A True Story About the Southern Poverty Law Center
A True Story About the Southern Poverty Law Center
Written By Laurie Higgins   |   03.23.17
Reading Time: 8 minutes

­­A refreshing and much-needed take-down of the ethically impoverished Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and its avaricious founder Morris Dees inspired me to recount IFI’s true story about our interaction with the blackguards who maintain the SPLC’s “hate groups” list.

The impetus for Carl Cannon’s critique of the SPLC on Real Clear Politics was the recent assault on esteemed scholar Charles Murray at Middlebury College in Vermont, an assault that was inspired by the pernicious SPLC, the same organization that inspired the shooting at the Family Research Council’s headquarters in 2012.

In early March, 2009, about six months after I started working for IFI, we learned that IFI had been put on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) “hate” groups list.

Since IFI stands unequivocally opposed to both violence and hatred, we wondered why we were listed as an “anti-gay” hate group when other institutions like the Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations that share our same views on matters related to homosexuality were not.

Why the SPLC first claimed IFI was put on its hate groups list

For clarification I called the SPLC and spoke with Heidi Beirich. Our conversation was troubling in that Ms. Beirich revealed that even a tenuous, distant connection to statements the SPLC doesn’t like will land an organization on their hate groups list.

She told me that the only reason IFI had been included on the hate groups list was that in 2005, a former IFI executive director had posted a very short article by someone not affiliated with IFI.

Although there were no defamatory comments made in this piece, Beirich claimed that in other articles that never appeared on IFI, the author had suggested that (in Beirich’s words) “Gays are sickly, and people should stay away from them.” IFI had no idea if that claim were true, but if it were, IFI would reject it, find it inconsistent with Scripture, and find it repellent. The problem was IFI had never cited or endorsed such rhetoric, and yet the SPLC had labeled IFI as an active “hate” group based on it.

Beirich also claimed that in the short article IFI had re-posted, the author had claimed that homosexual men have shortened lifespans—a claim that Beirich viewed as incorrect. I responded that I could see how a statistic could be erroneous and derived from flawed methodology, but I didn’t see erroneous statistics as defamatory or hateful.

More important, the same finding regarding reduced life expectancy for homosexual men had been reported by a world-renowned medical journal and cited as true by homosexual activists when it served their purposes.

That study, which appeared in Oxford University’s International Journal of Epidemiology, concluded that “In a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 20 years less than for all men. If the same pattern of mortality were to continue, we estimate that nearly half of gay and bisexual men currently aged 20 years will not reach their 65th birthday.”

Also, in their book Caring For Lesbian and Gay People-A Clinical Guide, authors Dr. Allan Peterkin and Dr. Cathy Risdon suggest that the life expectancy of gay/bisexual men in Canada is 55 years.

What the SPLC’s Mark Potok did next

Following our exposé of the reason for the SPLC’s inclusion of 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,” which includes the hate groups list, 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 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 with me doesn’t constitute a public statement.

Was IFI dishonest?

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

Was the SPLC accurate in their description of what IFI had done?

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

More troubling yet, this one article contained no statements remotely like these that Potok claimed it did: “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.”

Potok dug himself in even deeper when he said in his voice message that it is the SPLC’s view that “the Illinois Family Institute promotes these complete falsehoods.” He was saying that IFI promotes falsehoods that the SPLC’s own evidence proves we did not promote. The SPLC’s own evidence was the one four-year-old article that did not include any references to “child molestation,” or “sickly homosexuals sorta doing terrible things.” Potok was lying.

Suspicious timing of the SPLC’s addition of IFI to their hate groups list

I asked Mr. Potok if IFI had been on the SPLC’s 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. Coincidentally, I started writing for IFI in 2008.

Exposing the SPLC’s deceit

In order to expose the deceit of the SPLC, IFI took the offending article down in 2009, and the SPLC took us off the hate groups list. Then in 2010, we were back on. What happened in 2010?

Well, in 2010, Potok and his accomplices Heidi BeirichEvelyn Schlatter, and Robert Steinback finally got around to manufacturing criteria for determining what constitutes a “hate group.”

In 2010, the SPLC created a definition of “hatred” that is elastic enough to allow the inclusion of organizations the SPLC doesn’t like. The dubious criteria dubiously applied focus on social science research or propositions that the SPLC doesn’t like.

Schlatter explains that the “propagation” of “known falsehoods” about homosexuality will result in organizations being included on the SPLC’s “anti-gay” list and perhaps also on their hate groups list.

I’m not sure if the anti-Christian activists at the SPLC actually understand what a “known falsehood” (also called a lie) is. A known falsehood is a statement that is objectively, provably false and is known to be false when made.

So, let’s take a closer look at just four of the ten “known falsehoods” that Schlatter and co-author Robert Steinback cite in their companion article “10 Anti-Gay Myths Debunked”.

Alleged falsehood about hate crimes legislation and the repeal of  DADT

The SPLC has said that if an organization argues that hate crime legislation may result in the jailing of pastors who condemn volitional homosexual acts as sinful, the organization is guilty of “anti-gay” hatred and will be included on the SPLC’s hate groups list. And any organization that argues that allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military will damage the military merits inclusion on its “anti-gay” hate groups list.

How can the SPLC sensibly claim that speculating that hate crimes legislation may lead to the jailing of pastors who condemn homosexuality is a known falsehood? It is a prediction of possible future events that may result from the logical working out of a law. This prediction may not come to fruition, but at this point it cannot reasonably be deemed a “known falsehood.”

And how can a prediction about the effects of allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military be a known falsehood? Certainly, there are differences of opinion on the effects of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but liberal speculation that such a change will not damage the military is not a known truth.

Alleged falsehood concerning mental illness and drug use among homosexuals

If any organization states that homosexuals experience higher rates of depression or drug use might land on the hate groups list. The SPLC engages in some tricksy rhetoric to defend this criterion. Schlatter and Steinback argue that mental health organizations no longer consider homosexuality a mental disorder, which is true but has no relevance to the fact—which even the SPLC concedes—that homosexuals experience much higher rates of mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse than the general population.

What really sticks in the craw of the SPLC is that conservative organizations don’t agree with the unproven speculation by the SPLC and some social scientists that the reasons for the increased incidence of mental disorders and drug use are social stigma and “discrimination.”

Alleged falsehood about children raised by homosexuals

The SPLC deems hateful the claim that same-sex parents harm children. Potok and his minions don’t define harm and apparently reject a whole body of social science research that claims that children fare best when raised by a mother and father in an intact family. Even President Obama in his Mother’s Day and Father’s Day proclamations argued that both are essential to the welfare of children.

While homosexual activists exalt even the most poorly constructed social science research if it reinforces their presuppositions, they reject better constructed studies that undermine them. If organizations don’t accept the ever-fluid, controvertible, and highly politicized social science research that the SPLC favors, they go on the “hate group” list.

Alleged falsehood about persons who choose to leave homosexuality

If an organization claims that people can “choose to leave homosexuality,” it risks being added to the hate groups list.  But there exist people who choose to stop engaging in homoerotic activity, and choose to leave homoerotic relationships, and choose no longer to place unwanted homoerotic attraction at the center of their identity.  There are former homosexuals like Rosaria Butterfield and Michael Glatze who are now happily married to opposite-sex persons. How can making a true statement about the possibility that humans can make choices about their sexual  identity be construed as a known falsehood or hateful?

Next time a feckless school board member or politician cites the Southern Poverty Law Center to discredit the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, or the Illinois Family Institute, do your level best to confront their ignorance and bigotry with truth.

Laurie Higgins
Laurie Higgins was the Illinois Family Institute’s Cultural Affairs Writer in the fall of 2008 through early 2023. Prior to working for the IFI, Laurie worked full-time for eight years in Deerfield High School’s writing center in Deerfield, Illinois. Her cultural commentaries have been carried on a number of pro-family websites nationally and internationally, and Laurie has appeared on numerous radio programs across the country. In addition, Laurie has spoken at the Council for National Policy and educational conferences sponsored by the Constitutional Coalition. She has been married to her husband for forty-four years, and they have four grown children...
Related Articles
The SPLC: An Anti-Christian Hate Group
The SPLC: An Anti-Christian Hate Group
IFI Featured Video
Stop Doctor-Assisted Suicide in Illinois
Get Our New App!