GuideS­tar re­moves dan­ger­ous ‘hate group’ tags

Con­ser­va­tive groups win rare con­ces­sion

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VALERIE RICHARD­SON

As far as con­ser­va­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions are con­cerned, be­ing la­beled a “hate group” by the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter isn’t just an­noy­ing — it’s dan­ger­ous.

Gun­men have twice tar­geted con­ser­va­tives specif­i­cally cited by the SPLC for hate: Repub­li­can Rep. Steve Scalise, who was shot June 14 by a fan of the SPLC Facebook page, and the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil, whose se­cu­rity guard was wounded in 2012 by a man who said he found the FRC on the SPLC’s list of “anti-gay groups.”

So when GuideS­tar USA, a self-de­scribed “neu­tral” data­base of non­prof­its, de­cided this year to slap the SPLC’s “hate group” tag on 46 groups, in­clud­ing the FRC, con­ser­va­tives de­clared enough.

“South­ern Poverty Law is an arm of the left,” said Jerry Boykin, FRC ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent, who joined 40 other con­ser­va­tive lead­ers in a June 21 let­ter to GuideS­tar. “To use their data is just in­cred­i­ble, par­tic­u­larly when the re­sults can be ex­actly what we ex­pe­ri­enced at Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil when we had a shooter.”

Af­ter ini­tially stand­ing by the SPLC tags, GuideS­tar CEO Ja­cob Harold agreed Tues­day to re­move the des­ig­na­tions, cit­ing a com­mit­ment to ob­jec­tiv­ity as well as “con­cerns for our staff’s well-be­ing.” He said some em­ploy­ees had faced ha­rass­ment.

At the same time, he said the char­ity tracker would con­tinue to pro­vide SPLC data to in­ter­ested par­ties.

“We will con­tinue to make this in­for­ma­tion

avail­able upon re­quest to any­one who seeks it,” Mr. Harold said. “And we are ac­tively ex­plor­ing how else we might be able to share in­for­ma­tion on those groups that abuse non­profit sta­tus to ad­vance an agenda of hate.”

That wasn’t enough for the Lib­erty Coun­sel Chair­man Mat Staver, who an­nounced Wed­nes­day that the group had filed a law­suit against GuideS­tar for what he de­scribed as its “reck­less defam­a­tory and harm­ful po­lit­i­cal la­bel­ing.”

“The only pur­pose of pro­vid­ing the SPLC false and dan­ger­ous ‘hate group’ la­bel is to in­flict rep­u­ta­tional and fi­nan­cial harm to Lib­erty Coun­sel,” Mr. Staver said. “GuideS­tar has lost all cred­i­bil­ity.”

The SPLC rushed to GuideS­tar’s de­fense, say­ing, “We stand ready to sup­port our des­ig­na­tion of Lib­erty Coun­sel as a hate group.”

“Lib­erty Coun­sel is a group that has con­sis­tently called LGBT peo­ple ‘im­moral, un­nat­u­ral and self-de­struc­tive,’” said SPLC Pres­i­dent Richard Co­hen. “It has a track record of at­tempt­ing to crim­i­nal­ize ho­mo­sex­ual con­duct and to le­gal­ize dis­crim­i­na­tion against the LGBT com­mu­nity.”

With more than 2 mil­lion pro­files, GuideS­tar has billed it­self as the “world’s largest non­profit data­base,” but con­ser­va­tives said the episode has raised trou­bling ques­tions about whether the char­ity tracker har­bors a po­lit­i­cal agenda.

Phi­lan­thropy Round­table’s Karl Zins­meis­ter, a for­mer ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, took the SPLC to task this year, call­ing its ex­trem­ist list a po­lit­i­cal tool, not a “Con­sumer Re­ports guide,” and de­scrib­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion as a “cash-col­lect­ing ma­chine.”

Mr. Harold ac­knowl­edged that the SPLC has been ac­cused of po­lit­i­cal bias and be­ing “too fo­cused on fundrais­ing,” but he con­cluded that “no data source is per­fect.”

He said GuideS­tar’s con­cern lies with com­bat­ing those who “abuse non­profit sta­tus to spread hate­ful rhetoric.” He de­fined hate as the at­tempt to “den­i­grate or marginal­ize a group of peo­ple based solely on their iden­tity.”

“We have seen over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence that hate­ful agen­das have been pushed by in­di­vid­u­als within non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions,” Mr. Harold said. “There can and must be a de­bate re­gard­ing how we de­fine ‘hate,’ but we do be­lieve it is within GuideS­tar’s mis­sion to help the public un­der­stand how its phil­an­thropic dol­lars are used.”

The right has long de­cried the SPLC’s “guilt by as­so­ci­a­tion” ap­proach, in which ma­jor con­ser­va­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions such as FRC are listed as “hate groups” along­side ex­trem­ist out­fits like the Ku Klux Klan and West­boro Bap­tist Church.

The groups flagged by GuideS­tar in­cluded white su­prem­a­cist Richard Spencer’s Na­tional Pol­icy In­sti­tute as well as lead­ing con­ser­va­tive non­prof­its like the Al­liance De­fend­ing Free­dom, Eagle Fo­rum and Fed­er­a­tion for Amer­i­can Im­mi­gra­tion Re­form.

Among those sign­ing the let­ter urg­ing GuideS­tar to stop us­ing the SPLC la­bels was for­mer Rea­gan At­tor­ney Gen­eral Edwin Meese.

The SPLC was hardly dis­cour­aged by GuideS­tar’s de­ci­sion to take down the tags.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate that GuideS­tar will con­tinue to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion as to whether the or­ga­ni­za­tions they rank are des­ig­nated as hate groups by the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter,” the cen­ter said in a state­ment.

“At a time when hate groups in­creas­ingly present a main­stream ve­neer, the public de­serves such in­for­ma­tion,” said the SPLC. “We re­spect that GuideS­tar is re­assess­ing how to make that in­for­ma­tion avail­able.”

Mr. Co­hen had pre­vi­ously con­demned as “sick­en­ing and cow­ardly” the at­tack on Mr. Scalise, dur­ing which the gun­man, 66-year-old James Hodgkin­son of Illi­nois, also struck a con­gres­sional staffer, a lob­by­ist and two Capi­tol Po­lice of­fi­cers.

“We’re aware that the SPLC was among hun­dreds of groups that the man iden­ti­fied as the shooter ‘liked’ on Facebook,” Mr. Co­hen said in his June 14 state­ment. “I want to be as clear as I can pos­si­bly be: The SPLC con­demns all forms of vi­o­lence.”

Mr. Harold de­scribed GuideS­tar as non­par­ti­san, but crit­ics have ques­tioned his po­lit­i­cal lean­ings. He was pre­vi­ously af­fil­i­ated with the Rain­for­est Ac­tion Net­work and Green­peace USA, and do­nated to Pres­i­dent Obama’s cam­paign in 2011 be­fore start­ing at GuideS­tar in 2012.

Mr. Harold posted a photo of him­self on Twit­ter at the Jan. 21 Women’s March hold­ing a sign that said, “It turns out that facts mat­ter.”

“Which is per­fectly OK as long as you don’t por­tray your or­ga­ni­za­tion as a neu­tral or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Mr. Boykin said, “and that’s what he’s try­ing to do.”

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