The Georgia Bureau of Investigation charged a staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center with domestic terrorism for his involvement Sunday in a violent attack on police officers at the construction site for a police training facility near Atlanta.
Although the SPLC claimed the attorney was a legal observer, the agitators were dressed in Antifa-style black bloc for the attack on the facility they call Cop City, and the SPLC has a long history of carrying water for Antifa rioters.
The SPLC claimed that the lawyer’s arrest “is not evidence of any crime, but of heavy-handed law enforcement intervention against protesters.”
The Atlanta Police Department reported that agitators threw “rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks at police,” destroying multiple pieces of construction equipment and threatening bodily harm. But the SPLC’s statement didn’t condemn the violence, instead directing criticism at “a months-long escalation of policing tactics against protesters and observers.”
The National Lawyers Guild, which released a joint statement with the SPLC and identified the SPLC attorney and alleged terrorist as one of the guild’s legal observers, called all 23 arrests Sunday, out of 34 detained, “part of ongoing state repression and violence against environmental justice protesters.”
Police released video showing more than 100 rioters advancing on the future site of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.
The National Lawyers Guild stated that it “remains in solidarity with the movement to Stop Cop City,” and the SPLC urged the “de-escalation of violence and police use of force against Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities,” without mentioning the violence against police officers at the construction site.
This move echoes a long pattern at the SPLC, which has become notorious for branding mainstream conservative and Christian organizations “hate groups,” putting them on a map with chapters of the Ku Klux Klan yet keeping Antifa off its list and map despite its extremist, violent methods.
Richard Cohen, who resigned as SPLC president amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal in 2019, did offer a rare, explicit condemnation of Antifa violence in 2017. Even then, he defended the SPLC’s decision to keep Antifa off its list of “hate groups.”
“We oppose these groups and what they’re trying to do. We just don’t think anyone should be able to censor someone else’s speech,” Cohen told the Washington Examiner. He warned that Antifa’s violent tactics are “likely to lead to other forms of retaliation.”
“In Berkeley, Antifa showed up and shut down speeches. The next time the white supremacists brought the Oath Keepers with them, they brought their own army,” Cohen added. Yet he insisted that the SPLC would not brand Antifa a “hate group” because its adherents don’t discriminate against people on the basis of race, sexual orientation, or other characteristics protected by anti-discrimination laws.
“There might be forms of hate out there that you may consider hateful, but it’s not the type of hate we follow,” Cohen said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center defines a “hate group” as “an organization or collection of individuals that—based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities—has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” However, the SPLC has incorporated many apparent exceptions to the concept of “immutable characteristics.”
Immigration status, for example, is not an “immutable characteristic,” yet the SPLC maintains a list of 18 “anti-immigrant hate groups,” including the Center for Immigration Studies.
The SPLC also maintains a “general hate” section in its list of “hate groups,” including the Christian tract publisher Chick Tracts and the Proud Boys, a right-leaning agitation group that often engages in violent scuffles with Antifa. Although the Proud Boys repeatedly has denied accusations of racism, the SPLC points to statements from current and former leaders in condemning the group.
Yet the SPLC has not merely refused to brand Antifa a “hate group” alongside the Proud Boys. In June 2020, the SPLC attacked then-President Donald Trump for announcing his intention to designate Antifa as a terrorist organization.
“Antifa, short for anti-fascist, is a broad, community-based movement composed of individuals organizing against racial and economic injustice,” the SPLC’s “Hatewatch” wrote. “Those who identify with the label represent a large spectrum of the political left. The Trump administration frequently uses the term to describe any group or individual that demonstrates in opposition to its policies. Far-right extremists use similar tactics.”
The SPLC condemned Trump’s move as “unprecedented and alarming” and a threat to “the civil liberties of U.S. citizens, particularly those of color, who are already disproportionately policed.”
The organization claimed that Trump’s announcement about Antifa was “rooted in politics, not the present realities of the terror threat in the U.S.”
“Individuals loosely affiliated with Antifa are typically involved in skirmishes and property crimes at demonstrations across the country, but the threat of lethal violence pales in comparison to that posed by far-right extremists—a problem that, until the last year, federal authorities virtually ignored,” the SPLC added.
The summer 2020 riots following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis led to more than $2 billion in damages, according to Property Claim Services, which tracks property insurance claims.
This total eclipses the $775 million paid out in 1992 ($1.4 billion in 2020 dollars) after the Los Angeles riots following the acquittal of police officers who brutalized Rodney King. More than two dozen Americans died in the 2020 riots, according to The Guardian. Victims included black Americans, including retired police Capt. David Dorn.
The SPLC’s “Year in Hate” report for 2020, released in 2021, condemned as an example of “far-right and racist narratives” the idea that the riots represented a bigger problem than police violence against blacks.
Reporting on an August 2020 poll condicted by the SPLC, the report noted:
Despite some high-profile support for Black Lives Matter protests this summer, the poll showed that 51% of Americans thought that the looting which occurred in several cities was a bigger problem than police violence against Black people, and 51% also thought that the protests were not justified because the problem with police violence was isolated to a few ‘bad apples.’
These racist narratives and beliefs have been reinvigorated thanks to one of the most enduring and pernicious legacies of the Trump era: the far right’s success constructing a false alternative reality, bolstered by a never-ending stream of baseless conspiracy theories and disinformation.
I documented other connections between the SPLC and Antifa in my book “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” including activist researcher Megan Squire’s work feeding information to the SPLC. The magazine Wired profiled Squire as Antifa’s “secret weapon,” noting that although she doesn’t identify as Antifa, she refuses to condemn the group’s use of violence.
Since the book’s publication in 2020, Squire has joined the SPLC as deputy director for data analytics and open-source intelligence and she spoke at the Eradicate Hate Global Summit, held in September in Pittsburgh.
Extremism researcher Eoin Lenihan mapped the Twitter interactions of Antifa activists, finding strong connections to SPLC reporter Michael Hayden. Critics have attacked Lenihan’s credibility because of his previous internet activity. However, Cathy Young independently verified that Hayden’s stories for Newsweek in 2017 and 2018 “do, in fact, closely fit Lenihan’s description of the work of journalists he labels pro-Antifa: ‘downplaying Antifa violence while advancing Antifa talking points, and in some cases quoting Antifa extremists as if they were impartial experts.’”
Laird Wilcox, a longtime extremism researcher, attributed the August 2017 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, to the presence of Antifa.
“Had there been no Antifa people in Charlottesville, nothing would have happened,” Wilcox said in remarks first published in “Making Hate Pay.” “But because Antifa was there, you wound up with violence and all kinds of really ugly situations.”
Wilcox said Antifa and the SPLC work together “in an informal basis,” with Antifa “using information provided by the SPLC.” Yet he warned that there likely will not be any “easily documented cases of cooperation,” in part because Antifa “is remarkably decentralized in order to avoid liability.”
Wilcox also noted that Antifa agitators are “virtually” all white, “in order to avoid associating their violence and terrorism with black or brown activists.”
Notably, the Southern Poverty Law Center also provided a grant to establish the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, which modeled itself on the SPLC. In November, a Canadian court dismissed a defamation lawsuit against a conservative journalist who had claimed that the Canadian Anti-Hate Network helped Antifa.
“The evidence disclosed that CAHN did in fact assist Antifa and that the movement has been violent,” Deputy Judge David Dwoskin wrote in his ruling.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network has called for libraries to be “sites of anti-fascist resistance” and urged libraries to “combat disinformation and fearmongering about ‘antifa’ by carrying and promoting explicitly anti-fascist books.”
When confronted with the racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal that led the SPLC to fire its co-founder in 2019, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network told The Daily Signal that it “has no formal association or partnership with the SPLC.” However, the Canadian organization did not deny reports that the SPLC provided its initial grant or that it modeled itself on the SPLC.
The SPLC did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment on this report by publication time.
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