Freedom Center Confronts CNN’s Blacklist

Democracy dies in darkness.

Editor's Note: Below is a letter that the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s legal team sent to CNN on August 21, 2017, regarding their publishing of an article, The Southern Poverty Law Center's list of hate groups, on August 17, 2017 (updated on August 18) listing the Freedom Center as an SPLC designated hate group. The SLPC’s “hate map” is a malicious and defamatory attack that deliberately crowds together neo-Nazis with the conservative political organizations it opposes. CNN has attacked freedom of speech and exposed itself to legal consequences by running the SPLC’s smear. And the Freedom Center won’t take it lying down.

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From Greenwald & Hoffman, LLP, Attorneys at Law, August 21, 2017.
Re: Defamatory statements regarding David Horowitz.

Dear Mr. Zucker, Mr. Vigilante, Mr. Davis, Mr. Andone, and Mr. Mullery:

This firm represents David Horowitz and the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation (“Freedom Center”) regarding the defamatory claim that CNN has published about David Horowitz and the Freedom Center in the website article by Dakin Andone and map by Will Mullery describing alleged hate groups throughout the United States.  Without critical examination, Mr. Andone’s article refers to and blindly adopts as “widely accepted” the entire list of 917 alleged “hate groups” labeled as such by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (“SPLC”) website, which maliciously promotes the false accusation that the Freedom Center is a “hate group” and that David Horowitz is “anti-Muslim” and “anti-black”.     

There is not a shred of truth to these false accusations.  Although Mr. Andone and Mr. Mullery define a “hate group” as an organization with “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics,” David Horowitz personally challenges CNN to produce one statement of his or of the Freedom Center that denigrates a group of people based on their identity or immutable characteristics.  Mr. Horowitz has written and published over a million words. There is not a single sentence of his that could qualify as racist or denigrating a group of people based on their identity.  Nor are Mr. Andone, CNN, or the SPLC able to quote any.  Mr. Andone and CNN should have fact-checked SPLC’s false designation of the Freedom Center before publishing it.

CNN and Mr. Andone cite the SPLC website as the source of their defamatory claim, but they have failed to critically examine that source before publishing this defamation. CNN has adopted, without adequate investigation, specious third party claims by the SPLC that Mr. Horowitz and the Freedom Center are “anti-Muslim” and “anti-black.”  If CNN had thoroughly investigated these claims, it would have discovered a variety of articles that seriously undermine the credibility of SPLC’s hate list. For example, on October 30, 2016, Tablet Magazine published on the Internet an article exposing the SPLC’s recent blacklisting of David Horowitz and other writers and intellectuals.  The article, entitled “A New Blacklist From the Southern Poverty Law Center Marks the Demise of a Once-Vital Organization,” is written by Lee Smith, a senior editor at the Weekly Standard and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.  (See attached article.)  

Smith’s article outlines in detail how the SPLC, which once valiantly fought against violent supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and defended those advocating non-violence, has turned on advocates of non-violence, like Maajid Nawaz, a practicing Muslim who is working within his Muslim community to push back against extremism. Nawaz frequently insists that “Islam is a religion of peace,” but because he is critical of those within his own faith who preach violent resolution of conflicts, the SPLC accuses Nawaz of “blasphemy” (a surprising term for an alleged civil rights organization) and targets him and others on SPLC’s blacklist as being anti-Muslim extremists.  Really?  Who is really the hate group here?  And why is CNN supporting a hate group’s defamation of other groups?  

Instead of defending Nawaz’s advocacy of non-violence and diversity of thought, the SPLC is “now aggressively defending the kind of violent supremacists it had once sought to prosecute, and attacking types like Nawaz it had once defended against violence.” The article explores several reasons for the SPLC’s betrayal of its prior mission, suggesting that the blacklist has nothing to do with real anti-Muslim extremism and is simply being used to smear the SPLC’s political enemies.

Attached is a recent article entitled, “D.C. Shooter A Fan of the Southern Poverty Law Center.” Not only has the SPLC’s hate list been connected to at least two incidents of attempted mass murder, the article quotes Mark Potock, of the SPLC, who admitted in an interview: "Our criteria for a 'hate group,' first of all, have nothing to do with criminality, or violence, or any kind of guess we're making about 'this group could be dangerous.' It's strictly ideological." (Emphasis added.)

In the attached recent article, “A Demagogic Bully: The Southern Poverty Law Center Demonizes Respectable Political Opponents as ‘Hate Groups’—And Keeps its Coffers Bulging,” Mark Pulliam catalogues the SPLC’s biased listings and describes how the SPLC unfairly uses a loose definition to smear ideological opponents having no connection to actual hate groups: 

“The SPLC claims that ‘917 Hate Groups are currently operating in the U.S.,’ but offers only vague guidelines for what qualifies: ‘groups hav[ing] beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.’ Despite its insinuations that hate groups are inherently violent, the SPLC casts a much broader net: ‘Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafletting or publishing’ (emphasis added). Indeed, some of the SPLC’s hate ‘groups’ are merely websites or publications—even record labels and religious sects.

“This fluid and subjective definition allows the SPLC to lump together—along with the KKK, neo-Nazis, and racist skinheads—such varied groups as religious-liberty advocates Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel; pro-family groups such as the World Congress of Families; Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy; the David Horowitz Freedom Center and, separately, its Jihad Watch program; Ann Corcoran’s Refugee Resettlement Watch; and many immigration-reform groups, including CIS and FAIR.” (See Here.)

Pulliam cites left-leaning lawyers and journalists who are openly critical of the SPLC’s motives and methods: “Atlanta-based civil rights lawyer Stephen B. Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights and longtime lecturer at Yale Law School, declined to accept the [Morris Dees] award in 2007 because he saw Dees as a ‘con man and fraud.’” . . . “’I’ve long regarded Morris Dees and his Southern Poverty Law Center as collectively one of the greatest frauds in American life,’ wrote the late progressive journalist Alexander Cockburn in 2007.” . . . “Even left-leaning Politico has become skeptical; Ben Schreckinger’s recent article “Has a Civil Rights Stalwart Lost Its Way?” notes longstanding charges “that the SPLC is overplaying its hand, becoming more of a partisan progressive hit operation than a civil rights watchdog.” (Ibid.) (Emphasis added.)

Tyler O’Neil agrees with these assessments and adds: “Americans are right to stand up against white supremacy, and to condemn groups like the KKK. But they need not look to the deception of the SPLC to fight hate. Indeed, the SPLC actually increases hate by peddling ‘hate group’ labels to the Left's favorite targets. . . . If CNN wanted to prove that they are not ‘fake news,’ adopting the SPLC ‘hate list’ is the last thing it should have done.” (Emphasis added).)

David Horowitz's life work embodies his support for equal rights for all races.  He has in fact organized protests on more than 100 college campuses against the oppression of Muslim women. He has published booklets against the oppression of Muslim women. He has sponsored panels with Muslim speakers against the oppression of Muslim women. There are numerous videos of his campus speeches on the Internet where he can be seen saying that his efforts are not directed against all Muslims, but are conducted on behalf of most Muslims against the hijacking of their religion by totalitarian radicals who are conducting a campaign of hatred against Jews, gays, and other minority groups. Did CNN and Mr. Andone investigate any of these things?    

Very few people have done as much as David Horowitz to expose the ongoing oppression of Muslim women, Jews, gays, and other minorities in Middle Eastern countries, which should have been self-evident to CNN and Mr. Andone from recent news stories demonstrating large-scale murder and repression of Muslims by ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. Mr. Horowitz’s research and exposure of the abuse of minority groups at the hands of extremist elements in Muslim countries should be a legitimate part of any dialogue about extremism.  

CNN’s utter disregard of Mr. Horowitz’s and the Freedom Center’s long history of work on behalf of persecuted minorities is reckless, and appears to be  driven by political malice. 

The SPLC maintains a hate-filled and notorious smear website that even labels the American Enterprise Institute as a racist organization. It cannot back up its claims against a variety of reputable organizations, including Mr. Horowitz and the Freedom Center.  

By repeating the SPLC’s ideologically-driven blacklisting of Mr. Horowitz and the Freedom Center, CNN and Mr. Andone are engaging in the very kind of rhetoric which is contributing to politically-motivated violence, are damaging their own reputations as neutral arbiters of information, and are continuing to publish false, defamatory accusations that expose CNN to substantial legal liability.

David Horowitz and the Freedom Center hereby demand that CNN immediately apologize and remove the defamatory designation of the Freedom Center as a “hate group” and cease and desist from further publication of this defamatory claim.  

Although they would prefer to resolve this matter on an amicable basis, Mr. Horowitz and the Freedom Center reserve the right to exercise all civil remedies to limit any damage to their reputations resulting from CNN’s continuing violation of their rights.  

If CNN intends to wholesale adopt SPLC’s “hate group” label, without publishing relevant data and links that disclose material counter-information, it will put David Horowitz and the Freedom Center in a false light.  Moreover, if CNN discloses SPLC’s “hate group” label for the Freedom Center, but does not disclose SPLC’s admission that its list is “strictly ideological,” this magnifies the damage to Mr. Horowitz and the Freedom Center.

Further dissemination of such pernicious misinformation on CNN’s website will also demonstrate a malicious intent and would support the imposition of punitive damages against CNN and Mr. Andone and Mr. Mullery personally. 

Sincerely yours,

GREENWALD & HOFFMAN, LLP

Paul A. Hoffman,
Individual Rights Foundation affiliate counsel

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