mainstream organizations as "hate groups" on par with the KKK. Last year, 47 nonprofit leaders denounced the SPLC's "hate list" in an open letter to the media. The SPLC has admitted that its "hate group" list is based on "opinion.""SPLC's partisan tactics and slander have ruinous, real-world consequences for which they should not be excused; we are evaluating all our options to defend the good name of ADF, including possible legal action," Tedesco concluded.
Staver noted that the SPLC labels groups "in order to destroy them," and he pointed out that that characterization comes from the SPLC's own words. The Liberty Counsel chairman also referenced a terror attack inspired by the left-wing group's "hate map."
In 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins III broke into the Family Research Council (FRC), aiming to kill everyone in the building. He admitted to targeting the FRC because the SPLC listed it as an "anti-gay group" on its "hate map." That wasn't the only incident connecting the SPLC with terror, however.
"Even the shooter last year in D.C. was a Facebook fan of the SPLC and the SPLC ran a false article saying [House Majority Whip] Steve Scaliese was a white supremacist," Staver added. In a statement, Nawaz himself had highlighted the connection between the SPLC and James Hodgkinson, the Congressional Baseball Game shooter last summer.
"There are people out there that are unhinged. They go out and take action. They assume that somebody hates them," the Liberty Counsel chairman explained. Due to these radical actors, "You have to be careful with your language. We can disagree but we can't demonize one another. Certainly, do not do anything that would put somebody that you disagree with in physical danger."
"The groups that we're talking to, that have approached us, all of them oppose violence," Staver said. "None of them advocate violence. They don't agree with the SPLC on certain issues, but they oppose violence. They have no reason to hate anyone."
It is hard to predict how a 60-party lawsuit against the SPLC's "hate group" labeling would play out. D. James Kennedy Ministries, the Christian nonprofit that sued Amazon and the SPLC over the "hate group" defamation last year, reported in late May that a preliminary hearing on its case was a "positive development."
Nawaz's case may be unique, since it involved a devout Muslim slandered as an "anti-Muslim extremist." Even so, the settlement does give grounds for hope, and the falsely labeled "hate groups" are considering their options.
Staver insisted that the settlement with Nawaz "will encourage further legal action." He suggested that the settlement "helps our lawsuit against GuideStar" and may encourage organizations that were considering suing the SPLC to actually file the paperwork.
"There are probably about 60 organizations that we're talking to there's at least 60," Staver told PJ Media. He mentioned the group of 47 nonprofit leaders who denounced the SPLC last year, and said "that group has grown since then."
Furthermore, many of the "hate groups" attacked by the SPLC do not encourage hate or violence, but merely disagree with the left-wing organization's political views. Many like the Family Research Council (FRC), the Ruth Institute, and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) merely stand for marriage as between one man and one woman. The SPLC has twisted 30-year-old arguments to smear these groups, and in one egregious case the group actually quoted as hateful the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Other organizations attacked by the SPLC also told PJ Media they are "considering their options" regarding a lawsuit.
"Truthfully, I have not been following the activities of the SPLC too closely," Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute, an organization that lost its credit card processor, Vanco Payments, over the SPLC's "hate group" labeling last year, told PJ Media. "Pursuing our mission is more important than attempting to take on the behemoth of the SPLC."
"I must say, though, this apology to Mr. Nawaz has caused us to consider our options," Morse added, cryptically.
"We are reviewing all our legal options," J.P. Duffy, a spokesman for the Family Research Council, told PJ Media on Tuesday.
A spokesman for Prager University, another organization attacked by the SPLC, said that "at this point" the group had "no intention to sue," but they "reserve the right to change their mind as the situation evolves."
Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), echoed this trend, saying his organization is "evaluating all our options," including a potential lawsuit.
"It's appalling and offensive for the Southern Poverty Law Center to compare peaceful organizations which condemn violence and racism with violent and racist groups just because it disagrees with their views," Tedesco told PJ Media. "That's what SPLC did in the case of Quilliam and its founder Maajid Nawaz, and that's what it has done with ADF and numerous other organizations and individuals."
"This situation confirms once again what commentators across the political spectrum have been saying for decades: SPLC has become a far-left organization that brands its political opponents as 'haters' and 'extremists' and has lost all credibility as a civil rights watchdog," the ADF senior counsel added.
Tedesco defended the good name of Alliance Defending Freedom, which SPLC falsely maligns as a "hate group." "With eight wins in the last seven years at the U.S. Supreme Court and hundreds of victories for free speech at America's public universities, ADF is one of the nation's most respected and successful legal advocates, working to preserve our fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience for people from all walks of life," he said.