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  • The persecution of Manuel Duran

    An undocumented immigrant journalist, arrested while doing his job, faces deportation

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It is a quirk of the current age that Manuel Duran managed to film his own arrest. Duran, a Salvadoran journalist and undocumented immigrant who has been living in the United States since 2006, was arrested in April by the Memphis Police Department as he was covering a protest against local law enforcement’s alleged cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. He livestreamed the entire event right up to the moment his camera was knocked from his hand by the police as they seized him. Several other attendees at the protest had their cameras out as well, and some of them also caught Duran’s arrest on tape.

    The picture that emerges from these videos and from interviews with Duran’s attorneys and allies is an ugly one: an independent journalist subjected to an unjustified arrest while doing his job -- Duran says he was targeted -- which resulted in his transfer to ICE custody. Duran, who was quickly cleared of criminal wrongdoing, is nonetheless trapped in an ICE detention facility as lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Latino Memphis work to stop his deportation back to El Salvador, the country he fled over a decade ago because, he says, he feared for his safety.

    His plight is an increasingly common feature of the times: an undocumented immigrant with no criminal record who built a life and a career in United States, who had established himself in a community that came to rely on his work, and who was ensnared by an aggressive (and indiscriminate) effort by federal and state law enforcement agencies to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants.

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Manuel Duran left El Salvador in 2006 because, he says, he feared for his life. Duran had been working in his home country as a television and radio journalist for more than a decade until, according to a habeas corpus petition filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, he was targeted by a rival journalist and arrested on fraudulent charges. When he began receiving death threats, the filing states, Duran fled for the U.S.

    Not long after he arrived in the country, Duran was picked up by Customs and Border Patrol in Laredo, TX. He was given a notice to appear before an immigration judge that had no hearing date, and he provided CBP an address where the government could send additional documents. According to Duran’s lawyers, the notice with the location and date for his immigration hearing was sent to the incorrect address and returned to the Department of Homeland Security. “There was confusion with the street [address],” Maximiliano Gluzman, an attorney for Latino Memphis, told me, “and the mail didn’t arrive anywhere. So Manuel wasn’t aware of the fact that he had to appear in court, or when he had to appear in court.” Because he didn’t show up at the hearing that he didn’t know was happening, an immigration judge ordered his deportation in absentia and Duran became what ICE refers to as an “immigration fugitive.”

    Duran, meanwhile, settled in Memphis and restarted the life and career he’d left behind in El Salvador. He worked as a newscaster, announcer, and anchor with a series of Spanish-language radio stations and launched his own news website, Memphis Noticias, in 2014. He reported on local events and interviewed city officials, including the mayor. In the process, he built an audience and a following. “I would describe him as the lighthouse because the [Latino] community here lived somehow in darkness,” said Yuleiny Escobar, a Memphis-area activist and friend of Duran’s who was arrested alongside him. “The news was the news for Univision or Galavision, but no such thing as local news that they could clearly understand. Manuel was the person that brought them the news, that brought them information of what was going on.”

    Memphis Noticias provided critical reporting on the horrific story of Bardomiano Pérez Hernández, a Mexican immigrant who was shot during an attempted robbery of the van he was riding in, and whose body remained in the van, undiscovered, for seven weeks at a Memphis police impound lot. Duran and his colleague Nena Garza were the first to track down Hernández’s ex-wife and interviewed her shortly after she’d identified his remains.

    Duran also reported extensively on ICE operations within the city, and he investigated allegations that Memphis law enforcement was cooperating with ICE, contradicting public denials from the police and city officials. In July 2017, Duran published an interview with a woman who said a Memphis police officer pulled over her friend and then contacted immigration authorities who arrived and detained her. According to the SPLC, Memphis police contacted Duran after the interview was published and asked him to take the story down.

    “His main focus wasn’t the injustices that are happening or anything like that. He wasn’t a troublemaker,” Tracy Love, stepfather of Duran’s fiancee and organizer of the #FreeManuelDuran movement, told me in an interview. “But he did report on the truth of what was going on with some things. He tried to give the benefit of the doubt in some areas, but he could only do that for so long.”

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On April 3, the day before the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis, several of the city’s activist groups staged a march to 201 Poplar Ave., the complex that houses the county jail, the sheriff’s department, and the local police department. Representatives from the Coalition of Concerned Citizens and Communidades Unidas en Una Voz organized the march to protest Memphis law enforcement’s alleged cooperation with ICE. Several of the marchers formed a mock chain gang that was led through the streets by a protester dressed as an ICE agent.

    Duran was on the scene to provide live coverage of the march, streaming the event on Memphis Noticias’ Facebook page. In a grimly ironic twist, Duran’s coverage of the protest offered some unintended foreshadowing of what Memphis law enforcement and ICE were about to do to him.

    “What is the real purpose [of the demonstration], in one minute, please,” Duran asked Yuleiny Escobar, who helped organize the march. “It’s that the police are cooperating with ICE and they’re detaining people for more than 48 hours,” she replied, referring to the detainer requests ICE makes of local law enforcement agencies to extend the detention of suspected undocumented immigrants. “They’re not respecting due process.” As the protest march approached 201 Poplar Ave., Duran offered commentary on the marchers’ grievances with immigration authorities. “They’re not removing criminals, according to the protesters, but rather they’re removing people who haven’t done anything,” he said.

    Eventually the marchers filed into a crosswalk in front of the sheriff’s office, at which point the police asserted themselves and started ordering people out of the road. Those orders were ignored, and the police seized one protester, Keedran Franklin, and dragged him away from the column of people to be arrested.

    Duran joined the media scrum that formed around Franklin. As he filmed the arrest, an officer made repeated demands to “get out of the street.” Duran started moving backward toward the sidewalk, keeping his camera trained on the arrest as the officer continued barking the order. According to the SPLC’s habeas petition, Duran’s progress was impeded because “a bottleneck occurred where two cars were parallel parked against the sidewalk to which officers were instructing people to move.” As the officer’s commands grew more hostile, a protester named Spencer Kaaz attempted to intercede on Duran’s behalf. “He’s going, he’s going,” Kaaz can be heard saying in Duran’s video. “Go now,” the officer shot back. “We’re going together,” Kaaz replied.

    Moments later, the officer ordered Duran arrested: “Get him, guys.” The camera shook as a policeman’s gloved hand moved to cover the lens. After some jostling, it fell to the ground. Escobar and another protester tried to intervene, clinging to Duran and shouting to the officers: “He’s a reporter! He’s a reporter!” They were pried off him by the police and arrested. Duran was handcuffed and taken away, his press credential still dangling from his neck.

    Duran was charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing a highway, both class-C misdemeanors. The criminal complaint against him states that he “refused” to leave the road and “caused a hazard.” The video evidence disproves both allegations. There was no indication that he was in any way disruptive or doing anything except trying to comply with police orders as he was reporting. While protesters screamed and resisted their detention, Duran was silent, offering nothing but a frightened smile as officers took him into custody.

    Memphis law enforcement showed no similarly urgent interest in the many other reporters and observers who were in the road snapping photos and capturing video of the protest. There were even people in the street videotaping Duran as he got arrested. The person who shot this video of the police arresting Duran and Escobar was told to “please move out of the street” by one of the officers. After taking just a couple of steps back (and while still in the street) another officer told him, “Right here, right here, right here, that’s good.”

    Eight protesters were taken into custody by the police, all on minor charges. Duran was the only journalist arrested. Duran, his attorneys, and his allies argue that his critical coverage of Memphis law enforcement was a factor in his arrest, and that he was targeted for retaliation. He told The Daily Beast in an interview that he was “without a doubt” arrested because of his reporting on Memphis police: “I was doing my work and nothing more, like any other journalist does.”

    The Memphis Police Department has categorically denied targeting Duran, telling the The Commercial Appeal: “At no time do we target individuals based on their criticism and/or opinion of the Memphis Police Department.”

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    For most of the people arrested at the April 3 MLK Day protest, detention was short-lived and they were quickly able to return to their lives. For Manuel Duran, this unwarranted arrest on trifling infractions upended his entire existence and abruptly tore him away from his community.

    Duran was booked into the Shelby County Jail and, according to court records, his bond was set at $100 and was paid on the evening of April 3 by his fiancee, Melisa Valdez. The protesters who were booked alongside Duran also posted their bonds and were released that same evening. Duran was not.

    He spent April 4 in jail and on April 5, he appeared in court, where the district attorney dropped both misdemeanor charges, likely because the video evidence showed there was absolutely no case to be made against him. But, despite having met the conditions for release for the second time, Duran was taken back to his cell. A short time later, he was in the custody of ICE agents, to the surprise and distress of his family. “We get a call that he’s being released right now, so if you could file around to go and get him out,” Tracy Love told me. “And before you know it, immigration is taking him out the other side of the door.”

    ICE had filed an immigration detainer against Duran on April 3 requesting that the Shelby County Jail hold him for 48 hours so immigration officers could come and pick him up. ICE detainer requests require the voluntary cooperation of local law enforcement -- police departments can choose to work with ICE or they can ignore the requests entirely. The requests themselves are not reviewed or authorized by a judge; they are issued unilaterally by ICE. This can put local police departments in a difficult spot, given that they’re being asked to detain people without any presentation of evidence or probable cause. “There’s not any kind of independent oversight, and the police have no way of knowing ... because they’re just receiving a request to detain,” said Thomas Castelli, legal director for ACLU Tennessee. “They’re just basically getting something issued straight from the agency with no judicial oversight.”

    In Manuel Duran’s case, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office denied he was held on an ICE detainer and put out a statement the day he was transferred to ICE custody saying that Duran’s detention had been extended because “he refused to sign bond,” adding: “He was not being held on an ICE Hold.” Michelle LaPointe, SPLC’s acting deputy legal director and one of Duran’s attorneys, was perplexed by the sheriff’s department’s position. “They’ve denied this. I’m not quite sure how or why,” she told me. “We have a copy of the detainer, and the government in its response to our habeas petition cites the detainer as the reason they could take custody of him.”

    When I asked the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office if it still maintained that Duran was not held at ICE’s behest, a spokesperson wrote back simply: “Mr. Duran was booked into the Jail on charges brought by another agency. ICE representatives attend (sic) his court proceeding and were present when the charges were dismissed. ICE representatives detained Mr. Duran when he was released from the Jail.”

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Duran was transferred directly from the Shelby County Jail to the LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Jena, LA, more than 300 miles from Memphis. The LaSalle facility is located in a remote part of the state and has become a key part of the Trump administration’s policy of expediting deportations.

    The conditions inside LaSalle (just one attorney visitation room for 1,200 detainees) and its distance from major population centers make it extremely difficult for detainees to obtain representation and stay in contact with their families. In a statement from inside LaSalle, Duran reported that “they would not let you know your attorney is on the phone,” “visitation hours and your recreation hours happen at the time so you have to choose between seeing your family and getting some air,” and “it is extremely hard to get the phone number of a private attorney and if you are lucky enough to find one, the attorney is costs thousands dollars (sic).”

    Duran was one of the “lucky” ones -- his status as a public figure and connections to the activist community meant that he had immediate access to legal representation, and his attorneys quickly began working to get him released. SPLC filed its habeas petition with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. His lawyers also filed a motion with the Atlanta Immigration Court (which issued his removal order in 2007) to reopen his case, arguing that he had never received the initial notice to appear. That motion was denied, so they filed an emergency motion with the Board of Immigration Appeals to stay Duran’s deportation. That motion was granted in late May, and Duran’s deportation was stayed while the board reviews his case.

    The stay came through just in time: ICE had planned to put Duran on a plane back to El Salvador the very next day. In the less than two months he’d spent in ICE custody, the agency had bounced him around Louisiana from LaSalle to another facility in Pine Prairie, and then to a deportation staging facility in Alexandria. Prolonged detention and the emotional whiplash from being brought to the brink of deportation took a toll on Duran. “To have to be fighting your immigration case from within detention is very difficult,” said attorney Michelle LaPointe. “The news … he received from BIA I think helped his spirits. And he’s fighting his case and wants to continue fighting his case, so that was a bit of good news, though, of course, the appeal remains pending.”

    Duran was taken back to LaSalle to wait out the appeal process. He still faces the threat of deportation back to a country he fled to escape violence, and which has only grown more dangerous in the 12 years since he left. Duran’s allies warn that he would likely face persecution if he were sent back. “El Salvador is an extremely dangerous place for everybody, especially an extremely dangerous place for a journalist,” said Maximiliano Gluzman. “People follow his activities, a journalist, from El Salvador. … I think he has very good reason to expect a not-warm welcome, and to expect that he will be at risk if he returns to El Salvador.”

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In almost every interaction with law enforcement -- from the local police to federal immigration authorities -- Manuel Duran has had his rights violated and freedoms abrogated.

    Even if you believe the Memphis Police Department’s denials that it targeted Duran, his arrest was still thoroughly unjustified and a violation of his First Amendment rights. The Shelby County Jail kept him detained even after he’d posted bond and all the spurious charges against him were dropped. And after dodging deportation by a hair’s breadth, he remains in ICE’s custody, even though he is not dangerous, has no criminal record, and is a public figure who is unlikely to attempt to go into hiding. The government’s desired outcome in Duran’s case is to send him back to one of the world’s most dangerous and violent countries, where journalists like him routinely face death threats.

    In years past, Duran would have been a low priority for immigration enforcement, but new Homeland Security guidelines issued early in the Trump administration rescinded existing guidelines for prosecutorial discretion and effectively turned every undocumented immigrant into a priority deportee. It’s impossible to argue that Duran presents a threat to the community that he worked to inform, but the political position of the administration (which is reflected in its policy choices) is that undocumented immigrants are dangerous by virtue of who they are.

    Duran’s fellow journalists have also failed him. The story of his unjust arrest and detention has been covered by local Memphis media (The Commercial Appeal in particular has doggedly kept on top of the story) and Spanish-language outlets, and The Daily Beast interviewed Duran from LaSalle. But major newspapers, broadcast networks, and cable news channels have mostly ignored it. This coverage blackout endures despite journalism groups and press activists launching and supporting campaigns on Duran’s behalf.

    One would think that the national press would take interest in a journalist who was arrested for doing his job, who is still being detained more than three months later, and whose life might be put at risk through deportation. His story is certainly worthy of more attention than a lawyer-pundit being shunned on Martha’s Vineyard. The persecution he faces is more acute than that of the “renegades of the intellectual dark web” who are “locked out of legacy [media] outlets.” And the suppression of his speech rights is real in ways that supposedly deplatformed right-wing campus speakers can only fantasize about. But Duran’s ordeal has remained largely unnoticed outside of activist groups, local journalists, and his community in Memphis.

    Manuel Duran made a life in the United States by providing a voice to a community that lacked its own. It is outrageous that so few of his colleagues are lending their voices while his own is being silenced.

    UPDATE (9/10/2018): Manuel Duran’s petition for habeas corpus was denied and dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. His deportation order is still under review by the Board of Immigration Appeals.

  • The Muslim ban one year later: 5 ways media can avoid fueling anti-Muslim extremism

    Blog ››› ››› REBECCA LENN & NINA MAST

    A year ago today, President Donald Trump signed the first iteration of the Muslim ban, restricting travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. Since then, the executive order, which was a core Trump campaign promise, has faced powerful legal challenges, implementation roadblocks and forced revisions -- yet, parts of it still remain intact. Just as important, the ban has become one of the clearest windows into the challenges and harms the Muslim community faces in the era of Trump.

    With more news coverage being devoted to American Muslims’ diverse experiences with Trump in the White House, it is important for journalists and media outlets to avoid aiding and abetting anti-Muslim extremism in the year ahead. Here are five do’s and don’ts for media outlets to consider:

    DO offer appropriate context about the anti-Muslim hate groups behind the Muslim ban and the Trump shills’ dishonest defense of it

    When Trump first called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” as a presidential candidate, he cited a flawed poll from the anti-Muslim Center for Security Policy (CSP) as justification for its implementation. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated CSP a “hate group” for being a prominent “conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.” From the moment Trump enshrined this campaign promise into an executive order on January 27, 2017, white nationalists and neo-Nazis threw their unwavering support behind the discriminatory policy. And as it faced myriad legal challenges, Trump surrogates and anti-Muslim commentators attempted to sweep the ban’s original intent under the rug, framing it as nothing more than a national security precaution -- not a ban targeting Muslims. This year, the Supreme Court will decide the legality of the third iteration of Trump’s ban. It is imperative that media highlight its hateful origins and the extremism of the groups and activists mobilizing to keep it alive.

    DON’T cite or quote anti-Muslim hate groups and their surrogates without identifying their backgrounds of extremism

    As anti-Muslim extremists have found more political legitimacy under this administration (even finding positions directly in the administration), major outlets -- especially Trump’s go-to network, Fox News -- have given them a platform to discuss Trump’s latest policies and rhetoric targeting Muslims. Too often, viewers and readers are not informed of these talkers’ backgrounds of extremism or hate group affiliations. Extremists exploit this lack of disclosure by casting themselves as legitimate talking heads and experts in the fields of national security and immigration. Some media outlets tend to reinforce this by couching their coverage and discussions about Muslims largely in the context of immigration and terrorism, which fuels Trump’s narrative -- and that of anti-Muslim groups -- that Islam is foreign and “other” and the Muslim community poses a threat to national security. As Media Matters and Southern Poverty Law Center note in this journalist’s guide to anti-Muslim extremists, reporters and media outlets are better off seeking other sources. But when they are covering these extremists’ activities, it is imperative that they alert their viewers and readers to their hate-based rhetoric and policy positions.

    DO rely on Muslim leaders, activists, and experts to discuss the Muslim community’s experiences in the Trump era

    While anti-Muslim groups and personalities have enjoyed more media attention, some major outlets have largely failed to turn to Muslim leaders in real time to discuss Trump’s latest anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric. For example, immediately after the administration revealed the first two iterations of the ban, the vast majority of guests brought onto CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News’ prime-time shows to discuss the news were not Muslim. With that lack of inclusion, discussions of the ban on these networks largely revolved around the political and logistical consequences of the executive order -- not its real-life impact on the people affected. It is essential for reporters and outlets to turn to more leaders and experts in the community to inform their reporting.

    Additionally, it is important for journalists and outlets to highlight the tangible and personal consequences of Trump’s anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric. As Muslim Advocates’ special counsel Madihha Ahussain noted on a recent press call with Media Matters and Southern Poverty Law Center, “Whether it has been Muslims walking on the street being called names and threatened with violence, Muslim women wearing headscarves being physically attacked, Muslim children in schools being bullied, or mosques around the country being vandalized, it seems and feels as though no aspect of the community has been spared from the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment and violence over the last year.” Sure enough, in 2016, there was a 20 percent increase in reported anti-Muslim hate crimes. In the first half of 2017, there was a "91 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes ... as compared to the same time period in 2016." And in 2017, there was an average of nine mosque attacks per month from January through August, according to a CNN analysis.

    DON’T resort to false balance, “both sides” reporting in response to anti-Muslim hate

    Anti-Muslim extremists count on the media to cover their talking points and activities as supposedly credible counterpoints to actual experts. In response to the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, too many media outlets have introduced false balance in their reporting and commentary, pitting pro-Trump extremists against Muslim advocates and experts. When Trump retweeted three anti-Muslim videos in November 2017 that were posted by an ultranationalist British leader, CNN, for example, covered these tweets with a series of “both sides” panel discussions stacked with pro-Trump commentators that justified and defended the tweets. By introducing two sides to this debate as valid, the network muddied the truth about these harmful videos and their impact on the Muslim community. “Both sides” reporting and commentary unnecessarily inflames anti-Muslim sentiment and increases its real-life impact.

    DO acknowledge the weaponization of anti-Muslim sentiment online

    Journalists and media outlets can’t ignore the rise and weaponization of anti-Muslim hate on major online platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. Too often, members of the “alt-right” harass Muslims online and fake news websites publish fake news stories demonizing Muslim communities that go viral here in the U.S. and throughout the world. Highlighting this reality and Muslim leaders’ front-line experiences with online hate gives viewers and readers a broader understanding of the challenges the community faces in the Trump era and encourages greater accountability from the online platforms that are exploited to amplify anti-Muslim hate.

  • Jeff Sessions' statement rescinding DACA was packed with bigoted right-wing media lies

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era immigration policy that protects around 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children from immediate deportation while allowing them to work legally. Sessions’ announcement was full of familiar anti-immigrant lies, previously spewed by nativists and right-wing media outlets.

  • How nativist groups are taking down DACA

    Conservative and mainstream media have facilitated nativist groups’ influence in the immigration debate

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    The “nativist lobby,” which consists of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and NumbersUSA, has consistently opposed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows undocumented immigrants to live, work, and go to school in the United States without fear of deportation and it has used both right-wing and mainstream media outlets to rally support for its message. The Trump administration’s lack of support for the program and a threat by 10 Republican states’ officials to sue the federal government if it doesn’t rescind DACA by September has now aligned with the nativists' demands, meaning protection for over 800,000 undocumented immigrants could soon come to an end. 

  • How The Media Covered Hate Groups Last Week, 5/1/17- 5/7/17


    In reporting on President Donald Trump's "religious liberty" executive order last week, some outlets highlighted important anti-LGBTQ details while others failed to acknowledge activists' extremism. The Washington Post fact-checked a Trump speech, exposing that it included a lie peddled by the hate group Family Research Council. Local papers The Orange County Register and Portland Business Journal exposed anti-LGBTQ hate groups Alliance Defending Freedom and Traditional Values Coalition in their coverage. National outlets -- including CNN, CBS, and USA Today -- spoke with anti-LGBTQ hate groups about the order but failed to identify the groups’ extremism, merely describing them as “conservative,” “evangelical,” and “faith” groups. Separately, NPR continued its streak of hosting hate group leaders without context.

  • The Biggest Myth About Anti-LGBTQ Hate Groups Debunked

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Anti-LGBTQ hate groups have been surprisingly successful in pushing the myth that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) bases its hate group designations on conservative or religious beliefs about sexuality and marriage. But SPLC has clearly stated multiple times that it designates organizations as “hate groups” when they engage in inflammatory, hateful name-calling, spread malicious lies and misinformation, or support the criminalization of LGBTQ people -- not because of biblical or conservative beliefs. Journalists have a responsibility to be armed with the facts and accurately cover SPLC’s recent report on extremism and designated hate groups.

    On February 15, SPLC released its annual census of hate and extremism in the United States for 2016, which includes 52 active anti-LGBTQ hate groups. Over the six years that it has tracked anti-LGBTQ extremism, SPLC has clearly and repeatedly explained that it designates anti-LGBTQ organizations as hate groups when they knowingly spread “demonizing lies about the LGBT community,” engage in “baseless, incendiary name-calling,” or actively work to criminalize LGBTQ people.

    As SPLC stated in 2010, when it first began listing anti-LGBTQ hate groups, “viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.” But despite SPLC’s clear explanations of its criteria, mainstream media outlets have long allowed anti-LGBTQ hate groups to defend themselves with that very myth. For example, a 2016 Media Matters study found that from June 2014 through June 2016, the only instance in which The New York Times referenced SPLC’s “hate group” label when reporting on an anti-LGBTQ organization was in an article that questioned the validity of the designation and SPLC’s expertise. The article improperly characterized the designation criteria, alleging that SPLC has been “criticized for including groups that fall within the conservative mainstream, like the Family Research Council, based on their stances on gay issues.”

    For years, media coverage of LGBTQ equality has followed a "God vs. gays" narrative that pits LGBTQ people against religious -- and specifically Christian -- communities. But in recent years, a growing number -- now a majority -- of Christians believe that “homosexuality should be accepted by society.” And current public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans from all religious denominations support same-sex marriages and broad-based LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections without religious exemptions. Now more than ever, it’s bad journalism to equate mainstream Christian organizations with hate groups that actively fund and manufacture junk science to serve as “evidence” to harass and attack LGBTQ people.

    The newest anti-LGBTQ hate group on SPLC’s list is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a media-savvy legal giant with a $48 million-plus annual budget that has actively worked to criminalize gay people. Despite this background, journalists typically identify the group merely as a “Christian legal organization.” Given ADF’s staggeringly high number of active lawsuits and its successful track record with the United States Supreme Court, it’s a hate group that will remain in the media spotlight. Journalists need to be aware of ADF’s -- and other hate group’s -- extremism and history of spreading malicious disinformation and be ready to fact-check anti-LGBTQ lies. 

    Graphic by Sarah Wasko

  • 10 Facts About The Nation's Largest Anti-LGBTQ Hate Group

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has added the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to its list of active anti-LGBTQ hate groups. Here are 10 terrifying facts about ADF everyone needs to know:

    1. SPLC Labeled ADF A Hate Group Because Of Its Extreme, Demonizing Lies About LGBT People. SPLC added ADF to its list of anti-LGBTQ hate groups because ADF’s leaders and affiliated lawyers have “regularly demonized LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians.’” As SPLC has repeatedly clarified, it does not list organizations as anti-LGBTQ hate groups on the basis of “opposition to same-sex marriage or the belief that the Bible describes homosexual activity as sinful.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2/15/17, 2/15/17]

    2. ADF Boasts A $48 Million-Plus Annual Budget And Over 3,000 “Allied Attorneys.” In 2015, ADF had a $48 million-plus annual budget. In addition to its staff of over 30 staff lawyers, the group marshals what it calls a “powerful global network” of over 3,100 ADF-trained “allied attorneys,” many of whom are expected to provide at least 450 hours of pro bono services within three years of attending one of ADF’s training programs. ADF’s elite “Blackstone Fellows” have worked or interned in at least nine state governments. [Media Matters, 1/25/17; Alliance Defending Freedom, accessed 2/15/172/15/172/15/17; Rewire, 5/13/14]

    3. ADF Defended The Constitutionality Of Criminalizing Gay Sex In The U.S. ADF has formally supported anti-sodomy laws since 2003, when it filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas to defend state sodomy laws on the grounds that gay sex is unhealthy, harmful, and a public health risk, writing that “same-sex sodomy is a distinct public health problem. It clearly is.” [Media Matters, 11/19/14, 1/25/17]

    4. ADF Has Expanded Its Anti-Choice, Anti-LGBTQ Extemism Internationally. While ADF has largely run out of options for promoting the criminalization of homosexuality in America, the group has taken its anti-sodomy agenda overseas. ADF has actively worked to promote and defend anti-sodomy laws that criminalize gay sex in Jamaica, Belize and India. In 2010, the United Nations granted special consultant status to ADF, allowing the group to help shape international human rights policy and treaties. More recently, the group has become involved in the Organization of American States, where ADF’s mission has been battling “abortion and radical sexual agendas.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2/15/17; Media Matters, 11/19/14]

    5. ADF Is Behind The National Push For Anti-LGBT “Religious Freedom” Laws. Since 2013, ADF has led the national push for so-called “religious freedom” laws (RFRAs) that seek to enshrine a legal right to discriminate against LGBTQ people. ADF was behind Arizona’s failed 2014 RFRA, Indiana’s controversial 2015 RFRA, and similar bills that were eventually killed in Colorado, Georgia, and Arkansas. [Media Matters, 4/16/15]

    6. ADF Is Leading The National Campaign For “Bathroom Bills” Targeting Transgender Youth. In 2014, ADF launched a national campaign to eliminate nondiscrimination protections for transgender students and instead enshrine its own legislation that would prevent transgender students from accessing facilities consistent with their gender identity. ADF has influenced discriminatory state and local school district policies across the country with so-called “bathroom bills,” like North Carolina’s infamous HB 2, that borrow language from ADF’s model legislation. [Media Matters, 11/5/15, 3/31/16]

    7. An ADF Attorney Once Called Matthew Shepard’s Murder A Hate Crime Hoax. During the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s annual national conference in 2014, ADF attorney Erik Stanley peddled the myth that Matthew Shepard's brutal anti-gay murder was fabricated in order to advance the "homosexual agenda." [Media Matters, 10/28/14

    8. ADF Believes In A “Homosexual Agenda” Dedicated To Destroying Christianity. ADF founder Alan Sears literally wrote the book on the alleged “homosexual agenda” -- his 2003 book The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today compared the gay "propaganda" movement to what "Hitler did so masterfully in Nazi Germany, to get the American public on their side." As SPLC noted, ADF “has also promoted the idea of a ‘homosexual agenda’ -- a nefarious scheme to destroy Christianity and, eventually, civilization.” [Media Matters, 4/16/15; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2/15/17]  

    9. ADF Has Long Opposed Anti-Bullying Efforts In Schools And Even Launched The “Day Of Truth” To Combat The “Day Of Silence.” ADF has long opposed anti-bullying efforts in public schools that include LGBTQ students; the group even made an “yardstick” that decried any anti-bullying policy that includes “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.” In 2005, ADF launched a “Day of Truth” campaign to combat the “promotion of the homosexual agenda” in schools to counter the ongoing “Day of Silence” organized by LGBTQ advocates, in which students remain silent as a protest and to help spread awareness about the effects of anti-LGBT bullying. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2/15/17]

    10. ADF Wields Significant Power In The U.S. Legal System. ADF utilizes an aggressive legal strategy and, according to a review of its press releases, has served as lead counsel in 57 court cases filed since January 2016. A review of successful petitions of the United States Supreme Court revealed that ADF is not only highly active, but also highly successful in getting its cases heard. From 2001 through 2015, ADF’s Supreme Court involvement ranked among the nation’s leading law firms, vastly surpassing almost all other legal advocacy groups. Many ADF alumni move on to serve in high-power roles in the government. Most notably, Austin Nimocks, former ADF senior counsel, now works for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office is responsible for the multistate lawsuits challenging federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in health care and protections for transgender students. [Alliance Defending Freedom, accessed 2/15/17; University of Southern California Law School, “Finding Certainty in Cert: An Empirical Analysis of the Factors Involved in Supreme Court Certiorari Decisions From 2001-2015,” 1/14/16; Media Matters, 8/26/16]

    Graphic by Sarah Wasko.

  • SPLC's 2016 Year In Hate Report Details How White Supremacist And Neo-Nazi Media Thrived Under Trump

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    The Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) annual Year in Hate report detailed the rise in white nationalist and neo-Nazi media outlets and figures in 2016 during now-President Donald Trump’s campaign. The report noted that Trump’s run “electrified the radical right, which saw in him a champion of the idea that America is fundamentally a white man’s country.”

    Since the inauguration, white nationalist and neo-Nazi media outlets and figures have openly celebrated Trump and many of his appointments and policies, just as they did during the 2016 campaign. Rather than renounce their support, Trump and his team have had repeated, disturbing interactions with white nationalists, such as engaging with them on Twitter and giving them press credentials.

    The SPLC’s 2016 Year in Hate report detailed how “Trump’s run for office electrified the radical right, which saw in him a champion of the idea that America is fundamentally a white man’s country.” One faction of that group, according to the report, is the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, which became the “top hate site in America.” During the campaign, Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin said that “Jews, Blacks and lesbians will be leaving America if Trump gets elected … This alone is enough reason to put your entire heart and soul into supporting this man.” In April, Anglin said the “hoax” Holocaust memorial in Berlin should be replaced “with a statue of Hitler 1,000 feet tall”:

    The reaction to Trump’s victory by the radical right was ecstatic. “Our Glorious Leader has ascended to God Emperor,” wrote Andrew Anglin, who runs the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website. “Make no mistake about it: we did this. If it were not for us, it wouldn’t have been possible.” Jared Taylor, a white nationalist who edits a racist journal, said that “overwhelmingly white Americans” had shown they were not “obedient zombies” by choosing to vote “for America as a distinct nation with a distinct people who deserve a government devoted to that people.”


    Several new and energetic groups appeared last year that were almost entirely focused on Trump and seemed to live off his candidacy. They included Identity Evropa, a campus-oriented group based in California; The Right Stuff, based in New York; and American Vanguard, a group with 12 chapters. And The Daily Stormer, the website whose chief came up with the term “Our Glorious Leader” for Trump, expanded into real-world activism by starting 31 “clubs.” In July, it became the most visited hate site on the Internet, surpassing longtime hate leader Stormfront.


    Aside from the rise of Andrew Anglin’s Daily Stormer site and its real-world “clubs” — new chapters that profited directly from the Trump phenomenon — the year on the neo-Nazi scene was marked by a number of attempts to build new coalitions among groups. Several of them, like the Coalition of Aryan Organizations and the United Aryan Front, collapsed almost as quickly as they appeared.

    The report also addressed Trump’s mainstreaming of racist and far-right media, including credentialing white nationalist figures for his events and hiring former Breitbart head Stephen Bannon as White House chief strategist. SPLC labeled Breitbart as a “far-right media outlet known for promoting the so-called ‘alternative right,’” which it noted was a “recent rebranding of white supremacy for public relations purposes”:

    [Trump] kicked off the campaign with a speech vilifying Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. He retweeted white supremacist messages, including one that falsely claimed that black people were responsible for 80% of the murders of whites. He credentialed racist media personalities even while barring a serious outlet like The Washington Post, went on a radio show hosted by a rabid conspiracy theorist named Alex Jones, and said that Muslims should be banned from entering the country. He seemed to encourage violence against black protesters at his rallies, suggesting that he would pay the legal fees of anyone charged as a result.


    Most remarkable of all was his choice as chief strategic adviser of Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, a far-right media outlet known for promoting the so-called “alternative right” — fundamentally, a recent rebranding of white supremacy for public relations purposes, albeit one that de-emphasizes Klan robes and Nazi symbols in favor of a more “intellectual” approach. With Bannon’s appointment, white nationalists felt they had a man inside the White House.

    According to the report, Ku Klux Klan groups “received a great deal of media attention" during the campaign, "due largely to the fact that many of their leaders backed Donald Trump’s candidacy.” The report continued that the increased media attention emboldened “America’s best known (former) Klan leader” David Duke to “launch his latest bid for political office”:

    Klan groups last year received a great deal of media attention, due largely to the fact that many of their leaders backed Donald Trump’s candidacy. David Duke, easily America’s best known (former) Klan leader, spoke repeatedly of his support for Trump, saying at one point, “I’m overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues that I’ve championed for years.”

    Trump at first declined to denounce or disavow Duke, saying, falsely, that he did not know anything about him. (In fact, Trump had written in a 2000 New York Times op-ed that he abandoned his exploration of a presidential bid with the Reform Party that year because of Duke and two fellow extremists who were involved with the party.) But in the end, pressed by the media, he weakly disavowed Duke.

    Nevertheless, Duke took advantage of the media attention he received to launch his latest bid for political office. Last July, he announced his run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). But he lost badly in the open November primary, coming in seventh with 3% of the vote, or 58,581 votes.