Mark Potok: Hatemonger

Exposing the Southern Poverty Law Center's devious mission to conflate conservatives with neo-Nazis and Klansmen.

[](/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/08/450.gif)In the wake of the recent murder of six worshippers in a Sikh temple outside of Milwaukee, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported that the killer, 40-year-old Wade Michael Page, was “a frustrated neo-Nazi” as well as a musician who had performed with two “racist skinhead bands.” Moreover, SPLC said that it had been listing the website of “Label56”—the distributor of albums produced by one of Page’s bands—as a “hate site” since 2006 “due to its active promotion and distribution of racist hate music.” In the final analysis, Page and his cohorts were on SPLC’s radar because that organization classifies Page’s brand of hate-filled stupidity as a form of “right wing” thinking, which it views, in turn, as the principal fountainhead of America’s allegedly persistent bigotry against nonwhites, homosexuals, and Muslims, among others. To be sure, the “HateWatch” section of SPLC’s website carries the caption, “Keeping an Eye on the Radical Right.” The Radical Left gets no mention at all.

SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok, who serves as editor-in-chief of the Center’s quarterly journal (Intelligence Report) and blog (Hatewatch), holds conservatives in very low regard—asserting, for instance, that the Tea Party “and similar groups” are “shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism.” Moreover, Potok has unambiguously declared that the “biggest domestic terror threat” in the U.S. today “pretty clearly comes from the radical right.” With regard to Wade Michael Page in particular, Potok surmises that “this man almost certainly mistook Sikhs for Muslims.” “It is the same old story that we see every time,” says Potok, “the same old story we saw with Balbir Singh [an Indian-born Sikh who was gunned down by a white man in Arizona] and those three murders after 911.”

Potok and SPLC are justified, of course, in identifying Page as a hate-filled racist. What cannot be justified, however, is their propensity for depicting atrocities like Page’s as evidence of America’s supposedly rampant “Islamophobia.” Amplifying Potok’s recent claim that “anti-Muslim groups” have proliferated dramatically over the past couple of years, the current issue of the Intelligence Report features a major piece titled “30 New Activists Heading Up the Radical Right.” “Explosive growth in several sectors of the radical right,” the report says, has caused “an anti-Muslim movement, almost entirely ginned up by political opportunists and hard-line Islamophobes,” to “gro[w] enormously since taking off in 2010, when reported anti-Muslim hate crimes went up by 50%.” Potok has ascribed this “astounding” increase to “the vicious rhetoric of Islam-bashing politicians and activists.”

The seemingly ominous 50% statistic, however, loses all its punch once we examine the actual raw numbers that SPLC omitted from its bold-faced alarm. According to FBI data, the number of “reported anti-Muslim hate crimes” nationwide increased from 107 in 2009 to 160 in 2010—technically a 50% increase, but hardly what anyone could legitimately characterize as an epidemic in a nation of 310 million people. Cognizant of this, Potok on a previous occasion noted that the FBI figures “dramatically understate the real level of reported and unreported hate crimes,” but emphasized that “they do offer telling indications of some trends.”

Yet a much more significant “trend” goes unmentioned by Potok and SPLC—specifically, that the “anti-Muslim hate-crime” count of 2010 was quite consistent with the normal, occasionally fluctuating number of such events in other recent years—e.g., 155 in 2002, 149 in 2003, and 156 in 2004. Equally noteworthy is the fact that when the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes had dropped from 156 in 2006 to 115 in 2007, SPLC, at that time, elected not to issue gleeful pronouncements that bigotry against Muslims was in steep decline. Any such assertions, of course, would have inconveniently contradicted SPLC’s customary depiction of America as a veritable cesspool of “right wing” “hate.”

A second unjustifiable practice by Potok and SPLC is their routine conflation of respectable conservative scholars, researchers, and journalists on the one hand, with morally bankrupt Klansmen, Aryan militiamen, and neo-Nazis (like Wade Michael Page) on the other. The objective of this tactic is to discredit and marginalize respectable conservatives by lumping them together with the very dregs of humanity and then smearing everyone with the same broad brush. For example, SPLC’s “30 New Activists” report features numerous profiles of Klansmen, skinheads, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis—people who wouldn’t be able to find a single conservative in 10,000 to say anything positive about them. Co-mingled with these profiles is one devoted to Frank Gaffney, Jr., founder and president of the Center for Security Policy. Denouncing Gaffney as “the anti-Muslim movement’s most paranoid propagandist,” the Intelligence Report derides him as someone “who sees ‘creeping Shariah’ everywhere—even in the ranks of his erstwhile allies”—specifically, Grover Norquist and Suhail Khan, whom Gaffney suspects “are Muslim Brotherhood agents.”

Anyone familiar with Gaffney’s work understands that he presents his views in a manner that is scholarly, reasoned, lucid, and founded entirely on verifiable facts; in short, he is the very antithesis of a “paranoid propagandist.” While Mark Potok and SPLC may be averse to acknowledging any of Islamic jihadism’s stubbornly unpleasant realities, Gaffney has in fact chronicled, in painstaking detail, examples of the stealth jihad in Europe as well as the U.S., in the realms of politics, economics, law, government, education, and employment. He has likewise chronicled, with equal attention to detail: (a) Grover Norquist’s troubling ties to a self-identified Islamic supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah; (b) Norquist’s efforts to help Sami Al-Arian’s National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom take the teeth out of the Patriot Act; and © the significance of Norquist’s sponsorship of Suhail Khan, who has not only praised jihadists who give their lives “for the cause of Islam,” but also supported legislation that would have banned the use of vital secret evidence in the terrorism trials of suspected jihadists. Yet to Mark Potok and SPLC, all this amounts to nothing more than “anti-Muslim” smoke-and-mirrors by a “paranoid propagandist.”

SPLC also derides Pamela Geller as “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.” Among Geller’s sins, by SPLC’s reckoning, is her characterization of Islam as “the most radical and extreme ideology on the face of the earth.”

An important correction is in order here; Viewed in proper context, it is clear that Geller used that phrase to describe Islam’s fundamental system of Sharia Law. It is remarkable that an organization whose self-declared mission is to track and combat “hate,” should deem it offensive for someone to classify, as “radical and extreme,” an ideology whose fundamental tenets countenance the death penalty for such transgressions as adultery, homosexuality, blasphemy, and apostasy; an ideology that relegates “infidels” to second-class (dhimmi) status; an ideology that unambiguously mandates jihad and calls for worldwide Islamic supremacy; and an ideology that relegates women to second-class status in a host of ways.

By SPLC’s telling, Geller exploited the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy as her “ticket to anti-Muslim superstardom” when she led, along with Islam scholar Robert Spencer, “an effort to depict the [Mosque] project’s planners as radical extremists.” Conspicuously absent from SPLC’s analysis is any substantive refutation of the suggestion that those planners were in fact extremists. Indeed the leader of the project, Faisal Abdul Rauf, is a permanent trustee of a New York-based Islamic Cultural Center whose Imams blamed “the Jews” for the 911 attacks. Moreover, Rauf has portrayed 911 as an Islamic “reaction” to unjust U.S. “policies” that served as “an accessory” to the attacks; he has accused the United States of having “more [innocent] Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaeda has on its hands of innocent non-Muslims”; he has said that “in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA”; he has praised Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the grotesquely anti-Semitic Muslim Brotherhood “spiritual leader” who supports Palestinian suicide bombings; he has described the “American political structure” as “Sharia-compliant”; he is a key member of a Malaysian-based organization that is the single largest donor to the Free Gaza Movement, which is a pro-Hamas initiative; and he has refused to give a definitive answer to the question of whether Hamas should be classified as a terrorist group. Is it really so outlandish to characterize Rauf’s views as “extremist”?

Just as SPLC conflates individual hatemongers with respectable conservatives, so does it lump together bands of neo-Nazi lunatics with “anti-Muslim groups” whose only transgression is that they dare to criticize Islam’s dark side; i.e., the Islamic jihad and Sharia Law. For instance, the Center has condemned such organizations as Concerned American Citizens, whose objective is to “develop a coalition with moderate Muslims … for promoting Islamic reform in America”; the Sharia Awareness Action Network, which seeks to educate “the American citizenry about how Sharia Law stands in opposition to Constitutional Law”; Political, a website that points out, quite accurately, that Islam is “a political ideology” that “divides the world into Muslims and unbelievers,” the latter of whom “must submit to Islam in all politics and public life”; and the Christian Action Network, which produced a documentary, titled Homegrown Jihad, featuring footage of activities inside terrorist training compounds throughout the United States.

Neither the declared objectives nor the public statements of these organizations call for any type of mistreatment of Muslims. But SPLC, presumably convinced of its own ability to ascertain the hidden motives of its ideological adversaries, nonetheless assures us that “anti-Muslim” bigotry is the animating force that drives them. Thus the Center seeks to delegitimize these groups as the moral equivalents of Klansmen. This is standard-operating-procedure for Mark Potok and his crew. In late 2007, for instance, SPLC, working as a propaganda arm for the National Council of La Raza, labeled the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)—whose mission is to “improve border security” and “stop illegal immigration”—as a “hate group.” “What we are hoping very much to accomplish is to marginalize FAIR,” Potok candidly confirmed at the time. “We don’t think they should be a part of the mainstream media.” Same story, different day.

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