FIRST ON THE DAILY SIGNAL—Todd McMurtry, the lawyer who secured settlements from CNN, NBC Universal, and The Washington Post on behalf of Covington Catholic High School teen Nick Sandmann, has joined the legal team for D.A. King and the Dustin Inman Society, who are suing the Southern Poverty Law Center for defamation.
“We’re proud of the willingness of both Liberty Counsel and Todd McMurtry in agreeing to represent us in defense of our good name and reputation from the ridiculous charges of the hatemongering Southern Poverty Law Center,” King, an anti-illegal immigration activist whose organization the SPLC branded an “anti-immigrant hate group,” told The Daily Signal in a phone interview Monday. “We’re also proud of Mr. McMurtry’s experience and success in defamation law.”
“I hope we are successful in court and that no violent, hate-filled supporter of the SPLC finds us first,” the plaintiff added. King was referring to a 2012 incident in which a now-convicted terrorist targeted the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., for a mass shooting, relying on the SPLC’s inclusion of the group on its “hate map” of organizations the left-wing SPLC considers bigoted or hateful in some way.
I wrote in my book “Making Hate Pay,” the SPLC routinely brands mainstream conservative and Christian organizations “hate groups,” putting them on a map with chapters of the Ku Klux Klan. Amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal in 2019, the SPLC fired its cofounder and a former employee came forward, calling the “hate” accusations a “highly profitable scam.”
McMurtry and the Christian law firm Liberty Counsel joined with King’s current lawyer, James McKoon, on Monday. McKoon, of the McKoon and Gamble law firm in Phenix City, Alabama, initially filed the lawsuit.
“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,'” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement Monday. “This label is false and those who rely upon it must stop.”
The SPLC has accused Liberty Counsel of being an “anti-LGBTQ hate group,” an accusation Liberty Counsel disputes. Liberty Counsel claims SPLC attacks it due to its Christian faith and opposition to same-sex marriage. In 2007, former SPLC spokesman Mark Potok said, “Our aim in life is to destroy these groups, completely destroy them.”
Staver said his organization’s decision to join King’s case had nothing to do with the SPLC’s accusation against Liberty Counsel.
“The decision that we made to represent this organization is unrelated to any other organization, including Liberty Counsel,” the firm’s founder and chairman said.
“Being acutely aware of SPLC’s history of false labeling organizations as ‘hate groups’ and the harm that it causes to these organizations” played a role in the decision, he added. “We felt that this was an important case to finally address this pattern of SPLC’s labeling.”
Legacy media outlets attacked Sandmann in 2019 when a video of him near the Lincoln Memorial while wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat after the annual March for Life went viral. McMurtry represented Sandmann in multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuits against legacy media outlets, securing undisclosed settlements from CNN, NBC Universal, and The Washington Post. A federal judge dismissed Sandmann’s other defamation lawsuits in July 2022.
King’s lawsuit against the Southern Poverty Law Center made it to the discovery process earlier this year. Other conservative groups have sued the SPLC for defamation, but King’s succeeded because King showed that the SPLC had reason to doubt the truth of its claim that his organization, the Dustin Inman Society, was an “anti-immigrant hate group.” In fact, the SPLC had explicitly stated that the society was not a “hate group” in 2011, but it reversed course in 2018, right after registering a lobbyist to oppose a bill the society supported.
The lawsuit cites an SPLC definition for “anti-immigrant hate group” that dates back to 2020, which no longer appears on the SPLC website—although the center appears not to have adopted a new definition:
Anti-immigrant hate groups are the most extreme of the hundreds of nativist groups that have proliferated since the late 1990s, when anti-immigration xenophobia began to rise to levels not seen in the United States since the 1920s. Most white hate groups are also anti-immigrant, but anti-immigrant hate groups single out that population with dehumanizing and demeaning rhetoric. Although many groups legitimately criticize American immigration policies, anti-immigrant hate groups go much further by pushing racist propaganda and ideas about non-white immigrants.
While the SPLC brands the society an “anti-immigrant hate group,” it does not point to any specific evidence that King or the society “maligned an entire class of people” or fit the definition cited above. “Further, a cursory review of [Plaintiff] DIS’s [Dustin Inman Society’s] website would have revealed that the Board of Advisors of [Plaintiff] DIS is a diverse group of Americans with a variety of racial and immigrant backgrounds,” the lawsuit alleges.
Inger Eberhart, a member of the society’s board and its director of communications, is a black woman; Everett Robinson and Catherine Davis are also black; Mary Grabar is a legal immigrant from Slovenia (then part of Yugoslavia); Maria Litland is a legal immigrant who appears on the Austrian Society of America website; and Sabine Durden-Coulter immigrated legally from Germany. Durden-Coulter lost her son in a 2012 car crash caused by an illegal immigrant (with no connection to the crash that killed Dustin Inman).
King’s organization is raising money for its legal defense on GoFundMe and the Christian crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo. While the SPLC has an endowment with more than $730 million, King had to mortgage his home to keep his organization afloat.
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Staver’s position.
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