Media's Favorite Extremist Watchdog Silent on Leftwing Extremism

March 31st, 2010 10:47 AM

The next time someone in the mainstream media attempts to sell the Southern Poverty Law Center as a nonpartisan research group covering violence on all sides, this NBer will start asking exactly how many times the SPLC has covered left-wing violence.

Monday's announcement of FBI charges against a Christian militia rightfully drew attention from the national press. But some in the media couldn't help using it as a chance to promote partisan accusations. Within 48 hours of the charges brought public, both CNN and the Washington Post turned to the SPLC, with the former shamefully allowing the militia to be labeled a "patriot" group.

Too bad the SPLC wasn't around when House GOP Whip Eric Cantor received a death threat, or when a Republican office in Virginia was vandalized - both events covered by the Washington Post, but this time without any input from the SPLC.

First, let us read CNN's unquestioning coverage of the SPLC explaining that the Christian militia was a patriot group:

The Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based nonprofit organization that monitors hate groups and other fringe organizations, lists the Hutaree as a "Patriot" group militia.

"Generally, Patriot groups define themselves as opposed to the 'New World Order,' engage in groundless conspiracy theorizing or advocate or adhere to extreme anti-government doctrines," the center said in a report, "Rage on the Right: The Year in Hate and Extremism."

Rage on the Right? Sounds scary. But how do they define right-wing violence? A visit to the report's homepage reveals this handy little tidbit (emphasis mine):

The anger seething across the American political landscape - over racial changes in the population, soaring public debt and the terrible economy, the bailouts of bankers and other elites, and an array of initiatives by the relatively liberal Obama Administration that are seen as "socialist" or even "fascist" - goes beyond the radical right. The "tea parties" and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism.

So the entire TEA party movement is not extremist per se but "shot through" with all kinds of nasty things. This is what CNN considers expert analysis from a fair-minded group. How convenient that sentence did not make it to the CNN article.

Amazingly though, that wasn't the biggest whopper from the report:

And, most remarkably of all, so-called "Patriot" groups - militias and other organizations that see the federal government as part of a plot to impose "one-world government" on liberty-loving Americans - came roaring back after years out of the limelight.

Wait a second. Fear of a one world government is strictly found on the right? And such ideas were out of the "limelight" for years?

The SPLC must have been pulling a Rip Van Winkle back in 2009 when far-left anarchists had violent clashes with police at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh. On September 24 of that year, CNN reported on business owners forced to close because they were "more afraid of the protestors" after intense violence in London and Seattle. The SPLC did not appear in that report to condemn angry "radical ideas" from anarchists.

As the violence kicked off just as expected, CBS News gave readers a glimpse of who those protestors were:

The clashes began after hundreds of protesters, many decrying capitalism, tried to march from an outlying neighborhood toward the convention center where the summit is being held.

The protesters clogged streets, banged on drums and chanted "Ain't no power like the power of the people, 'cause the power of the people don't stop."

The marchers included small groups of self-described anarchists, some wearing dark clothes, ski masks and bandanas and carrying black flags. Others wore helmets and safety goggles.

Once again, the Southern Poverty Law Center was nowhere to be found.

But some six months later, the group is attempting to rewrite history by claiming that such unhinged paranoia had been out of the limelight for years.

When communist-loving IRS protestor Joseph Stack rammed an airplane into a government building back in February, SPLC director Mark Potok appeared on MSNBC to call Stack a conservative. Hardball host Chris Matthews took the usual tack of claiming the SPLC "monitors extremists" while not bothering to admit they only seem interested in right-wing extremists.

Now with a case of violence that can be pinned on radical Christians, the SPLC can't seem to talk to the media enough. On top of the CNN piece, the group also spoke to the Washington Post on Tuesday:

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, identifies the Hutarees as one of 11 militias in Michigan. The group's Web site bears the slogan "preparing for the end time battles to keep the testimony of Jesus Christ alive." YouTube videos display members of the group running across the woods brandishing firearms and wearing tiger-striped camouflage uniforms. Their shirt sleeves bear patches containing a black cross, two red spears, a V shape symbolizing the "supporting hands of the Hutaree" and the initials CCR, for Colonial Christian Republic, the court papers say.

So according to CNN, the SPLC is "an Alabama-based nonprofit organization that monitors hate groups and other fringe organizations" and now the Washington Post simply says it "tracks extremist groups."

Peaceful TEA parties are "shot through" with hate while violent mobs in Pittsburgh were nonexistent. Apparently the SPLC isn't doing a very good job of tracking violence. Why does it continue to be a reliable source of expert insight in the media?

This double standard became all the more noticeable when the Post was forced to report that same day that an angry socialist had threatened to kill GOP House Whip Eric Cantor. The Southern Poverty Law Center appeared...exactly nowhere in the report. The group had been handily available to discuss Christian militias that very same day but was mysteriously silent on Cantor's would-be assassin.

Likewise, the Post reported on Monday that a Republican party office in Virginia had been vandalized, and again the SPLC disappeared.

The media do a disservice to the public by promoting partisan blame-game groups as being fair-minded. A group that blatantly and repeatedly downplays left-wing violence while hyperventilating over TEA parties should not be tapped by hard news reporters.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has made it clear it is little more than a smear-merchant, and should be treated as such.