Just hours after the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) targeted parental rights organizations as “extremists,” a U.S. senator renewed his call to strip the SPLC of its tax-exempt status, concerned parents refused to back down, and evidence emerged that the organization may have coordinated its results with the Biden administration.
The latest actions came as the SPLC’s annual “Year in Hate and Extremism” designated small bands of parents who object to public schools promoting pornographic books, critical race theory, and transgender ideology to their children as “antigovernment extremist groups.” The report targets anywhere from one to several hundred chapters of Parents Defending Education, Parental Rights in Education, Parents Involved in Education, Moms for Liberty, and No Left Turn in Education. The number of groups lumped into the newly minted category of publicly threatening extremists now far outnumber the SPLC’s list of so-called “hate groups,” with 702 compared to 523.
“We’re talking about moms and dads doing what God created them to do: protect their children. And they’re being labeled extremist, put on a hate map, and potentially being targeted by the loony Left,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
The president and founder of one of the groups on the list told Perkins their being labeled an “antigovernment extremist group” and listed alongside the Ku Klux Klan turned reality on its head. “We’ve actually gotten taxpayer-funded public school districts to cease racial segregation programs” enacted under “the guise of ‘affinity groups’ or ‘healing circles,’” Nicole Neily of Parents Defending Education told “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” on Wednesday night. “There are schools in 2022, 2023 that are segregating children on the basis of skin color. We have ended that practice, and that is apparently ‘hateful.’”
Neily noted that her group does not harbor an anarchic disdain for the proper role of government. “We have worked through the government to submit comments to the Federal Register, to file complaints with the Office of Civil Rights, to testify before Congress,” activity she noted that remains protected by the First Amendment’s right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Government schools, she said, have progressively overstepped their constitutional role to instruct children on controversial moral and scientific issues.
Upon the report’s release, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) renewed his call for the controversial SPLC to lose its status as a 501(c)3 organization. “The SPLC is a corrupt slush fund devoted to defamation,” said Cotton, adding that the parental rights organizations in the report “should be proud of the work they do for families and kids” in public schools. “I’ve long argued that the SPLC should lose its tax exempt status. Engaging in systematic defamation is not a tax-exempt purpose,” he added. (Emphasis in original.)
In 2019, Cotton asked the IRS commissioner to explore whether the Southern Poverty Law Center had fully complied with federal laws certifying nonprofit groups. “The SPLC’s defining characteristic is to fundraise off of defamation,” he wrote.
The SPLC’s fundraising activities and generous compensation policies have long raised eyebrows in the nonprofit world. The SPLC has amassed more than $614 million in assets, reporting more than $30 million in excess revenue on its 2020 IRS filings alone. After a reported “house cleaning” that expelled founder Morris Dees, little seems to have changed in their finances.
“According to its most recent tax return, SPLC paid $44 million in total compensation to its employees and over $444,000 to its CEO, Margaret Huang.” Michael Watson, research director at the Capital Research Center, told The Washington Stand.
Watson said stripping the SPLC of its tax-exempt status would amount to “a nuclear option.”
“SPLC’s habit of disparaging conservatives who disagree with the organization’s ideology of exposing young children to inappropriate sexualization and critical race theory can be exposed and countered in the public sphere,” Watson told TWS. Due to its “ideological bias, government agencies and corporations must not rely on SPLC to judge organizations’ activities.”
Others believe, at a minimum, the SPLC is overdue for a thorough investigation. “Senator Cotton is correct to wonder about the SPLC’s benefiting from 501(c)3 status while defaming a broad swath of the American public,” Chris Gacek, FRC senior fellow for Regulatory Affairs, told TWS. “That is not an activity in the public interest, and the IRS should have opened an investigation back in 2019 when they originally asked [for it].” Four years of IRS inaction contrasts with its heavy-handed treatment of Tea Party, pro-life, and other conservative organizations during the Obama-Biden administration.
Numerous U.S. senators joined Cotton’s call to disregard the SPLC’s opinions. “The SPLC is a left-wing activist group masquerading as a civil rights organization. Its disgusting attacks on parental rights groups is only this sham organization’s latest effort to try to delegitimize the conservative movement,” said Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the SPLC “a hateful, bigoted, and despicable organization” for “attacking and labeling parents who want to have a say in their own kids’ education” as radicals, a designation he branded “asinine.”
“The SPLC is a garbage organization now dedicated to harassing groups that advocate for parents,” said Senator J.D. Vance (R-Ohio). “In the future, their pronouncements must be met with scorn.”
The SPLC has for years designated groups committed to spreading Christian love as “hate groups,” including the Family Research Council, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and D. James Kennedy Ministries. The group also lumped in with neo-Nazi skinheads groups advocating for limiting legal or illegal immigration — a position shared by a plurality of Americans, according to the most recent Gallup poll — such as the Center for Immigration Studies, the Dustin Inman Society, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Broadening its category of purported radicalism casts a wider net of aspersions, said Perkins. “I think this is an act of desperation,” aimed at stifling political opposition — a move that evidence shows may have been coordinated with the Biden administration.
“I’m wondering if the White House reached out to” the SPLC for the letter, said Perkins on Wednesday afternoon, much as it approached the National School Boards Association to complain about parents. “We know that the Democrats in this administration work with the SPLC.”
As he spoke, news broke that the SPLC employee who designated the parental rights groups as extremists conferred with the Biden administration five months ago. White House visitor logs show that Susan Corke, the director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, met with National Security Council counterterrorism director John Picarelli on January 26, though their specific conversation is not reported.
“Of course. This is a corrupt racket,” said Jay Richards, a senior research fellow in religious liberty and civil society at The Heritage Foundation.
Records show Biden administration officials met with members of the National School Boards Association, courting them to issue a letter bashing the concerned parents who turned up at school board meetings as potentially deadly. On the basis of that letter, the FBI opened 25 “Guardian assessment” investigations of parents attending school board meetings, including six run by the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, the House Weaponization of Government Subcommittee revealed in March.
“This is just an attempt to chill [speech] and silence parents,” Neily told Perkins. “But at the end of the day, we will not be silenced. These are our children.”
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.
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