MINOT, N.D. — Over the weekend, reporter Hannah Shirley published a piece scrutinizing two of the North Dakota lawmakers promoting legislation, House Bill 1298, aiming to prohibit transgender athletes from competing in sports as anything other than their birth gender.
"(Sen. Janne) Myrdal and lead sponsor Rep. Ben Koppelman both have ties to anti-LGBT groups," Shirley reported.
Myrdal is a past state-level leader of a socially conservative women's group called Concerned Women for America, which, not surprisingly, promotes socially conservative views on issues like gay marriage, etc.
Koppelman signed a pledge to promote socially conservative public policy that was sponsored, among other groups, by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which Shirley writes is "identified as an extremist anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center."
I'm not very conservative on social issues myself — "live and let live" is my motto — but I know many people of goodwill who are. It seems deeply unfair to them to characterize their views as inherently motivated by bigotry.
You may think they're misguided, you may abhor their positions, but that doesn't mean they're dangerous extremists.
They're mostly just people who disagree with you on certain policy questions.
Politics is the means through which we answer those policy questions. You may not like the answer Koppelman and Myrdal are offering but does that have to mean they're motivated by animus toward the LGBT community?
It was Shirley's reference to the SPLC that really caught my eye.
Though often cited by reporters as an authority on hate and extremism in America, that group is hardly credible. Nathan J. Robinson, a journalist and self-described socialist (so hardly some right-wing apologist), has described the SPLC and its oft-cited "hate map" as "a willful deception designed to scare older liberals into writing checks to the SPLC."
"A lot of this seems to be educated liberals having contempt for and fear of angry rednecks," he wrote, noting that many of the "hate groups" the SPLC documents aren't even groups, consisting as they do of just one person, and aren't so much hateful as just possessed of a point of view that diverges from orthodox progressivism.
The SPLC uses an overly broad definition of hatred and bigotry to undermine the conservative movement, sure, but also to make money. It's profitable for them to inflate the existence of hate groups in America.
You could argue that the SPLC itself promotes hate. In 2012 a man, brandishing a gun and a bag full of Chick-fil-A sandwiches he planned to rub on his victims, attacked the offices of the Family Research Council, a socially conservative political group.
Later, in testimony given to the FBI, the man said he had picked the Council because it was identified as a "hate group" by the SPLC.
In 2017 Guidestar, a widely-used directory of nonprofit groups, flagged dozens of organizations as hate groups, using the SPLC's guidance, but later, after much criticism, removed those flags.
The SPLC once put former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, a black man who served in former President Donald Trump's cabinet, on an "extremist watch list," something for which the group later apologized.
The SPLC also apologized to Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamic radical who now advocates against extremism, and paid him $3.375 million to settle a lawsuit after they labeled him an anti-Muslim extremist.
Yet this is the group touted as an authority on the supposed bigotry of a group like the Alliance Defending Freedom?
As I was writing this column, I visited that group's website. At the top of their page was a March 9 press release touting an 8-1 U.S. Supreme Court decision that favored their client, Chike Uzuegbunam.
Uzuegbunam, a black man, was censored by Georgia Gwinnett College while a student there. The campus tried to restrict his Christian advocacy to tiny "free speech zones," and the Supreme Court found that to be unconstitutional.
This was an important decision, not just from a religious perspective but from a free speech perspective. The ADF's arguments in the case were so persuasive, every liberal justice, including Obama-appointees Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, sided with them.
The ADF has taken dozens of cases to the Supreme Court and often found success there.
Yet, according to the SPLC, as Shirley reported, the ADF is an "extremist...hate group."
There is real extremism in American politics — from the Trump supporters who attacked Congress to the anti-pipeline activists who violence to obstruct oil and gas infrastructure, to cite just a couple of examples — but there is also a tendency to lump in with that actual extremism views that are merely controversial.
That's the SPLC's stock-in-trade. The gimmick that fills the group's coffers.
We have to stop falling for that sort of nonsense.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.