Newsweek Trots Out Discredited SPLC Lawyer Mark Potok to Decry 'Patriot' Groups

April 12th, 2010 6:40 PM
Why does the mainstream media keep trotting out the Boy Who Cried Right-Wing Terrorist?

Better known as Mark Potok of the hard-left Southern Poverty Law Center, he has been trumpeted by a number of media outlets seeking to promote the notion that "right-wingers" are lurking behind every corner to overthrow the federal government.

The fact that he is consistently wrong about, well, just about everything -- from the political views of the supposed right wingers to the supposedly violent nature of conservative groups to the mere presence of violent crime -- does not seem to dissuade Old Media from using him to smear conservatives.

Potok's latest target for fear-mongering is a group called the Oathkeepers. The group consists of military veterans who pledge not to follow orders that would result in the violation of Americans' constitutional rights. I know, this is really radical, extremist, right-wing nutjob stuff.

The Oathkeepers are "a particularly worrisome example of the 'patriot' revival," Potok told Newsweek. The SPLC defines a 'patriot' group not as one that is, you know, patriotic, but as a group full of wacko conspiracy theorists who think the federal government is trying to impose a so-called New World Order, often with one global government.

Newsweek, of course, goes on to link the larger "patriot" movement to Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin. Since the piece bases its argument -- that conservatives are fomenting violence -- on Potok's initial observations, it is worth asking, why are people treating Potok like he is some sort of credible commentator?

In September, Potok appeared on MSNBC's "The Ed Show" to do some good old fashioned lefty fear-mongering. The body of a Census worker had just been found hanged in rural Kentucky. Potok posited it was a distinct possibility that he had been
killed by someone who saw him as an agent of the sort of nefarious federal government. This idea of government workers being the enemy goes all the way back to the militia movement of the ‘90s when forestry workers, Bureau of Land Management workers were seen really as enemies by people in the so-called patriot organizations. We've seen a resurgence in this movement over the last year or so, and it does seem possible this is an outcome of that. …

I would not say that this part of Kentucky is any more sort of hot bed of anti-government sentiment than other rural areas of the country. However, that part of the country does have something of a tradition of suspicion of outsiders, going way back. Having to do with labor struggles in the area, having to do with people coming in and making documentaries that locals had felt portrayed them badly and so on.

I think the bottom line is it‘s a very rural area, and these are the kinds of areas where sometimes, you know, real white hot anti-government sentiment thrives. I think it‘s probably worth saying that I know that back in ‘95, immediately after the Oklahoma City bombing, I remember “USA Today” did a poll and found that 39 percent of Americans at that time felt that the federal government was an imminent threat to their liberties as Americans. Quite incredible.

I think that we are at a similar point in history right now, you know, where we've seen this anti-government sentiment very much whipped up by militia certainly but also the whole scene that we‘ve seen develop around town halls and so forth.
Ahh yes, the Tea Party was responsible, in part, for his death. Just one problem: the whole thing was a hoax! Bill Sparkman, the late Census worker, had killed himself, and staged the homicide in the hope of recouping insurance money for his family. Tragic, yes. Right-wing terrorism? Only in Potok fantasy-land.

Potok continued to sully what credibility he had left after Joe Stack flew a plane into an IRS building in Austin, TX. Appearing on MSNBC's "Hardball", Potok claimed,
We know nothing of this man. We did not have him in our files. We found absolutely nothing in the way of real background on the movement or association with any group. But, yeah, as a general matter his ideas seem connected to at least some of the core ideas of the radical right . . . In 1995, not long after the Oklahoma City bombing, a man attempted to blow up what I think is the very same building in Austin, the IRS building in Austin back in '95. In addition there were attempts to blow up IRS buildings by people on the radical right in Michigan and in Las Vegas as well. So this is kind of a traditional target of the radical right.

Stack must have been the only member of the "radical right" to express a deep affinity with communism and hatred for capitalism. But again, Potok wasn't about to let facts get in the way a good smear job.

By the time Potok tried to tie the Hutaree militia to the conservative movement while ignoring the fact that at least one member was a registered Democrat, it was quite clear that his only concern is the delegitimization of conservatism. Facts do not concern him.

So it should not have been a surprise that he downplayed Democratic donor Norman LeBoon's anti-Semitic threats against House Republican Whip Eric Cantor.

In vilifying the Tea Party, Potok forgot to mention that a large majority of violent incidents at last summer's town hall meetings -- precursors to the Tea Party protests -- were perpetrated by liberals, Democrats, and their allies.

Potok didn't seem concerned when SEIU thugs beat Kenneth Gladney for distributing Gadsden Flags. Maybe it has something to do with Potok's wild belief that Gadsden Flags can indirectly incite violence.

And of course, the liberals so concerned about political violence were not terribly worried when scores of left-wing protesters called for the death of George W. Bush, Republicans generally, and even American soldiers. The supposedly wild and offensive signs at Tea Party rallies look like Hallmark greeting cards compared to the vitriol displayed at many anti-war and anti-capitlist protests since the turn of the century (examples).

In fact, Potok's entire premise -- as well as the SPLC's -- seems to be that domestic violence is a right-wing phenomenon. So if Potok were to acknowledge the litany of violent acts committed by left-wingers and Democratic supporters -- and occasionally encouraged by Democratic politicians themselves -- he would be undermining the premises behind his organization.

So it is hardly shocking that Potok continues to peddle all of this misinformation. He is apparently seeking the perpetuate the logic for his organization's existence. Where facts get in the way, they must be discarded.

What is more striking, if not altogether surprising, is that major media outlets such as Newsweek continue to treat Potok as if he is a credible commentator on domestic violence (or, in the Tea Party's case, the lack thereof). Potok has demonstrated that he is little more than a partisan shill seeking to delegitimize the political opposition by portraying it as dangerous and outside of the mainstream.

The liberal media is more than happy to play along.