Hate update

Aided by a veneer of objectivity, the SPLC has for years served as the media’s expert witness for evaluating “extremism” and “hatred.” But while the SPLC rightly condemns groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Westboro Baptist Church and New Black Panther Party, it has managed to blur the lines, besmirching mainstream groups like the [Family Research Council], as well as people such as social scientist Charles Murray and Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a critic of Islamic extremism.

How did the SPLC become the default journalistic resource on purported hate speech, racism and extremism? Morris Dees, still the SPLC’s chief trial attorney, founded the organization in 1971 along with Joseph Levin Jr. , now an emeritus board member. In its early years, the SPLC made a name for itself by winning some high-profile cases against the KKK and other white-supremacist groups. But over time its mission changed. In recent years it has focused on “tolerance education,” hate-group tracking (including an online “hate map”) and fundraising.

Although the SPLC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and therefore statutorily prohibited from engaging in partisan politics, even a cursory review of its website belies its nonpartisan status. During the 2016 election, the SPLC posted “Margins to the Mainstream: Extremists Have Influenced the GOP 2016 Policy Platform” and “Here Are the Extremist Groups Planning to Attend the RNC in Cleveland.” The Democratic platform and convention received no such scrutiny.

(Jeryl Bier, Wall Street Journal)

I’ve noted this for years. When my state bar association invited and lionized Morris Dees, I stayed away because of SPLC’s having morphed via mission creep into a leftist racket that itself foments hate:

Last August SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok tied Donald Trump to David Duke, whom Mr. Trump had denounced. “Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see the denunciations [of Mr. Duke] are not sincere,” Mr. Potok told the Huffington Post. “The sad reality is that David Duke and Donald Trump are appealing to precisely the same constituency.” Not quite. Mr. Trump took 58% of the vote in Louisiana. Mr. Duke, running for U.S. Senate on the same ballot, managed only 3%.

The SPLC’s work arguably contributes to the climate of hate it abhors—and Middlebury isn’t the worst example. In 2012 Floyd Lee Corkins shot and wounded a security guard at the Family Research Council’s headquarters. Mr. Corkins, who pleaded guilty to domestic terrorism, told investigators he had targeted the group after learning of it from the SPLC’s website. The SPLC responded to the shooting with a statement: “We condemn all acts of violence.”

Last week the SPLC found itself in the awkward position of disavowing the man who opened fire on Republican members of Congress during baseball practice. “We’re aware that the SPLC was among hundreds of groups that the man identified as the shooter ‘liked’ on Facebook,” SPLC president Richard Cohen said in a statement. “I want to be as clear as I can possibly be: The SPLC condemns all forms of violence.”

Legally, free speech remains on firm footing, but reckless deployment of the “Hate” bomb against innocent civilians threatens that:

It’s been a very good millennium for the First Amendment.

The modern [U.S. Supreme] Court has repeatedly and forcefully rejected attempts to narrow free speech based on new social norms or theories. [Examples omitted]

In short, the First Amendment is enjoying extremely strong support from the Supreme Court — arguably stronger and more consistent than any other constitutional right, and arguably as strong as the Court has ever been in favor of free speech. It’s a golden age.

So why are so many people so pessimistic?

On the cultural side, we’re mostly hearing stories of woe about free speech. Folks — and here I explicitly include myself — are emphasizing stories about intolerance, heckler’s vetoes, censorship, and academic hostility to different viewpoints …

But there’s substance, too. However clearly the Supreme Court recognizes free speech rights, they’re no good if the government refuses to acknowledge them, as universities have effectively done by refusing to protect unpopular views from violence or hecker’s vetoes. Justice Kennedy isn’t there to tell Dakota McScreamyface to stop hitting me with a bike lock if I engage in crimespeak. As Judge Learned Hand said in his “Spirit of Liberty” speech more than 70 years ago:

I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.

The Supreme Court is upholding the black letter of liberty, but are Americans upholding its spirit? When college students, encouraged by professors and administrators, believe that they have a right to be free of offense, no. When Americans hunger to “open up” libel laws or jail flag burners, no. When our attitude towards the hecker’s veto becomes “let’s do it to them because they did it to us,” no. Not only is speech practically impaired, but in the long term the cultural norms necessary to sustain good Supreme Court precedent are eroded.

(Ken White at the Popehat blog) I’d love to see Morris Dees and Ken White in debate over the latter’s toxic Hate List. Meanwhile, the Media should stop relying on its tendentious list and try resuming the actual practive of journalism, an endeavor that I know isn’t easy or very profitable in our chaotic digital age.

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There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.