Michigan Conservatives Beat Leftist Attorney General in Court

Smeared by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Freedom Law Center fights back.

After being unfairly targeted for surveillance and possible criminal prosecution, a conservative nonprofit won an important legal victory against Michigan officials who are conducting a witch hunt against conservatives.

The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based American Freedom Law Center (AFLC), which describes itself as “a nonprofit Judeo-Christian law firm that fights for faith and freedom through litigation, education, and public policy initiatives,” was smeared by the far-left Southern Poverty Law Center as an “anti-Muslim hate group,” a designation embraced by politically correct Michigan officials.

Yet officials elsewhere have backed away from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In 2017, the Department of Defense’s Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity removed all SPLC-provided training material about extremist groups. In the documents, the SPLC likened Roman Catholics and Protestants to al-Qaeda.

GuideStar, a massive online database of information on nonprofits, performed an about-face and announced it would no longer flag nonprofits on its site that the SPLC labels “hate groups.”

The SPLC has a record of promoting hate crime hoaxes, as well as downplaying or ignoring bias incidents against white people and Jews targeted on university campuses by Islamist and anti-Israel groups. In 2018, the SPLC paid more than $3 million as part of a legal settlement to former Muslim extremist Maajid Nawaz for wrongfully placing him and his counter-extremism think tank, Quilliam, on an anti-Muslim hate list.

In the matter cited as American Freedom Law Center Inc. v. Nessel, the state asked Judge Paul L. Maloney of U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan to dismiss the case. On Jan. 15, he refused. This means the case moves to the discovery stage, during which communications between Michigan officials and the SPLC that explain the officials’ intentions are likely to be made public.

Maloney wrote in this ruling that the American Freedom Law Center, which says it participates in “constitutionally-protected activities,” has established “both a harm to its reputation and a credible fear that it will be targeted by the State of Michigan.”

AFLC’s statement that the state database “will not be used to track actual crimes, but incidents,” is troubling, the judge wrote. So even if AFLC is not prosecuted, the group fears “the information gathered through the surveillance and investigation would be recorded in the database and might be used against AFLC in other ways.”

John Hinderaker of Power Line was delighted that the lawsuit made it past a key hurdle.

He described the Southern Poverty Law Center “as one of America’s pre-eminent hate groups.” The SPLC “smears those with whom it disagrees, and the media, politicians, and, in some cases, law enforcement are happy to take its hate campaign seriously. So fighting back against the lavishly funded, but utterly corrupt, SPLC is important.”

“Weaponizing law enforcement against political opponents has become a go-to strategy in the Left’s playbook. The Southern Poverty Law Center is a disgraceful hate organization that eventually, one hopes, will be driven out of business by defamation lawsuits. In the meantime, government officials who use the SPLC’s partisan smears as a basis for unconstitutional actions need to be sued. Kudos to the American Freedom Law Center for taking the fight to the far Left.”

Founded in 2012 by attorneys Robert Muise and David Yerushalmi, AFLC says it “prosecutes cases to advance and defend religious liberty, freedom of speech, the sanctity of human life, and the traditional family. It crafts litigation to promote limited government, a renewed federalism, and a strong national defense, which includes the right of private citizens to bear arms.”

By contrast, the Montgomery, Alabama-based SPLC, which poses as a civil rights group, is a defamation factory known for its character assassinations of conservatives. Known also for its unhinged rhetoric and politically slanted research, the SPLC routinely tars conservatives as racist as a matter of policy, treating all skepticism towards Islam, all opposition to illegal or legal immigration, open borders, and multiculturalism as hate and all political expression of those views as hate speech.

The SPLC deliberately lumps together groups on America’s political right in order to intimidate and “de-platform” non-leftists. Conservative, libertarian, anti-tax, immigration reductionist, and other groups are all seen as legitimate targets for vilification. Go against the SPLC’s worldview and you risk being tarred as a Neo-Nazi or a Klansman.

And the SPLC, whose vast headquarters in the Deep South has been mocked as a “poverty palace,” has an unspeakably large war chest to support its evil, un-American agenda. In IRS filings for the tax year ending Oct. 31, 2018, the SPLC reported $518 million in assets, making it wealthier than the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation Inc. and Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc.

The story begins a year ago.

In a February 2019 press release, Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) Director Agustin V. Arbulu and Attorney General Dana Nessel, an in-your-face left-wing Democrat, cited the SPLC’s blacklist, which claimed Michigan experienced a 6.5 percent increase in active hate and extremist groups. After falsely labeling the SPLC a “civil rights organization,” the officials said the SPLC report identified “31 hate and extremist organizations operating in Michigan in 2018.”

The SPLC’s “Intelligence Report” identified the American Freedom Law Center at pages 53 and 54 as an “anti-Muslim hate group.”

“This is a troubling trend,” said Arbulu, who was fired in August 2019 for “his comments objectifying women,” the Detroit Free Press reported at the time.

“These groups range in the ideological extremes from anti-Muslim, to anti-LGBT to black nationalist and white nationalists,” he said.

Nessel said she would fight “hate” in Michigan.

“Hate cannot continue to flourish in our state,” said Nessel. “I have seen the appalling, often fatal results of hate when it is acted upon. That is why I am establishing a hate-crimes unit in my office -- to fight against hate crimes and the many hate groups which have been allowed to proliferate in our state.”

Michigan officials said in 2019 that they planned to develop a police state-like process to document hate and bias incidents in the state.

“Hate and bias incidents are those instances where an action does not rise to the level of a crime or a civil infraction,” the press release stated.

“For instance, in Lansing’s Old Town over the President’s Day weekend … [there was] a spat of flyering by the white nationalist group Patriot Front. Flyers removed by residents and visitors, but posted on social media, show the group was targeting immigrants as well as Jews with the flyers. The flyers are protected under the First Amendment and do not rise to a crime.”

Of course, there is no reason why the state should be tracking constitutionally protected speech. And to make matters worse, like any run-of-the-mill leftist nowadays, Nessel has an ideologically slanted idea of what an example of legally actionable “hate” is.

President Donald Trump, she said in 2019, is inspiring hate crimes across America.

“I think he is a huge factor,” she said, according to Michigan Advance. “I don’t think you can understate it.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center holds the same opinion, spending resources on promoting something it calls the “Trump Effect,” which it blames for thousands of cases of “prejudice,” “bullying,” and hate crimes in the nation’s schools. The argument, thinly backed with anecdotal evidence, is that the election of Trump as president in 2016 unleashed a tsunami of racial intolerance, white supremacism, and related hate crimes against vulnerable members of minority groups in schools and in society in general.

SPLC claimed it slapped a hate group label on American Freedom Law Center because the group “authored an amicus brief in support of” President Donald Trump’s travel ban affecting several terrorist-prone nations, some of which happened to be Muslim-majority countries. That friend-of-the-court brief, according to the SPLC, claimed that the country was at war with “the kinetic militancy of jihadists, and the cultural challenge of anti-Western, anti-constitutional Islamic law and mores.”

In other words, the Southern Poverty Law Center blackened the American Freedom Law Center’s name for taking a legitimate public policy position that enjoys substantial support in American society.

The SPLC report also inaccurately described the travel ban, which was included in Trump’s Presidential Proclamation 9645, as a “Muslim travel ban.” Although an article of faith among left-wingers and Trump-haters, this falsehood, along with the claim that the ban is unconstitutional, does not survive an examination of the evidence. This ban allegedly directed at Muslims leaves out the vast majority of Muslim-majority countries on earth. And even if it did single out Muslims, it should still survive constitutional scrutiny, many legal experts say. The Constitution’s prohibition of so-called religious tests doesn’t apply to immigration policy, which is why no one raised a fuss during the Cold War when the U.S. set aside visas specifically for Soviet Jews escaping religious persecution.

In December 2017, the Supreme Court lifted two lower court stays blocking enforcement of the ban, and in June 2018 the high court ruled the proclamation was a lawful exercise of the president’s authority pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act. The proclamation restricted the entry of certain categories of nationals from the trouble spots of Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Chad, Venezuela, and Yemen. Restrictions on Chad were removed in Presidential Proclamation 9723 in April 2018.

Then in January this year, Presidential Proclamation 9983 added six additional countries to the travel ban. This affected certain categories of nationals from Burma, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, along with diversity visas for nationals of Tanzania and Sudan. 

Meanwhile, AFLC co-founder Robert Muise, who also serves as lead counsel in the lawsuit, said in an interview that he hopes the judge’s ruling makes it clear to the Michigan attorney general that she “will not be allowed to weaponize her office to target political opponents.”

Muise said it was unacceptable that the top law enforcement officer for the state is relying on hate-group lists put together by the “radically partisan Southern Poverty Law Center,” which he called a “political propaganda machine for left-wing activists.”

The Constitution is triggered in the case because Michigan is using its resources to conduct investigations based on “political hyperbole.”

“This is a page right out of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four,” he said, alluding to the dystopian novel set in a bleak totalitarian future.

Robert Weissberg, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was also pleased that Michigan leftists were unable to kill the lawsuit.

“The ‘war on hate’ is fundamental to the totalitarian assault on freedom. Disagreement has been transformed into ‘hate’ and ‘hate’ has been converted into the first step in genocide and the like. This intellectual transformation has been occurring for decades and, like carbon monoxide poisoning, it is barely noticed until just before death,” he said.

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