When Will the Southern Poverty Law Center Stop Bullying?
When Will the Southern Poverty Law Center Stop Bullying?
Written By Laurie Higgins   |   08.18.12

Following our expose of the reason for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) dubious and defamatory inclusion of the Illinois Family Institute (IFI) on their “anti-gay hate groups” list, the SPLC started receiving complaints, which evidently didn’t sit too well with them. As a result of those complaints, the editor of their ironically named “Intelligence Report,” Mark Potok, started leaving troubling voice messages around the country for those who called to complain.

Here’s a transcription of one of those messages:

Yes, Hi, this is a message for . . . from Mark Potok, Southern Poverty Law Center. Very briefly, I just wanna say very briefly – we do list them (Illinois Family Institute) for a reason, which we’ve stated publicly. They (IFI) have been less, in my opinion, than honest about what we really said. They publish and promote the work of a man named Paul Cameron. Paul Cameron is a guy who is infamous for over the last 20 years for producing, for publishing fake studies that allege all kinds of terrible things about homosexuals. For instance, that gay men are, something like, 20 times more likely to molest children; that gay men have an average death age of something like 43 because they’re so sickly and, ya know, sorta do such terrible things. These things are completely false and have been proven false long ago. Our view is that the Illinois Family Institute promotes these complete falsehoods. Then that is hateful activity. We never list any group on the basis of simply disagreeing morally or otherwise with homosexuality. We told the Illinois Family Institute directly that if they remove this material from their website, in fact, that we would take them off the list. Instead, what they’ve done is essentially launched an attack on us to try to get people to call us as you did. Anyway, that’s all. I just wanted to at least briefly explain that it was not quite the way it was being portrayed.

Contrary to Mr. Potok’s claim that the SPLC had publicly stated their reason for including IFI on their “anti-gay hate groups” list, to my knowledge, prior to my phone call to them, they had never publicly stated their reason. And stating their reason in a private phone conversation doesn’t constitute a public statement. I believe it was I who stated their reason publicly. If I’m mistaken, I would like Mr. Potok to provide evidence for his claim that they had already publicly stated their reason.

After I heard his voice message in which he stated that IFI has “been less than honest,” I called and spoke to Mr. Potok, informing him that in my article, I was scrupulously honest about what Heidi Beirich had said to me. In fact, I even included a link to a follow-up email Ms. Beirich had sent to me in which she restated the reason for the SPLC’s inclusion of IFI on their hate groups list.

I told him that in my phone conversation with her, I even stopped her so that I could write down exact quotes, and I told her I was doing so. In my article I informed IFI readers that Ms. Beirich stated that the only reason we were on the anti-gay hate groups list was that we had posted one article four years ago by a writer not affiliated with IFI, and that if we took that one article down, the SPLC would remove us from the hate groups list. In my article, I explained that some of the claims that SPLC was making about this writer’s statements–if true–would be repellent to IFI, and that we were in the process of verifying the accuracy of the SPLC’s claims.

Frankly, I don’t know how I could have been more honest.

Mr. Potok stated in his voice message that we, IFI, “publish and promote the work of a man named Paul Cameron.” This grossly misrepresents the nature of our involvement with this man’s work. It suggests that we regularly or continually publish and promote his work, when, by Potok and Beirich’s own admission, we published only one brief article.

More troubling yet, this one article contained no statements remotely like those that Mr. Potok articulated in his voice message: “gay men are, something like, 20 times more likely to molest children” or that “they’re so sickly and, ya know, sorta do such terrible things.”

Mr. Potok then digs himself in even deeper when he says on tape that it is the SPLC’s view that “the Illinois Family Institute promotes these (emphasis mine) complete falsehoods.” “These” is a demonstrative pronoun referring back to the statements he just made. The problem is that he is suggesting that IFI promotes falsehoods that the SPLC’s own evidence proves we did not promote. The SPLC’s own evidence is the one four-year-old article that did not include any references to “child molestation,” or “sickly homosexuals sorta doing terrible things.” Mr. Potok was either stunningly careless with his rhetoric or deliberately manipulative.

I also explained to Mr. Potok that the one article from four years ago contained no hate rhetoric, and that it alone cannot possibly justify labeling IFI a hate group. I told him that simply quoting a source once does not mean that an organization supports or endorses everything that a source says or does.

I also explained that I would have no problem removing the article except that I want to provide evidence for our claim that the SPLC’s reason for including IFI on a hate groups list is flimsy, unethical, irresponsible, unsavory, and manipulative. IFI maintains that the SPLC has no justification for including us on a hate groups list together with actual hate groups like the KKK.

I also asked Mr. Potok if we’ve been on their hate groups list since 2005 when the challenged article was posted. He replied “No.” I then asked when we were first listed, and he said 2008. So, they added us to their list in 2008 based on one brief article posted in 2005.

Mr. Potok continues with his turbo-charged rhetoric claiming that IFI “launched an attack” on the SPLC. Once again, his facts are slightly askew. IFI did not call for people to voice their opposition to the SPLC. But more importantly, phone calls of opposition hardly constitute an “attack.”

Finally, since Mr. Potok was leaving voice messages all around the country claiming that I was being less than honest, I asked him if had even read my article. Surprise, surprise, he had not, and asked me to send it to him.

In light of the dubious and insubstantial reason the Southern Poverty Law Center has provided for including the Illinois Family Institute on their “anti-gay hate groups” list and their subsequent misleading, defamatory, and less than honest voice message, IFI is requesting that we be removed immediately from the SPLC’s hate groups list, and we are requesting a formal public apology for our inclusion on this list and for the voice message, both of which are damaging our reputation.

(Originally posted on April 7, 2009.)


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Laurie Higgins
Laurie Higgins became the Illinois Family Institute’s Cultural Analyst in the fall of 2008. Prior to working for the IFI, Laurie worked full-time for eight years in Deerfield High School’s...
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