Annual report cites rise in hate groups, but some ask: What is hate?
The Southern Poverty Law Center says the number of US hate groups has topped 1,000 for the first time. But conservative critics say a too-broad definition of hate stifles legitimate debate.
Even as the Southern Poverty Law Center points out that the number of US hate groups has topped 1,000 for the first time, the civil rights organization is receiving flak from critics on the right who say an overbroad definition of “hate” vilifies innocent people and stifles vigorous debate about issues critical to America's future.Skip to next paragraph
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Tension erupted recently between the SPLC and a slew of Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota (who tops the SPLC's “militia enablers list”), who protested the SPLC’s listing of the conservative Family Research Council as a hate group. The SPLC said the Family Research Council is knowingly pushing falsehoods about gay people.
The tension between the SPLC and its critics on the right underscores that “conflicts in America today are deeper than they were in the 1850s,” says Donald Livingston, an Emory University philosophy professor and a former member of the pro-secessionist League of the South, which the SPLC today lists as a hate group.
The Montgomery, Ala.-based SPLC, which became well-known for civil lawsuits that weakened the KKK and other white supremacist groups, is careful to note that organizations on its list don't necessarily advocate violence. Its definition of a hate group and “ideologues” includes groups and people who suggest that an entire group of human beings are, by virtue of class characteristics, “somewhat less,” says Mark Potok, the editor of the SPLC's Intelligence Report, which published its findings Wednesday.
“We're not in any way suggesting that these groups should be outlawed or free speech should be suppressed ... but it's a kind of calling out the liars, the demonizers, the propagandists,” says Mr. Potok. While the groups themselves may not advocate violence, he says, such speech has “driven people and will continue to drive people to murder.”