Right-wing media figures are celebrating a new paper purporting to demonstrate anti-Christian and anti-conservative bias in the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) listing of extremist hate groups -- conveniently ignoring the clear biases of the paper's author and the paper's glaring methodological problems.
On March 10, Breitbart.com's in-house anti-gay extremist Austin Ruse touted a new "study" from University of North Texas sociologist George Yancey, the author of "Watching the Watchers: The Neglect of Academic Analysis of Progressive Groups," a paper appearing in the journal Academic Questions. In the "study," Yancey purports to have found that the SPLC's practice of identifying and labeling hate groups ignores extremism on the left, instead maligning right-wing groups like the Family Research Council (which Yancey calls the "Family Research Center"). Moreover, Yancey charges that the SPLC is far too liberal with its use of that designation, unfairly smearing sensible conservatives as hateful bigots.
Before taking his arguments seriously, here's what media outlets and the public should know about Yancey's anti-SPLC polemic:
1. It Isn't A Study. Yancey's paper -- republished in full on Breitbart's website -- is little more than a screed against the SPLC filled with right-wing boilerplate. ("Progressive groups who value tolerance may display intolerance when reacting to conservative individuals," Yancey writes, echoing conservative bloviators like Erick Erickson.) But Yancey's "study" lacks a systematic and coherent methodology. There's no objective metric by which he determines whether the SPLC goes too hard on conservative groups and too easy on leftist ones.
Instead, he fixates on the fact that the SPLC hasn't labelled the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) as a hate group. This perceived failure on the SPLC's part is Yancey's central example of its alleged pro-leftist, anti-conservative bias.
2. The SPLC Does Hold Non-Conservative Groups Accountable. The SPLC has done extensive work highlighting phenomena like black separatism and black supremacism. In fact, it was the SPLC who exposed last summer an African-American "race war" proponent working for the Department of Homeland Security. Conservative outlets like Fox News and WorldNetDaily highlighted the story, even though those organizations have condemned the SPLC in the past.
3. Yancey Isn't A Neutral Scholar. While Yancey seeks to police purported bias at the SPLC, he's made his own biases clear before. In a 2012 interview with the right-wing Christian Post, he denounced what he called the often "downright hateful" views of cultural progressives, asserting that many liberals' views are "born out of fear and irrationality."
4. The Paper Whitewashes The Bigotry Of Anti-Gay Hate Groups. Even as Yancey claims he isn't arguing that the FRC doesn't belong on the SPLC's hate list -- simply that more liberal groups belong there -- he suggests that its leaders' claims that gay people are disproportionately likely to molest children are simply based on alternative, if "uncharitable," readings of the scientific literature. But that literature is clear: there's no empirical basis for the claim that gays are more likely to molest children. Claims to the contrary only serve to stigmatize and pathologize members of a vulnerable minority group.
Conveniently, Yancey also neglected to mention that FRC President Tony Perkins has spoken before the white supremacist Council of Concerned Citizens.
It's not surprising that Ruse -- whose organization has been labeled a hate group by the SPLC -- would herald Yancey's paper. Yancey's paper might not be methodologically rigorous, but at least it comports with the preexisting biases of its conservative fans.