After Charlottesville attack, anti-LGBTQ hate groups attack media outlets for accurately calling them hate groups

In response to the violent August 12 white nationalist and neo-Nazi protests that occurred in Charlottesville, VA, a number of regional and national media outlets published pieces that informed their readers about regional and national hate groups from various extremist ideologies. Anti-LGBTQ hate groups and their allies in right-wing media responded to these stories by attacking the media outlets that published them, some of which have since deleted their stories.

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Violent neo-Nazi and white nationalist protests in Charlottesville highlight the rise of extremism and hate groups

White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other far-right extremists held a violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville that led to three deaths. White nationalists and neo-Nazis held a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, on August 12 during which the attendees marched “in a torchlight procession — a symbolic gathering meant to evoke similar marches of Hitler Youth” -- while carrying guns, shields, and clubs, according to The Washington Post. The rally featured prominent white nationalist media figures such as Richard Spencer and Mike Enoch, as well as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. The protest escalated into violence, which culminated in a reported Nazi sympathizer plowing his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing activist Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Two police officers died in a helicopter crash related to the incident. [The Washington Post, 8/14/17, 8/13/17, 8/12/17]

National and regional media outlets report on newly emboldened hate groups and their extremist ideologies

Charlottesville protests catalyzed national media outlets to report on the newly emboldened white supremacists and hate groups. As a result of the violence in Charlottesville, media outlets turned their attention to report on what ABC News called the “re-emergence of white supremacy and nationalist groups in the United States.” Using statistics from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), CNN reported on hate groups in the country. [ABC News, 8/15/17; CNN, 8/17/17; 8/17/17]

Regional media outlets reported on hate and extremist groups in their states. Regional media outlets across the country contextualized the extremism and violence seen in Charlottesville by reporting on local organizations that are designated as “hate groups” by SPLC. Among those were several anti-LGBTQ hate groups, including Family Research Council (FRC), Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and Liberty Counsel. [Boston Patch, 8/15/17; Arizona’s NBC 12 News, 8/15/17; Arizona’s ABC KSAT12, 8/15/17; The Arizona Republic, 8/14/17; Santa Rosa’s Press Gazette, 8/15/17 (since deleted); The Daytona Beach News-Journal, 8/15/17 (since deleted); NC News Chief, 8/15/17 (since deleted)]

Anti-LGBTQ hate groups are not labeled hate groups for their policy positions, and the groups have a clear history of extremism

Anti-LGBTQ hate groups are designated as such when they knowingly spread “demonizing lies about the LGBT community,” engage in “baseless, incendiary name-calling,” or actively work to criminalize LGBTQ people.” Anti-LGBTQ hate groups have been surprisingly successful in pushing the myth that 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. In 2010, when it first began listing anti-LGBTQ hate groups, SPLC stated that “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. [Media Matters, 2/16/17]

ADF “specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage, and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally.” ADF is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation, and, according to SPLC, it “specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage, and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally.” ADF operates on $48 million-plus annual budget and has what it refers to as a “powerful global network” of over 3,100 ADF-trained “allied attorneys.” SPLC designated ADF a hate group because ADF’s leaders and its 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.’” ADF’s influence is widespread. It has played a role in dozens of Supreme Court cases about abortion, religion, tuition tax credits, and LGBTQ issues, among others; it has special advisory status at the United Nations; it has at least 55 affiliated lawyers serving in influential government positions at the state and federal levels; and it has infiltrated local school boards across the country. ADF formally supported the criminalization of sodomy in the U.S. in 2003 when it filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas defending state sodomy laws which called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” ADF has also worked to criminalize gay sex abroad, including in Jamaica, Belize, and India, and is leading the national campaign for “bathroom bills” in an attempt to stop transgender youth from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. [Media Matters, 7/24/17]

FRC “often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science” in order to “denigrate LGBT people.” FRC is an anti-LGBTQ hate group with significant influence on the Trump administration. The group has an annual budget of tens of millions of dollars and promotes the idea “that people can and should try to change their sexual orientation” or “just not act on it.” According to SPLC’s “extremist file,” FRC “often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science” in order to “denigrate LGBT people.” FRC’s official position is that “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large” and “is by definition unnatural.” Former FRC Vice President Rob Schwarzwalder accused gay youth of joining the Boy Scouts of America “for predatory purposes,” and various FRC representatives and publications have repeatedly compared homosexuality to pedophilia. Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC, asserted that LGBTQ youth suicide rates would drop if the teenagers were “discourage[d] from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual” and urged others “not to create a positive social environment for the affirmation of homosexuality.” In a 2010 appearance on MSNBC, Sprigg also said that the United States should “outlaw gay behavior.” In 2011, the FRC called for its supporters to pray for countries that had laws criminalizing sodomy and were being pressured by the U.S. to remove them, and it suggested that homosexuality “has had a devastating impact upon Africans,” citing the AIDS crisis as an example. [Media Matters, 7/24/17]

Liberty Counsel representatives have compared LGBTQ people to pedophiles and called them “immoral, unnatural, and self-destructive.” Liberty Counsel is an anti-LGBTQ hate group founded by Mat Staver, former dean of Liberty University School of Law, that “shares a close affiliation with Liberty University,” according to SPLC. Staver has called LGBTQ History Month a “sexual assault on our children,” repeatedly warned that the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage would trigger a revolution and civil war, and claimed nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people will result in the “death of some individuals.” Liberty Counsel also famously represented Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis in litigation after she refused to issue marriage licenses to same and opposite-sex couples in 2015; Talking Points Memo reported that Staver “compared Davis’ plight to that of Jews in Nazi Germany” during a radio interview. Staver has also compared LGBTQ people to pedophiles, once saying that allowing gay youth and adults in the Boy Scouts will cause “all kinds of sexual molestation” and create a “playground for pedophiles to go and have all these boys as objects of their lust.” Liberty Counsel has called gay sex “harmful sexual behavior” and pushed the myth that LGBTQ people “can change.” Former Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Barber said that LGBTQ people “know intuitively that what they are doing is immoral, unnatural, and self-destructive,” adding that they have “tied their whole identity up in this sexual perversion.” Barber has also called “disease, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide … consequences” of being gay. [Media Matters, 7/24/17]

Anti-LGBTQ hate groups attack mainstream and regional media outlets in Arizona and Florida as well as the “hate group” designation

After being labeled a hate group, ADF sent out a series of tweets directed at two Arizona media outlets. ADF sent several tweets directed at Arizona’s 12 News and The Arizona Republic for using SPLC’s hate group designation and including them in a list along side other extremists ideologies. In their tweets, ADF questioned the credibility of SPLC and demanded an apology: [NBC 12 Arizona, 8/15/17; The Arizona Republic, 8/14/17]

ADF to Arizona outlets: “Repeating attacks of extreme leftist group SPLC” is not journalism, retract anti-ADF “smear & apologize.”

[Twitter, 8/16/17]

ADF to Arizona outlets: SPLC has been exposed time and again for lying, and “exaggerating to raise” money. “Bad for you to get suckered in.”

[Twitter, 8/16/17]

Several Florida media outlets ran an article from the AP, adding in local hate groups that included Liberty Counsel. U.S. newspaper publisher GateHouse Media owns several publications based out of Florida. Three of those outlets ran an Associated Press story detailing that“the number of active hate groups in Florida ranks second among other states in the nations.” The papers also added a round-up of local hate groups that included Liberty Counsel, which is based out of Orlando. [Santa Rosa’s Press Gazette, 8/15/17 (since deleted); The Daytona Beach News-Journal, 8/15/17 (since deleted); NC News Chief, 8/15/17 (since deleted)]

Liberty Counsel sent legal threats to GateHouse Media demanding corrective action after being labeled as a hate group. In response to the articles appearing in GateHouse Media publications, Liberty Counsel sent a letter to the publisher demanding “corrective action” and threatening legal action if none were taken. Shortly after, the story pages were apparently removed from all three websites. But a cached google image search confirmed that the article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal had been published and included Liberty Counsel’s designation as a hate group. The other Florida outlets reprinted the same story but are inaccessible in the internet archives. [Liberty Counsel, 8/16/17]

Liberty Counsel called GateHouse Media’s story “trash” and the “epitome of ‘fake news.’” Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver called the AP article that GateHouse Media published in Florida “dangerous and defamatory” in an August 16 press release. Staver also called the article a “trash story” and “the epitome of ‘fake news’” and called for “Gatehouse Media to retract and correct this article immediately.” From the release:

Gatehouse Media, which owns the Florida-based News Chief, The Walton Sun and The Destin Log, published a defamatory article on Tuesday that includes Liberty Counsel in a list of active “hate groups” in Florida. The article, “Florida ranks 2nd highest in US in hate groups,” is attributed to the Associated Press, but Gatehouse Media added additional defamatory information about Liberty Counsel not in the original AP article and uses the discredited Southern Poverty Center Law Center (SPLC), a reckless organization that falsely labels nonviolent people and organizations as “haters” or “hate groups,” as a source. Liberty Counsel has sent a demand letter to Gatehouse.


“Not once did any journalist with Gatehouse reach out to us to verify their trash story. This article is the epitome of ‘fake news.’ It is not just fake, it is dangerous and adds compounds the division in America. It is well known that the SPLC not only promotes hate but its reckless and false labeling provides the motivation for extremists to commit acts of terrorism against innocent people. It is defamatory to Liberty Counsel and dangerous to many people to falsely label them as ‘haters’ or ‘hate groups’ and publish such an article on the heels of the Charlottesville tragedy. Liberty Counsel is not a violent or hateful organization. I call upon Gatehouse Media to retract and correct this article immediately,” said Staver. [Liberty Counsel, 8/16/17]

FRC attacked CNN on Twitter for its reporting and claimed SPLC was tied to domestic terrorism. FRC took to Twitter to attack CNN for publishing SPLC’s “hate map” and used the hashtag #DumpSPLC to make false claims about its hate group designation. Shortly after, CNN updated its original report by editing its headline from “Here are all the active hate groups where you live” to “The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups” and removing the full list of hate groups in each state. [CNN, 8/17/17, 8/17/17]

FRC’s Edwin Meese said, “No responsible media outlet should parrot the SPLC’s hate list without seeking to understand not only its motives but also the consequences of spreading false charges.”

[Twitter, 8/17/17]

FRC pushed the myth that it was labeled as a hate group because of “disagreement on a policy issue.”

[Twitter, 8/17/17]

Right-wing media outlets amplify anti-LGBTQ hate groups’ attack on the media and SPLC

Tucker Carlson hosted hate group leader Tony Perkins to attack CNN and SPLC, lamented that “actual hate groups” aren’t “narrowed to neo-Nazis and violent anarchists.” On the August 18 edition of his show, Fox’s Tucker Carlson hosted anti-LGBTQ extremist and FRC President Tony Perkins to attack CNN’s reporting on hate groups and SPLC’s hate group designation. Carlson lamented that “actual hate groups” weren’t limited “to neo-Nazis and violent anarchists” and characterized anti-LGBTQ hate groups as “regular conservative organizations.” Carlson went on to call the list “too large and grossly biased” and said CNN’s headline was “absurdly irresponsible.” From Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight:

TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Yesterday, CNN published a story with the headline “Here are all the active hate groups where you live.” This wasn’t a list narrowed to neo-Nazis and violent anarchists, actual hate groups. Instead, the list was full of regular conservative organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, and others. In other words, the list was too large and grossly biased, and that’s because CNN wasn’t listing real hate groups, they were just listing hate groups as defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is a totally irresponsible left-wing organization that casually throws around the term “hate group” in order to raise money. And it’s raised a lot of money doing that: terrifying people. CNN eventually scaled back its absurdly irresponsible headline, changing it to “The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups.” Better, but still bad. Why is CNN doing the bidding of the Southern Poverty Law Center? They’re not coming on to tell us why. We asked someone from the Southern Poverty Law Center to come on to explain their side, but they just decline like they always do because they are cowards. So instead, we are joined by Tony Perkins. He is president of the Family Research Council, one of the groups slandered by CNN and the SPLC. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 8/18/17; Southern Poverty Law Center, 8/21/17]

Daily Caller: “5 Groups Included On ‘Hate Group’ List Published By CNN Are Not Hate Groups.” An August 18 opinion column in right-wing outlet The Daily Caller purported that CNN had erroneously included five hate groups on its list that weren’t actually hate groups, citing ADF, FRC, and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hate groups. The author accused CNN of “continuing a trend by a sympathetic establishment media to parrot the organization [SPLC] without proper due diligence or scrutiny.” [The Daily Caller, 8/17/17]

Wash. Examiner: CNN is “repeating a mistake made by many major media outlets.” Right-wing outlet Washington Examiner attacked CNN for its hate group article, accusing it of “repeating a mistake made by many major media outlets before it.” The article said SPLC was “a fraud” and “an irresponsible advocacy group” and lamented what it called “conservative advocacy groups” being included with “legitimate hate organizations” such as “neo-Nazis and the KKK.” From the August 18 article:

Repeating a mistake made by many major media outlets before it, CNN on Thursday published a map of registered hate groups sourced entirely from the Southern Poverty Law Center, an irresponsible advocacy group that purports to operate as an objective assessor of hate. Just one day earlier, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the company was set to make a $1 million donation to the SPLC as well.

But the SPLC's claim to objectivity is nothing less than fraudulent, a reality that informed observers of its practices from both the Left and Right accept. The routine of debunking their supposedly objective classifications occurs like clockwork each time a major outlet makes the mistake of turning to them when reporting on the many conservative thinkers and nonprofits the group absurdly designates as hateful.

So here we go again.

The SPLC routinely lumps conservative advocacy groups in with legitimate hate organizations, putting proponents of traditional family values in the same category as neo-Nazis and the KKK. In a July note to supporters, the Family Research Council, a conservative nonprofit the SPLC has attacked, referred to the center as “a left wing smear group who has become exactly what they set out to fight, spreading hate and putting targets on people's backs.” [Washington Examiner, 8/18/17]

Townhall: “CNN Publishes Fake Hate List -- Targeting Well-Known Christian Groups.” In an August 18 article for Townhall, Todd Starnes attacked CNN’s report, called it “bogus,” and lamented the inclusion of hate groups including FRC, ADF, and Liberty Counsel. Starnes highlighted quotes from various leaders of the groups and also called on CNN to “retract the entire story and publicly vow to never again use Southern Poverty Law Center’s inflammatory propaganda.” [Townhall, 8/18/17]

Anti-LGBTQ hate groups and right-wing media have previously coordinated to attack the credibility of “hate group” label. In July, news broke that ADF was hosting Attorney General Jeff Sessions for a closed-door speech at an ADF event. Both ABC News and NBC News accurately noted in their reporting that SPLC had designated ADF as an “anti-LGBT hate group.” Right-wing media outlets and anti-LGBTQ hate groups from various backgrounds joined together to attack those media outlets and cast doubt on the “hate group” designation. [Media Matters, 7/18/17, 7/24/17]