What is a Hate Group?

by | Aug 16, 2017 | SPLC News | 10 comments

What is a Hate Group? Does the SPLC Even Know?

What is a hate group? Well, that’s a tough question and the answer depends on who you ask. Generally speaking, most Americans understand that hate is a part of life. We may hate Brussels sprouts, doing our taxes, or working out. But those hatreds are logical and understandable (seriously, almost no one likes Brussels sprouts).

On the other hand, we almost universally disapprove of irrational hatred. Typically when we use the term “hate” in a political sense, we’re actually referring to racism (prejudice against other races based on the belief that one’s own race is superior) or religious intolerance (prejudice directed against other religious creeds based on the belief that one’s own beliefs are superior). So it’s pretty obvious that groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party are groups that preach hatred – they exist to perpetuate negative stereotypes about racial and religious groups.

Where Did the Term Originate?

There is no agreed-upon legal, academic, or political meaning associated with the term “hate group.” No one is quite sure where the term originated. And definitions offered by universities, political organizations, and research institutions tend to be self-serving. They usually define any organizations that don’t agree with them as hate groups.

In the end, a significant amount of unpleasant speech is perfectly legal in the United States. The price we pay for the freedom to speak our minds in political forums is that the government won’t silence those who disagree with the majority, or a powerful minority. That means it’s incumbent upon concerned citizens to challenge views that they disagree with. But that has to be done in a responsible fashion if we want to make sure that we don’t suppress the views of the weak, the unpopular, or those whose opinions hover outside the mainstream.

Tragically, most of the groups in the business of labeling other political organizations “hate groups” are simply trying to undermine the legitimacy of their opponents’ political views. Curiously, the Southern Poverty Law Center doesn’t provide a clear definition of “hate groups” anywhere on its website. In an article explaining why – paradoxically – it doesn’t believe that Black Lives Matter is a hate group, it mentions that, “Generally speaking, hate groups are, by our definition, those that vilify entire groups of people based on immutable characteristics such as race or ethnicity.” But nowhere does the organization provide a clearly delineated methodology for determining who is and who isn’t a “hate group.”

“Generally speaking, hate groups are, by our definition, those that vilify entire groups of people based on immutable characteristics such as race or ethnicity.”

Richard Cohen

President, Southern Poverty Law Center

The SPLC Uses the “Hate Group” Label to Their Advantage

The SPLC claims to focus on groups that “malign entire classes of people for their immutable characteristics.” But that’s not actually true. A very large number of the groups maligned by the SPLC are simply politically conservative. Take most of the immigration groups designated as hate groups: nearly all of them are focused on the legal status of immigrants, not their ethnicity. As a matter of fact, being an immigrant isn’t an immutable characteristic – immigrants can naturalize and become U.S. citizens. And immigrants come from all over the world. Some differ in appearance, or language preference, from the majority of Americans. Others, like Canadians, come from cultures so similar to our own that they are virtually indistinguishable from most of us. Of course, groups like FAIR, the Center for Immigration Studies, and U.S. Inc. couldn’t care less where immigrants are from as long as they obey the immigration laws of the United States.

So, what exactly is a “hate group”? Well, apparently even the folks over at the SPLC don’t know. But don’t disagree with them or they’ll lump you in with the skinheads and the Klan!

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