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  1. #1
    Super Moderator Newmexican's Avatar
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    The SPLC Is in Serious Legal Jeopardy for Defamation Regarding Its 'Hate Group' Label

    The SPLC Is in Serious Legal Jeopardy for Defamation Regarding Its 'Hate Group' Labels

    BY TYLER O'NEIL JUNE 20, 2018
    Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen discusses a SPLC federal lawsuit against the Alabama Accountability Act during a press conference in Montgomery, Ala., Monday, Aug. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

    On Monday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) settled a defamation suit filed by Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, whom the SPLC maligned as an "anti-Muslim extremist." On Tuesday, PJ Media reported that no fewer than 60 organizations are considering similar lawsuits against the SPLC. The organization is still facing a lawsuit from D. James Kennedy Ministries (DJKM), a Christian organization falsely labeled a "hate group."

    The SPLC is in serious legal jeopardy in the DJKM case at least, because its "hate group" labels arguably fit all the requirements for defamation. Most damningly, the SPLC attacked DJKM years before publicly admitting that "our aim in life is to destroy these groups."

    The SPLC began as a civil rights organization, bringing a lawsuit against 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."

    Tragically, the "hate group" list — and a corresponding "hate map" — inspired a terrorist attack in Washington, D.C. in 2012.

    John Rabe, a spokesman for DJKM, put his central complaint against the SPLC in a clear, pithy statement: "Stop lumping in Christians and conservatives with neo-Nazis and skin heads. Or if you’re going to do it, let everyone know you are just a far-left advocacy group and nothing more," he said.

    "Defamation of character" is not a crime, but it is a "tort," a civil wrong for which a defamed person can sue the defamer for damages. Defamation law aims to balance the competing interests of free speech and public reputation. It is fundamentally important that defamation be limited so that political and social disagreement is fostered, not discouraged.

    Defamation plaintiffs must prove 4 things to receive damages. They must convince a court that the statement is "published" (seen by a third party), objectively false, "injurious" (proving that the plaintiff's reputation was hurt and they lost tangible good things), and made in a context that is "unprivileged."

    This final requirement is the most complicated. In many circumstances, published, false, injurious statements are not actionable on defamation grounds. Witnesses who testify falsely in court cannot be sued for defamation, and lawmakers are not liable for statements made in a legislative chamber or in official materials.

    'The rules also vary for public officials. Since a free press and free speech involve the ability to criticize officials, a politician (or celebrity) must prove one further element for defamation — they must demonstrate that the defendant acted with "actual malice."

    "Actual malice" means that the person who made the statement knew it wasn't true, or didn't care whether it was true or not and was reckless with the truth.

    It is arguable that the Southern Poverty Law Center's "hate group" designations fit all of these criteria, even the "actual malice" standard. Both the DJKM case and the Nawaz case demonstrate strong examples of actionable defamation.

    1. Published.

    First, the SPLC's "hate group" labels are published. DJKM is not just suing the SPLC — this Christian ministry is also suing Amazon, because Amazon excluded DJKM from its fundraising program, Amazon Smile. Amazon admitted that it used the SPLC's "hate group" list to exclude DJKM.

    In his case, Nawaz noted that Floyd Corkins II terrorized the Family Research Council in 2012, entering the building with the intent to kill everyone there, and using the SPLC's "hate map" to target FRC. Nawaz also mentioned the SPLC's troubling connection to the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise last summer. The shooter in that case, James Hodgkinson, "liked" the SPLC on Facebook, and the SPLC had attacked Scalise numerous times.

    Furthermore, CNN shared the SPLC "hate map" uncritically last summer, and "hate group" designations have popped up on ABC News and NBC News, and in congressional testimony for Trump administration confirmation hearings.

    Southern Poverty Law Center: ‘Our Aim in Life Is to Destroy These Groups, Completely’

    2. Objectively false.

    According to the FBI, a hate group's "primary purpose is to promote animosity, hostility, and malice against persons belonging to a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin which differs from that of the members of the organization."

    In public testimony, SPLC President Richard Cohen admitted that his organization's "hate group" labels are based on "opinion." Former SPLC spokesman Mark Potok explained that their criteria for a "hate group" "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."

    "So we look at a group and we say, 'Does this group, in its platform statements, or the speeches of its leader or leaders — does this group say that a whole group of people, by virtue of their group characteristics, is somehow less?" Potok explained.

    Even by these criteria, many organizations on the "hate group" list do not belong.

    In Nawaz's case, the left-wing smear group changed its reasons for listing Maajid Nawaz as an "anti-Muslim extremist," even using the argument that since he had gone to a strip club for his bachelor party, he must be "anti-Muslim."
    Last year, when Dr. Frank Wright, president and CEO at DJKM, announced his lawsuit, he claimed that the SPLC engaged in explicitly anti-Christian bias.

    "Those who knowingly label Christian ministries as 'hate' groups, solely for subscribing to the historic Christian faith, are either woefully uninformed or willfully deceitful. In the case of the Southern Poverty Law Center, our lawsuit alleges the latter," Wright declared.

    Traditional Christian doctrine teaches that homosexual sexual activity is sinful and that transgenderism is false. Contrary to the SPLC, however, these doctrines do not imply that LGBT people are "somehow less." Neither do Christian organizations primarily "promote animosity, hostility, and malice" toward these people.

    As Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver told PJ Media Tuesday, the mainstream groups involved "don't agree with the SPLC on certain issues, but they oppose violence. They have no reason to hate anyone."

    In many cases, 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.

    In October 2013, Secretary of the Army John McHugh disassociated his service from the use of the SPLC's materials, noting that the material was "inaccurate, objectionable and otherwise inconsistent with current Army policy."

    3. Injurious.

    As Nawaz noted, the 2012 terrorist attack against the FRC proved that SPLC "hate group" labeling can directly inspire terrorism. DJKM's exclusion from Amazon Smile only further underscored this argument. The credit card processing service Vanco Payments withdrew its service from the Ruth Institute, and YouTube's bias against Prager University may trace back to Google's use of the SPLC list.

    The "hate group" listing has caused serious reputational harm to many organizations. Last year, ABC News and NBC News parroted the SPLC's "hate group" label against Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an organization that has won 8 Supreme Court cases in 7 years. Last September, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) used the SPLC label to compare ADF to Cambodian dictator Pol Pot.

    Jeremy Tedesco, ADF's senior counsel, told PJ Media, "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."

    4. Unprivileged.

    This aspect of a defamation lawsuit may be the hardest to prove. The SPLC's materials have been used by law enforcement, the Army, and the FBI, so the left-wing organization might make a defense on public interest grounds.

    However, this defense might backfire. DJKM spokesman John Rabe argued that the SPLC is effectively a "quasi-government agency," since "government has relied on them as if they were an impartial, neutral clearing house of information on hate groups, when in reality they're the furthest thing from that."

    Since the SPLC has a privileged position similar to a government official or a celebrity, it should be held to a higher standard, and therefore be easier to sue for defamation.

    5. "Actual malice."

    Even if the SPLC has a privileged position, DJKM can argue a solid case for "actual malice."

    In 2007, SPLC spokesman Mark Potok declared, "I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, completely destroy them." The next year, he added, "You are able to destroy these groups sometimes by the things you publish. It's not so much that they will bring down the police or the federal agents on their head, it's that you can sometimes so mortally embarrass these groups that they will be destroyed."

    The left-wing smear group had already listed DJKM — then known as "Coral Ridge Presbyterian" or "Coral Ridge Ministries" — among "hate groups" as early as 2005 (although the 2005 list did not explicitly call Coral Ridge a "hate group").
    When Potok said the SPLC's "aim in life is to destroy these groups," he was talking about DJKM — or, at least, FRC, which would be attacked by terrorists five years later.

    The SPLC's actions also demonstrate a recklessness with the truth. Last year, the group removed the innocent historic town of Amana Colonies from its "hate map." While the SPLC eventually removed Amana Colonies, it first defended the "hate" label because a white supremacist website claimed to have had a book club in one of the town's restaurants.

    These inconvenient facts should prove the final nail in the coffin for any defense the SPLC could make against a defamation charge. The "destroy these groups" comment seems no less than incontrovertible proof of the highest standard in defamation law.

    On Wednesday, 47 nonprofit leaders — including representatives of DJKM, FRC, ADF, and the Ruth Institute — warned "editors, CEOs, shareholders and consumers alike are on notice: anyone relying upon and repeating its misrepresentations is complicit in the SPLC's harmful defamation of large numbers of American citizens."

    This warning, coming as it did in the context of "about 60 groups" considering legal action against the SPLC, should terrify the news outlets and companies that championed the "hate group" list, from CNN, ABC, and NBC to Google, Amazon, and Apple. The case against the SPLC is solid, and organizations should take care not to associate with the "hate group" defamations.

    The case of Maajid Nawaz may be worse for the SPLC than others, but DJKM's defamation lawsuit seems particularly strong, and the fact that the SPLC settled with Nawaz should send a powerful signal to others.

    "There's never any predicting what a particular judge is going to say or do," DJKM's John Rabe told PJ Media. "But it would be hard not to be encouraged by this enormous settlement handed out by the SPLC which exposes exactly what it is that we've been accusing them of."

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  2. #2
    Super Moderator Newmexican's Avatar
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    May 2005
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    Update on the 60 Separate Defamation Lawsuits Against the SPLC Under Consideration


    Southern Poverty Law Center Hate Map

    Leaders of Christian organizations the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) unfairly labels as "hate groups" told PJ Media that a massive legal onslaught is headed toward the SPLC — and it could involve as many as sixty separate lawsuits in different states around the country. Rather than one big defamation lawsuit, the left-wing attack dog will face a scattershot approach.

    "What we're considering is not a class-action lawsuit," Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a Christian nonprofit branded a "hate group" by the SPLC and currently suing the charity navigation site GuideStar, told PJ Media on Monday. "These are individual lawsuits that we're looking at, not class action."

    He explained that the roughly 60 organizations considering the suit intend to "make the SPLC defend itself all over the country."

    "The people we're talking to are looking at individual lawsuits — could be up to sixty but definitely quite a number of cases," Staver explained.

    In June, the SPLC settled a defamation lawsuit from Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim reformer the group had defamed as an "anti-Muslim extremist." The leftist smear factory paid $3.375 million to Nawaz's anti-terrorism nonprofit, Quilliam International. That case was particularly egregious, as the SPLC called Nawaz an "extremist" for, among other things, going to a strip club on his bachelor party.

    After the Nawaz settlement, Staver told PJ Media that "about 60 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."
    PJ Media followed up, asking why the lawsuits have not yet been filed.

    Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel and vice president of U.S. Advocacy and Administration at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), suggested that the organizations may be waiting for the outcome of other cases currently making their way through the courts. Some of these cases may test whether or not the leftist smear group can get away with defamation by claiming their "hate group" labels are merely a matter of opinion.

    "What the SPLC does and what makes them so dangerous is that when they get sued they go to court and say, 'You can't sue us, it's just opinion,'" Tedesco explained. "But they know full well that everybody looks at their hate group list as fact. They treat it as fact, they like having these corporations listen to them." He noted that news organizations and companies like Amazon have "blindly accepted" the SPLC's "hate group" label against ADF. Amazon removed ADF from its Amazon Smile charity program due to the label.

    "The SPLC loves it when others treat it like a fact and they treat it like a fact, but when they go to court they say it's just an opinion," the lawyer added.

    "There are pending cases against SPLC right now where those questions could be answered," Tedesco said. "It's possible the court could say, 'No matter how much you say this is an opinion, it's a statement of fact.'''

    The ADF lawyer also pointed to a letter from the legal offices of Clare Locke, LLP. that lays out the case for Quilliam against the leftist smear group. The letter clearly explains that SPLC's labeling Nawaz an "anti-Muslim extremist" was an act of defamation, and warned that if the SPLC and Media Matters refused to turn in documents regarding Quilliam and Nawaz, they would face "serious penalties."

    While the Nawaz lawsuit has been settled, the SPLC is facing two active cases of litigation. Liberty Counsel's suit against GuideStar involves the "hate group" labels, and the Christian nonprofit D. James Kennedy Ministries (DJKM) is suing after the website excluded them from its Amazon Smile program due to the "hate group" label. Tedesco even tied the Prager University lawsuit against Google and YouTube into this set of suits, arguing that it "hits on a lot of similar issues."

    The SPLC is attempting to dodge liability by claiming their statements are "opinion." Tedesco suggested that "to some extent, people are going to wait to see how these cases weigh out, but the SPLC puts out a ton of propaganda and they are bound to cross the line again and probably be held accountable again."

    The ADF lawyer also echoed the concerns of many in suggesting that judgments against the SPLC could chill free speech. "We respect the right of free speech and we want to have as much breathing room as possible for people to engage in expressing their opinions and ideas, no matter how much we may or may not like those ideas or think they're offensive," Tedesco explained.

    However, "you can cross the line and say things that are false and defamatory." If a leftist smear group makes "malicious false attacks that are meant to hurt people, there's an avenue in court to rectify."
    Staver, the Liberty Counsel founder, dismissed the idea that a judgment against the leftist smear group would damage free speech. "Defamation's always been the exception to free speech," he told PJ Media. "You have the right to speak but you don't have the right to defame someone. Defamation's never been protected by the First Amendment."

    Staver disagreed with Tedesco's explanation for the delay in defamation lawsuits, at least in his case. "We're not waiting on other cases to be resolved, because each case is going to be factually different from the other," he explained. The delay on the lawsuits comes not from waiting for the outcome of other cases, but from the difficulty of coordinating with 60 different organizations, he said.

    Staver explained that the PragerU case "doesn't really apply to any litigation that we're doing," because it focuses on discrimination, not defamation. Similarly, "the GuideStar case that we have is a narrow issue," arguing that GuideStar violated the federal Latham Act by putting false misinformation on the same page as they solicited subscriptions to their premium service. Only the DJKM case deals directly with defamation.

    Dr. Frank Wright, president and CEO at DJKM, supported strategies "against the SPLC's false and defamatory practice of placing groups on their so-called hate map for simply subscribing to the teaching of the historic Christian faith." Indeed, in the case of the small pro-family nonprofit the Ruth Institute, the SPLC directly quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church in branding it a "hate group."

    Worse, the "hate group" label directly inspired a terrorist attack against the Family Research Council (FRC) in 2012, a terrorist used the "hate map" to find the group and show up with a semi-automatic pistol and a bag full of Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches, to place at the heads of the people he would massacre.

    Echoing Staver, Wright explained the lawsuit delay. "What looks like hesitancy from afar may simply reflect the complexity of getting 60 different groups to coordinate their legal decision-making," he told PJ Media.
    Defamation law created a large hurdle to cross, but Wright and Staver were confident they would be able to meet the standard.

    "Our primary complaint against the SPLC is defamation. Current case law makes it difficult to prevail in such cases unless you can prove actual malice," Wright explained. "Yet, since an SPLC official is on record saying their goal is to 'destroy' groups like ours, we think we can meet that standard."

    Indeed, SPLC spokesman Mark Potok explained in 2007, "Sometimes the press will describe us as monitoring hate groups, I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, completely destroy them." He doubled down in 2008, "We're not trying to change anybody's mind. We're trying to wreck the groups. We're trying to destroy them. Not to send them to prison unfairly or to take their free speech rights away, but as a political matter to destroy them."

    Staver agreed that these remarks make a defamation case against the SPLC especially powerful.
    As for the DJKM suit against Amazon, which even Staver admitted was similar to the pending defamation cases that may hit the left-wing smear group across the country, Wright said he was confident of success.

    "Our primary complaint against Amazon is discrimination," he told PJ Media. "Yet, astonishingly, Amazon has argued that they are not subject to the non-discrimination provisions of the Civil Rights Act. In effect they have said they can discriminate against anyone they choose. For example, if Amazon chose not to serve African Americans for any reason, they believe they have the right to do so."

    "This notion seems so patently unjust that we fully expect to prevail," Wright said.

    Even if Tedesco is correct that many groups are holding off on lawsuits until the DJKM case against Amazon is completed, that should not give the SPLC hope that it will get off the hook for its long history of defamation. The lawsuits may be long in coming, but Staver, Tedesco, and Wright all agreed they are coming.
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