The Southern Poverty Law Center's "Hatewatch" fails to use objective criteria in determining which organizations should be labeled a "hate group," George Yancey, professor of sociology at the University of North Texas, finds in a new study, "Watching the Watchers: The Neglect of Academic Analysis of Progressive Groups," published in the January issue of the journal Academic Questions.
SPLC's list dubiously lists Family Research Council as a hate group while ignoring anti-Christian groups that use similar rhetoric, which demonstrates that the list is more about mobilizing liberals than providing an objective source for hate groups, Yancey argues. SPLC has escaped critical analysis of its work in academia because of a liberal bias among academicians, the study additionally claims.
SPLC's Hatewatch has become the definitive guide among some scholars, authors and media organizations to what is, or is not, a "hate group." Conservatives have long criticized the list for labeling social conservative organizations, such as Family Research Council, as hate groups.
FRC's appearance on the list gained national attention in 2012 when a gunman, Floyd Corkins, entered FRC headquarters with the intent of killing everyone there. FRC's building manager, Leo Johnson, subdued Corkins and was shot in the process. Corkins targeted FRC after finding the group on Hatewatch. SPLC has continued to label FRC a hate group even after the shooting.
All the groups listed on Hatewatch, with the exception of black separatists, Yancey notes, are either political or religious conservatives. Yancey believes this is because SPLC is a liberal organization and it is using subjective criteria to choose which groups belong on the list.
"The subjective nature of the criteria for determining a hate group provides a conceptual structure more vulnerable to social bias than an objective criteria applying to groups across a wide political, cultural, and religious spectrum," he wrote.
According to SPLC, a hate group has "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics."
Using this standard, Yancey says, there should be some liberal and anti-Christian groups on the list as well. To illustrate, Yancey compares the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to FRC.
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According to SPLC, Yancey explains, FRC is a hate group because it intentionally makes hateful and untrue statements about the LGBT community, which can lead to violence even though FRC does not engage in violent actions. (Yancey noted the irony that while SPLC does not cite any examples of FRC-inspired violence, SPLC's Hatewatch actually did incite violence in the case of Floyd Corkins.) To support this contention, SPLC notes that FRC reports on studies showing that the child molestation rate is higher among gays and same-sex parenting harms children, and quotes FRC President Tony Perkins saying that LGBT activists seek to "persuade kids that homosexuality is okay and actually to recruit them into that lifestyle."
If this is the standard for labeling an organization a hate group, Yancey says, then the anti-Christian MRFF should also be on the list.
In a Huffington Post blog, Michael Weinstein, founder of MRFF, claimed that Christians will be responsible for ushering in "a blood-drenched, draconian era of persecutions, naturalistic militarism and superstitious theocracy." And Weinstein has written books claiming that Christians are willing to use mass murder to bring about their goals.
"In these few comments Weinstein has violated some of the same norms SPLC used to designate FRC as a hate group. Weinstein is promoting a myth of Christian violence not substantiated by previous research and has attributed motives to conservative Christians that he cannot document," Yancey contends.
Yancey does not argue that MRFF should be on Hatewatch, or that FRC should be off Hatewatch. Rather, he argues that if Hatewatch is to be an objective source for labeling hate groups, both groups should either be on the list or off the list.
One possible explanation for why SPLC does not include anti-Christian groups on Hatewatch, Yancey speculates, is that Hatewatch is a tool for mobilizing liberals, rather than an objective source of hate groups.
"As our society became more politically partisan, SPLC cemented its position as speaking for those with progressive political and social attitudes. Rather than developing into an objective clearinghouse for the identification of hatred – no matter where the source of that hatred may develop – SPLC has become a useful organization for progressives to legitimate their battle against conservatives. Since conservative Christians are categorized as opponents there is little, if any, incentive for SPLC to recognize hateful expressions against Christians, because doing so actually works against the social vested interest of the group," he wrote.
Yancey's analysis of SPLC, though, is in service of a larger point. There is not enough critical analysis of liberal groups in academia, he argues, because too many in academia share the viewpoint of liberal groups.
"This is a critique of the social biases within academia that preclude critical analysis of progressive social groups," Yancey wrote. "Such neglect serves academics with progressive, secular perspectives by allowing progressive, secular social groups to make claims of truth and objectivity. Such claims enhance the social power of these progressives. But this neglect damages any real scientific attempt to assess social and political factors in our society. Scrutiny directed at conservative and religious groups – and they should be scrutinized – while progressive organizations are given a pass creates a distorted understanding of reality. In doing this, social science scholars replace an objective examination of our society with a biased approach serving progressive social and political interests."