This is the second in a series of posts on this week’s OSCE “Supplementary Human Dimension” meeting in Vienna. More will be coming later this week. See the list of links referenced at the bottom of this post for today’s earlier article.
Update: The video of the intervention by Henrik Ræder Clausen is now available, so the post below has been refitted to include it.
The following video shows the American representative Chad Wilton responding to a question posed today by Henrik Ræder Clausen (representing ICLA) about the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), as part of his intervention.
You’ll notice that Mr. Wilton defends the SPLC by asserting the organization’s constitutional right to free speech. In doing so he is creating a straw man, because no one is disputing the right of SPLC representatives to say whatever they like.
The relevant point is that the federal government is using lists of “hate groups” compiled by SPLC to decide which organizations are “extremist”, and therefore need to be monitored and surveilled (and possibly audited by the IRS).
The further point is that the Department of Homeland Security funds studies based on SPLC blacklists — of who is an extremist under their definitions of extremism — that are created without accountability using opaque methodology. This process not only violates the basic rights of the groups so targeted, it is actually contrary to federal law.
More can be said about the Southern Poverty Law Center. But first, let’s hear what Chad Wilton, representing the government of the United States at the OSCE meeting in Vienna, has to say.
Many thanks to Henrik Ræder Clausen for recording these videos, and to Vlad Tepes for processing and uploading it:
Intervention by Henrik Ræder Clausen:
Chad Wilton’s answer:
ICLA notes concerning the intervention:
Henrik Ræder Clausen points out that the situation may be worse in Britain than elsewhere, but it is not unique, as other Western countries suffer similar problematic law enforcement. He adds that Leftist groups, violent in the streets or wielding undue influence behind the scenes, are corrupting what used to be a sound Rule of Law in the West.
US representative Chad Wilton comes to the defence of Southern Poverty Law Center in response to the ICLA criticism, stating that as an NGO, it has the full First Amendment right to say whatever it pleases. Unfortunately he does not address the point of undue political influence that was the core issue raised by ICLA.
By using data supplied by the SPLC, the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security rely on a very wealthy private non-profit group — that functions entirely without government oversight — to determine what is a “hate” group or “extremist” group. The SPLC’s listing (without the power of law or any published definition) of “hate groups” and “extremists” is used for government-funded studies and statistics-gathering to determine threats of domestic terrorism. With a small exception for the indigenous “Nation of Islam,” SPLC includes no Islamic groups that either explicitly or tacitly endorse jihad in their roster of “hate groups” and “extremists”.
Under our First Amendment, the SPLC can call any group a hate group. They hand out these labels, however, with no definitions, no oversight, and no right of appeal. This is not a problem if they are just some wacky left-wing group sounding off in order to raise money by frightening rich liberals into thinking that the country is in imminent danger from “right wing hate groups”.
What is wrong is for our government to take these “lists” — not unlike the lists developed by totalitarian governments, arbitrarily and without right of appeal, in the USSR or Mussolini’s Italy or Hitler’s Germany — and use the power of the state to define who is an “imminent danger” or “extremist”.
In their lists SPLC combines groups that are gang-related criminals — real racist groups, including some that are capable of violence — with innocuous or mainstream groups that espouse conservative views. All are indiscriminately labeled “hate groups”.
So here we have a private group — the Southern Poverty Law Center — with no discernable or transparent methodology, compiling lists of groups with which it disagrees on various policy positions. Those lists are then used by the Obama administration directly (at the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security) as well as by government-funded anti-terrorism centers to define those listed groups as “terrorists” and “extremists”.
People who simply are concerned about government overreach or civil liberties are all lumped in with neo-Nazis and violent drug gangs, which is similar to the way totalitarian governments throw political dissidents in with real criminals. All this is done with no prevailing laws and no recourse available to the blacklisted groups.
The SPLC is arguably the greatest private threat to civil liberties and human rights today, because it has proven that it directs the DHS, DOJ and their funded study centers in defining who is a “domestic terrorist” — based on parameters as simple as being “fiercely nationalistic… antiglobal, suspicious of centralized federal authority, reverent of individual liberty”. These are positions that are not only held by at least half of the American population, but are also protected by the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. Yet the SPLC and those who use its lists now define these positions as indicators of extremism.
SPLC branded Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller a “hate group”, which designation was used by Hope Not Hate to have them barred from the UK. Britain would not have banned them without the approval of the Obama administration.
This is why Henrik’s question about SPLC matters. It’s important to confront Chad Wilton and the OSCE with the issue in a way that does not allow them cover their faces and duck out a side exit.
For links to previous articles about the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, see the OSCE Archives.