In the wake of the recent murder of six worshippers in a Sikh temple outside of Milwaukee, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported that the killer, 40-year-old Wade Michael Page, was “a frustrated neo-Nazi” as well as a musician who had performed with two “racist skinhead bands.” Moreover, SPLC said that it had been listing the website of “Label56”—the distributor of albums produced by one of Page’s bands—as a “hate site” since 2006 “due to its active promotion and distribution of racist hate music.” In the final analysis, Page and his cohorts were on SPLC’s radar because that organization classifies Page’s brand of hate-filled stupidity as a form of “right wing” thinking, which it views, in turn, as the principal fountainhead of America’s allegedly persistent bigotry against nonwhites, homosexuals, and Muslims, among others. To be sure, the “HateWatch” section of SPLC’s website carries the caption, “Keeping an Eye on the Radical Right.” The Radical Left gets no mention at all.
SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok, who serves as editor-in-chief of the Center’s quarterly journal (Intelligence Report) and blog (Hatewatch), holds conservatives in very low regard—asserting, for instance, that the Tea Party “and similar groups” are “shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism.” Moreover, Potok has unambiguously declared that the “biggest domestic terror threat” in the U.S. today “pretty clearly comes from the radical right.” With regard to Wade Michael Page in particular, Potok surmises that “this man almost certainly mistook Sikhs for Muslims.” “It is the same old story that we see every time,” says Potok, “the same old story we saw with Balbir Singh [an Indian-born Sikh who was gunned down by a white man in Arizona] and those three murders after 9/11.”
Potok and SPLC are justified, of course, in identifying Page as a hate-filled racist. What cannot be justified, however, is their propensity for depicting atrocities like Page’s as evidence of America’s supposedly rampant “Islamophobia.” Amplifying Potok’s recent claim that “anti-Muslim groups” have proliferated dramatically over the past couple of years, the current issue of the Intelligence Report features a major piece titled “30 New Activists Heading Up the Radical Right.” “Explosive growth in several sectors of the radical right,” the report says, has caused “an anti-Muslim movement, almost entirely ginned up by political opportunists and hard-line Islamophobes,” to “gro[w] enormously since taking off in 2010, when reported anti-Muslim hate crimes went up by 50%.” Potok has ascribed this “astounding” increase to “the vicious rhetoric of Islam-bashing politicians and activists.”
The seemingly ominous 50% statistic, however, loses all its punch once we examine the actual raw numbers that SPLC omitted from its bold-faced alarm. According to FBI data, the number of “reported anti-Muslim hate crimes” nationwide increased from 107 in 2009 to 160 in 2010—technically a 50% increase, but hardly what anyone could legitimately characterize as an epidemic in a nation of 310 million people. Cognizant of this, Potok on a previous occasion noted that the FBI figures “dramatically understate the real level of reported and unreported hate crimes,” but emphasized that “they do offer telling indications of some trends.”
Yet a much more significant “trend” goes unmentioned by Potok and SPLC—specifically, that the “anti-Muslim hate-crime” count of 2010 was quite consistent with the normal, occasionally fluctuating number of such events in other recent years—e.g., 155 in 2002, 149 in 2003, and 156 in 2004. Equally noteworthy is the fact that when the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes had dropped from 156 in 2006 to 115 in 2007, SPLC, at that time, elected not to issue gleeful pronouncements that bigotry against Muslims was in steep decline. Any such assertions, of course, would have inconveniently contradicted SPLC’s customary depiction of America as a veritable cesspool of “right wing” “hate.”
A second unjustifiable practice by Potok and SPLC is their routine conflation of respectable conservative scholars, researchers, and journalists on the one hand, with morally bankrupt Klansmen, Aryan militiamen, and neo-Nazis (like Wade Michael Page) on the other. The objective of this tactic is to discredit and marginalize respectable conservatives by lumping them together with the very dregs of humanity and then smearing everyone with the same broad brush. For example, SPLC’s “30 New Activists” report features numerous profiles of Klansmen, skinheads, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis—people who wouldn’t be able to find a single conservative in 10,000 to say anything positive about them. Co-mingled with these profiles is one devoted to Frank Gaffney, Jr., founder and president of the Center for Security Policy. Denouncing Gaffney as “the anti-Muslim movement’s most paranoid propagandist,” the Intelligence Report derides him as someone “who sees ‘creeping Shariah’ everywhere—even in the ranks of his erstwhile allies”—specifically, Grover Norquist and Suhail Khan, whom Gaffney suspects “are Muslim Brotherhood agents.”
Anyone familiar with Gaffney’s work understands that he presents his views in a manner that is scholarly, reasoned, lucid, and founded entirely on verifiable facts; in short, he is the very antithesis of a “paranoid propagandist.” While Mark Potok and SPLC may be averse to acknowledging any of Islamic jihadism’s stubbornly unpleasant realities, Gaffney has in fact chronicled, in painstaking detail, examples of the stealth jihad in Europe as well as the U.S., in the realms of politics, economics, law, government, education, and employment. He has likewise chronicled, with equal attention to detail: (a) Grover Norquist’s troubling ties to a self-identified Islamic supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah; (b) Norquist’s efforts to help Sami Al-Arian’s National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom take the teeth out of the Patriot Act; and (c) the significance of Norquist’s sponsorship of Suhail Khan, who has not only praised jihadists who give their lives “for the cause of Islam,” but also supported legislation that would have banned the use of vital secret evidence in the terrorism trials of suspected jihadists. Yet to Mark Potok and SPLC, all this amounts to nothing more than “anti-Muslim” smoke-and-mirrors by a “paranoid propagandist.”