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18 Jan, 2019 04:52

Southern Poverty Law Center hit with lawsuit for tagging immigration watchdog as hate group

Southern Poverty Law Center hit with lawsuit for tagging immigration watchdog as hate group

An immigration policy group is hitting back at the Southern Poverty Law Center with a RICO lawsuit – used to prosecute criminal organizations – after the social-justice advocate included it on its list of "hate groups."

The Center for Immigration Studies has accused the SPLC of running a criminal organization in order to illegally silence political opponents under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. CIS executive director Mark Krikorian has asked a judge to order the SPLC to cease labeling his organization, which advocates for stricter immigration policy, as a "hate group."

According to the CIS' complaint, the SPLC knows it does not meet their own definition of a hate group but refuses to remove it from their blacklist – a deliberate and malicious act that has cost the Center tens of thousands of dollars by scaring away potential donors and even preventing its content from appearing on social media platforms. Because it fraudulently uses the "hate group" label online, CIS says, the SPLC's actions constitute wire fraud – a RICO violation. SPLC President Richard Cohen and SPLC "Hatewatch" blogger Heidi Beirich are specifically named in the complaint.

The Alabama-based SPLC defines a hate group as an organization whose activities or statements "attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics." Krikorian insists his group, whose motto is "pro immigrant, low immigration," seeks to improve the quality of life for immigrants by reducing the volume of people admitted – and that even if their rhetoric could somehow be construed as hate, "immigrant" is not an "immutable characteristic," as per a Supreme Court decision. 

"SPLC and its leaders have every right to oppose our work on immigration, but they do not have the right to label us a hate group and suggest we are racists," Krikorian said.

Cohen told the Washington Times he looks forward to "battling" the CIS in court, adding that it "richly deserves the hate group label."

The SPLC works closely with Facebook, Google, and Twitter to police "hate speech" and even set policy. Amazon actually removes organizations on the SPLC's blacklist from its Smile charitable program, according to the Daily Caller, which reported that many Christian groups have been erroneously banned from the program that allows customers to designate an organization to receive a small percentage of the profits from their purchase. When GuideStar, a site which rates nonprofit groups, also attempted to adopt the SPLC blacklist, attaching the "hate group" label to 46 groups in its database, at least one group fought back with a defamation lawsuit and GuideStar removed the labels.

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A "hate" label from the SPLC can be more than just a reputational hazard. In 2012, an armed gunman entered the Family Research Council and threatened to kill everyone in the building, later admitting to the FBI that he had chosen the organization due to its inclusion on the SPLC's "hate map." 

The Center for Immigration Studies is far from alone in suing the SPLC, though they're the first to institute RICO proceedings against the group. Over 60 organizations have gone to court or are planning to do so, emboldened by the victory of Maajid Nawaz, who won a $3.375 million settlement from the group over its inclusion of the Muslim activist on its "list of anti-Muslim extremists."

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