CNN let the liberal Southern Poverty Law Center brand many right-wing "patriot" groups as "extremist" and racist on Friday afternoon. CNN host Brooke Baldwin simply listened to the SPLC talking points and concernedly asked what was being done to "combat" the "paranoia" of "anti-government activism."
The SPLC had previously placed the Family Research Council alongside Klan members and neo-Nazis in a list of "hate" groups, but CNN did not question their study then. They continued to accept their liberal "expertise" on Friday, not challenging whether certain groups belonged in the "extremist" category.
Baldwin reported the "exploding" number of "patriot" groups – as labeled by the SPLC – and did not ask how the SPLC determined what constituted an "patriot" group. Included in the list of "extremist" groups were Constitution Parties and militia groups of multiple states.
The SPLC's Heidi Beirich insinuated that racism was alive and well in these groups, without being challenged as to whether some of the groups in the list were really racist. "Obama is an African-American. So there are all these crazy racial theories that you hear about Obama, that he's not really a citizen, that he's maybe a secret Muslim," she noted.
"And all of this has created an incredible amount of paranoia on the far, far right – which is expressed in these kinds of – in this kind of anti-government activism," explained the SPLC's Heidi Beirich."
"So what, if anything, is being done to combat some of this paranoia?" Baldwin worriedly asked.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on March 9 on Newsroom at 3:10 p.m. EST, is as follows:
BROOKE BALDWIN: Well, a lot has happened in the country since 2008. That's perhaps an understatement. You think about it, that's the year the economy turned sour, housing collapsed, Senator Barack Obama was elected president, and membership in these so-called patriot groups started to swell. And I want you to listen to this, this is actually a portion of a 2009 report from one of our correspondents, Jim Acosta, who was reporting on a patriot group in Michigan.
"BRIAN", Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia: Any time we get a Democratic president in the office, people become concerned including myself, when we get a resurgence out here.
JIM ACOSTA: (voice-over) Others just don't like President Obama.
(On-camera) So you don't trust him?
MICHAEL LACKOMAR, Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia: In short, I think he could be dangerous for the nation.
ACOSTA: (voice-over) Michael Lackomar sees the militia as a check against government overreach.
LACKOMAR: Just the simple fact that we are out here and we are doing this will give somebody pause, will make them think twice.
ACOSTA: Because you are ready to defend your rights?
LACKOMAR: Ultimately, yes.
(End Video Clip)
BALDWIN: The Southern Poverty Law Center says membership in these so-called patriot groups is exploding now faster than ever. And I want to bring in Heidi Beyrick, she is with the law center and has written extensively about hate groups and extremism. And Heidi, you heard some of that in Jim's piece from his reporting in 2009. That was then. What's happened since then?
HEIDI BEIRICH, Southern Poverty Law Center: Well, his reporting was dead-on and it's actually gotten worse, just like some of the people he interviewed said. We've seen a rise, basically, from 140 anti-government groups before Obama was elected to 1274 as of this year. It's been an astounding rise in the number of these kinds of extremist groups.
BALDWIN: Let me go a little bit more closely, Heidi. Stand by, because I want to run through more numbers specifically. You take a look at this, it totally visualizes the growth in these groups, as they view the government as their enemy. So again, as you mentioned, 149 in 2008. Those were those patriot groups. So then the next year, it swelled to 512. 2010, 824. 2011, as you pointed out, more than 1200. The numbers absolutely exploded. I guess, I've got a couple of questions. One being where are these people coming from? Rural parts of the country, cities, south, west – all of the above?
BEIRICH: They're pretty much everywhere. I mean when you look at anti-government groups, they're probably a little more rural than urban, than for example hate groups which are like white supremacist groups. But they're all over the country, the Midwest has seen a lot of them. The south now has quite a few of these groups. It's a pretty widespread phenomenon. And often times these are people who are involved in the militia movement back when Clinton was president in the 1990s, who have returned to the fold after an 8-year hiatus under Bush. So it's – but 1274, that's the highest number of anti-government groups the Southern Poverty Law Center has ever counted.
BALDWIN: Obviously, I've got to ask why. Before I do that, I just want to play one more piece. Again, this is Jim Acosta reporting in 2009. And them I'm going to ask you why this is happening.
ACOSTA: (on camera) Who are new to the militia?
(Voice-over) It's getting more worried.
(On camera) How many of you are worried about the Constitution right now?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Worried as in the sense that it's not being followed.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It's going away.
(End Video Clip)
BALDWIN: So, the why. Why the explosive growth, Heidi?
BEIRICH: Well, there's basically two factors that have driven the anti-government groups up. One is the bad economy, that always adds to any kind of extremism that you have.
BALDWIN: How so? Be more specific.
BEIRICH: But the other are the election of a Democratic –
BALDWIN: How so? Just be more specific.
BEIRICH: I was going to say the bad econom – the bad economy tends to drive people into extremist groups. They're unemployed, they're frustrated, they're angry. And so they start joining them up. But more importantly is really the election of Barack Obama and the swing to the left in the presidency. We had the same thing happen in the 1990s with Clinton, when the first militia movement occurred. But this time it's a little different, because Obama is an African-American. So there are all these crazy racial theories that you hear about Obama, that he's not really a citizen, that he's maybe a secret Muslim. And all of this has created an incredible amount of paranoia on the far, far right – which is expressed in these kinds of – in this kind of anti-government activism.
BALDWIN: So what, if anything, is being done to combat some of this paranoia?
BEIRICH: Well, probably the most important thing that needs to be done is that law enforcement has to watch out for them. I mean the fact of the matter is that anti-government groups have been known to be involved in a lot of domestic terrorism. We've had militia arrests in Michigan this year, Alaska, most recently in Georgia where a group of militia men were going to spread ricin in big cities like Atlanta and Baltimore. So it's a major law enforcement problem, and luckily for us the FBI has been on top of this, and so has the Department of Homeland Security. And that's what needs to happen.