Judge Okays Defamation Case Against SPLC for 'Hate Group' Label
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A judge has ruled that a "hate group" defamation case against the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) can move forward for the first time ever.
Liberty Counsel, a Christian religious rights law firm, has announced it's joining the legal team of the Dustin Inman Society (DIS) and its founder and president D.A. King in their lawsuit against the SPLC, arguing the organization defamed the DIS and King after labeling them an "anti-immigrant hate group."
The DIS and King claim they have suffered damage to their reputations and the SPLC's "hate label" has harmed the organization and its mission to uphold immigration laws.
Attorneys Todd McMurtry and James McKoon will also be part of the legal team with Liberty Counsel. McKoon initially filed this lawsuit against the SPLC.
On April 24, in the case of Donald A. King and Dustin Inman Society v. Southern Poverty Law Center, Inc., U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins denied the SPLC's motion to dismiss the lawsuit. That allows this groundbreaking defamation case against the SPLC to move forward with discovery.
As CBN News reported, many organizations, including Liberty Counsel and D. James Kennedy Ministries, have been unable to reach this point in their legal battles with the SPLC, even though D. James Kennedy Ministries appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The SPLC's stated motivation is to 'destroy' groups with which it disagrees, and it accomplishes this objective by falsely labeling nonviolent organizations as 'hate groups," Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said in a press release. "This label is false and those who rely upon it must stop."
In addition, the nonprofit law firm announced Todd McMurtry, a partner in Hemmer DeFrank Wessels, will be co-counsel on the legal team. McMurtry represented Nick Sandmann, a student at Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, whose reputation was damaged by media coverage in 2019 after an encounter with a Native American man and members of the Black Hebrew Israelites at the March for Life event in Washington, D.C. Even though the unedited video depicted Sandmann and his fellow students being ridiculed and insulted while Sandmann calmly tried to diffuse the situation, the edited video broadcast by some media outlets made it appear Sandmann and the other students were the aggressors.
As a result, McMurtry initially filed defamation lawsuits against The Washington Post and CNN for $250 million and $275 million, respectively, for their coverage of the incident that resulted in a national outpouring of hate toward Sandmann and the other students. The Washington Post and CNN settled the lawsuits privately in 2020 for undisclosed amounts.
On March 31, U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins rejected the SPLC's motion to dismiss the DIS defamation case. Watkins wrote the "SPLC argues that labeling DIS as an anti-immigrant hate group is 'an expression of opinion protected under the First Amendment' because the term 'anti-immigrant hate group' 'is not capable of being empirically proven true or false.' SPLC argues that the designation is a 'political opinion' on a 'highly controversial matter' that is not provable as false."
"Plaintiffs counter that SPLC's classification of DIS as an anti-immigrant hate group on its online publications of the Hate Map and Intelligence Report is not 'merely an opinion' but conveys to a reasonable reader a fact reached after 'some rigorous analysis.' Plaintiffs have the better argument," the judge continued.
The court wrote, "SPLC's statements were not made during a heated public debate, but rather were published, arguably after deliberation and investigation. Construing the inferences in Plaintiffs' favor, a reasonable reader could conclude that SPLC was 'literally contending' that DIS is a group that hates and vilifies all immigrants. These circumstances are enough 'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence,' that SPLC's designation of DIS as an anti-immigrant hate group 'is sufficiently factual to be susceptible of being proved true or false.'"
King started the DIS organization in 2005 and named it in memory of a 16-year-old Georgia boy killed by an illegal immigrant in a car crash in 2000. The illegal immigrant fled to Mexico and has never been brought to justice for killing Dustin Inman, according to Liberty Counsel.
According to the nonprofit law firm, the SPLC designated the DIS as an "anti-immigrant hate group," in its annual Intelligence Reports published in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 and classified it as a "hate group" in its annual Intelligence Reports and Hate Maps published in 2019, 2020, and 2021. The SPLC also claimed that King "focuses on vilifying all immigrants."
However, in 2011 the SPLC explicitly stated that the DIS was not a "hate group" and it did not meet its definition of an "anti-immigrant hate group." Yet the SPLC reversed course in 2018, right after registering a lobbyist to oppose a bill the DIS supported.
Accordingly, King was able to present the argument in the case that the SPLC had reason to doubt the truth of its claim that the DIS was actually an "anti-immigrant hate group."
As CBN News has reported, once upon a time, the Southern Poverty Law Center served as a champion in the civil rights struggle. It's said that the SPLC helped put the Ku Klux Klan out of business. Klan membership used to be in the millions. Today it's only a few thousand.
But when you glance at the SPLC's modern map of so-called "hate groups" in America today, there are so many that one might think America is consumed with hate.
The SPLC is notorious for labeling Christian organizations "hate groups" for their biblical views on issues like marriage and LGBTQ lifestyles.
What is more disturbing is what the SPLC's opponents call a link to deadly violence against Christians and conservatives.
On August 15, 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins stormed into the Family Research Council's Washington offices intending to kill. He wounded the building manager before he was stopped. A bullet hole was left in a console in the lobby as a reminder.
After his arrest, Corkins told the FBI he used the SPLC's material to target the FRC's Washington offices. In an FBI video of his interrogation, Corkins said, "Southern Poverty Law lists anti-gay groups. I found them online, did a little bit of research, went to the website, stuff like that."
In 2013, Floyd Corkins was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his attempted mass murder at the FRC offices.
The DIS claims it has struggled to raise money after the "hate group" smear, according to The Daily Signal. It is seeking donations to help in its legal fight with the SPLC. So far, the DIS has raised $13,815 of its $25,000 goal.
On the other side, the SPLC reports it presently has a huge endowment of $731.9 million.
CBN News reached out to the SPLC for comment. We'll post it here if we hear back.
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