Washington’s Democratic attorney general released a report late last year urging the state to crack down on domestic terrorism and enlisting an analyst at an organization notorious for putting conservative groups on a “hate map” alongside chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, a map that has inspired at least one act of terrorism.
The attorney general, Bob Ferguson, called on the Washington Legislature to pass a bill launching a commission to study domestic terrorism and urging state action. That bill, HB 1333, stalled in committee earlier this year, but conservative groups in Washington state have raised the alarm that the effort remains a threat to their liberties, and those of anyone else who does not toe the party line.
“As a constitutional lawyer and member of the Washington State Bar Association, I believe this report poses a clear and present danger to the civil rights of those that law enforcement officials deem as holding ‘anti-government ideologies’ or who communicate ‘online disinformation,’” Kevin Snider, chief counsel at a nonprofit law firm, the Pacific Justice Institute, told The Daily Signal in a statement Monday.
“The free speech and press clauses [of the Constitution] rise to their zenith when citizens communicate anti-government sentiments,” he noted. “There are numerous laws in place to investigate and prosecute acts of violence. But consider that this report calls for family members to turn in ‘someone they suspect may be on the path of radicalization,’ government funding of journalists to ‘combat misinformation and disinformation,’ and recommends the establishment of ‘mobile advisory centers’ to provide ‘advice and guidance on dealing with right-wing extremism.’”
“There can be little doubt that this report provides the building blocks for a police state,” he warned.
HB 1333 “would criminalize certain forms of expression based on what members of a state commission consider to be their definition of ‘domestic extremism,’” Washington Policy Center Director Liv Finne warned in a bill analysis earlier this year. “Creating a state-level ‘Ministry of Truth’ would not only undermine democratic norms, it would have a chilling effect on public debate, freedom of speech, and civic participation in Washington state.”
The report faults the U.S. Code definition of “domestic terrorism” because it “fails to capture the full scope of the problem Washington State faces, which encompasses other forms of extremist and political violence; threats, coercion, and intimidation; online disinformation; extremist recruitment and government infiltration efforts; and the general spread of extreme white supremacist, antigovernment, and other ideologies” (emphasis added).
The “antigovernment” term echoes the Southern Poverty Law Center, a far-left organization notorious for branding mainstream conservative and Christian nonprofits as “hate groups” or “antigovernment extremists” and placing them on a map with chapters of the Ku Klux Klan.
As I explain in my book “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the SPLC took the program it has used to bankrupt organizations associated with the Ku Klux Klan and weaponized it against conservative groups, partially to scare its donors into ponying up cash and partially to silence ideological opponents. In 2019, amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal that led the SPLC to fire its co-founder, a former employee came forward, calling the “hate” accusations a “highly profitable scam.”
In 2012, a terrorist used the “hate map” to target a Christian nonprofit in Washington, D.C. While the SPLC condemned the attack, it kept the attack’s target on its “hate map.”
Earlier this year, the SPLC added parental rights groups, such as Moms for Liberty and Parents Defending Education, to the “hate map,” branding them “antigovernment groups.”
The FBI used the “hate group” list to target “radical-traditional Catholics” in an infamous memo earlier this year. According to the SPLC’s logic, the entire Roman Catholic Church arguably should be listed as a “hate group” because the SPLC cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church in branding the Ruth Institute a “hate group.”
It stands to reason that Ferguson’s report would echo the SPLC—after all, the attorney general enlisted an SPLC analyst to help draft the report.
Ferguson’s office tapped Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a professor and director of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research & Innovation Lab, for its “consultant team.” The report notes that Miller-Idriss served on the SPLC’s Tracking Hate and Extremism Advisory Committee, and that her work focuses on extremism on the “far right.”
Neither the SPLC nor American University responded to a request for comment responding to criticism or explaining how Miller-Idriss balances her focus on right-wing extremism with a respect for conservative views. Ferguson’s office did not respond to a request for comment on how his office’s involvement with Miller-Idriss might ideologically skew the commission to target conservatives.
The SPLC brands the Pacific Justice Institute an “anti-LGBT hate group,” a designation the institute disputes. The institute’s president, Brad Dacus, previously told The Daily Signal that the Southern Poverty Law Center twisted his previous statements out of context to smear him in this way.
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