MSNBC’s Roberts Lets SPLC’s Potok Compare AFDI to Klan

In the wake of an attempted mass shooting at a free speech event hosted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) in Texas, on Monday MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts hosted Mark Potok of the far left Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and allowed him to equate them with a “Klan group that decides to hold a cartoon contest satirizing black people.” 

After Potok detailed why the SPLC labeled the AFDI an “anti-Muslim hate group” Roberts wondered if the group “get exactly what they wanted?...The contest in and of itself to have this draw Muhammad event, did they get exactly what they want drawing out people that would incite violence?” 

While Potok insisted that the AFDI did not plan the event in the hopes of getting attacked “she [Pam Geller] absolutely held the event in order to push her visibility even more into the mainstream and the fact that the event was attacked I think will unfortunately do that.”  

For his part, Roberts briefly pushed back and wondered if the group is “able to draw out two people that are working with terrorist ties or terrorist connections, isn't that for the greater good?” Unsurprisingly, the SPLC senior fellow downplayed the potential terrorist ties of the two shooters and that all they did was tweet their support for ISIS: 

Well, who's to say whether these two actually had terrorist ties or not? We know at least one of them did some tweeting in favor of ISIS and that ISIS retweeted that person's tweets. 

Potok then took his comments even further and argued that the AFDI having a contest to see who could draw the best cartoon of the prophet Muhammad was akin to the Klan “satirizing black people”:

I mean look, I think that an analogy is a Klan group that decides to hold a cartoon contest satirizing black people. Certainly that would make many people angry and might even bring out a black nationalist or two who was willing to do some shooting his or herself. Is that a good thing? I think not. 

At no point did Roberts interject and question whether not such a comparison was inappropriate and instead allowed Potok to further argue that the attack against the AFDI would merely embolden the group even more: "This was all about publicity, all about poking a stick in the eye of Muslims everywhere and unfortunately in that sense it really worked for Geller."  

Potok’s views about the attack against the AFDI were not isolated in the aftermath of the shooting. In a piece for the Daily Beast, liberal comedian Dean Obeidallah argued that the Muhammad cartoon contest was “akin to offering a prize for people to draw the most anti-Semitic or racist images imaginable, with the true goal being to stoke the flames of hate versus Jews or Blacks. But the reality is American Muslims deeply value freedom of expression.” 

See relevant transcript below. 

MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts

May 4, 2015

THOMAS ROBERTS:  So joining us now is Mark Potok, he’s a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. And Mark let's get down to it because this event was hosted by the New York based American Freedom Defense Initiative. You classify this group as what? 

MARK POTOK: As an anti-Muslim hate group.
 
ROBERTS: So you say anti-Muslim hate group. We had a guest on from the event in the last half hour that said that they are anti-jihad, that they are not anti-Muslim. So why would she try to make that distinction that says that they are anti-jihad not anti-Muslim? 

POTOK: Well, because they want to sound like the moderates that they are not. You know, the reality about the American Freedom Defense Initiative, and Pam Geller in general, is that these people are involved not in criticizing radical Islamists but in defaming all of Islam and all Muslims. Geller for instance has said that-- 

ROBERTS: So did they get exactly what they wanted then, Mark? The contest in and of itself to have this draw Muhammad event, did they get exactly what they want drawing out people that would incite violence? 

POTOK: Well, I'm sure that they didn't plan on getting shot at but is this a service that Pam Geller? Yes it is. I think that she absolutely held the event in order to push her visibility even more into the mainstream and the fact that the event was attacked I think will unfortunately do that. 

ROBERTS: So, when we talk about what happened and had a S.W.A.T. team and they had metal detectors that everyone was walking through. They had a security plan in place, but if they were able to draw out two people that are working with terrorist ties or terrorist connections, isn't that for the greater good?

POTOK: Well, who's to say whether these two actually had terrorist ties or not? We know at least one of them did some tweeting in favor of ISIS and that ISIS retweeted that person's tweets. But, you know, no I don't that think setting up events in order to draw out haters is really the best way to go.

I mean look, I think that an analogy is a Klan group that decides to hold a cartoon contest satirizing black people. Certainly that would make many people angry and might even bring out a black nationalist or two who was willing to do some shooting his or herself. Is that a good thing? I think not.

On the other hand, let me say unequivocally that nothing that Geller and her friends were doing merited being shot at. I'm not remotely defending that or suggesting that she brought it on herself. I think this was all about publicity, all about poking a stick in the eye of Muslims everywhere and unfortunately in that sense it really worked for Geller. 

ROBERTS: Mark Potok from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Mark, thank you sir, appreciate your time.

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