The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recently published a report loosely based on the standoff at the Cliven Bundy ranch in Bunkerville titled “War in the West: The Bundy Ranch Standoff and the American Radical Right.”
It was duly reported by the press without a smidgen of skepticism.
“The Bundy standoff has invigorated an extremist movement that exploded when President Obama was elected, going from some 150 groups in 2008 to more than 1,000 last year,” the report declares breathlessly on its opening page, without an ounce of documentation or attribution. “Though the movement has waxed and waned over the last three decades, antigovernment extremists have long pushed, most fiercely during Democratic administrations, rabid conspiracy theories about a nefarious New World
SPCL is a multimillion-dollar leftist organization built on direct marketing and scare tactics, having little to do with poverty or law. It touts itself as “a nonprofit organization that combats hate, intolerance and discrimination through education and litigation.” Yet it spreads hate and intolerance with vile innuendo and base speculation. It also inflates its hate group count by counting every chapter in every state as a separate group.
In a press release announcing the “War” report, SPLC’s Mark Potok claims, “The Bundy ranch standoff wasn’t a spontaneous response to Cliven Bundy’s predicament but rather a well-organized, military-type action that reflects the potential for violence from a much larger and more dangerous movement.”
This conclusion is based entirely on an interview with a single person, 30-year-old Ryan Payne of Montana, who the report claims told “counter snipers” where to position themselves behind concrete and pavement barriers. Basically, as shown in photographs in the report and in numerous newspapers, a man with a rifle peeked between barriers on a highway overpass. In one photo there is one rifle and a half dozen cameras. No mention is made of the photo taken by Bundy family members of Bureau of Land Management snipers atop hills.
As for the claim that the support for Bundy was not spontaneous, the report contradicts its author by pointing out that Payne spontaneously drove though the night from Montana with a friend after becoming enraged by a YouTube video of BLM agents using a Taser on one of Bundy’s sons.
The standoff between the BLM and the armed supporters ended on April 12. The agency had shown up with hundreds of heavily armed agents to confiscate Bundy’s cattle, which had been grazing without permits on federal land in Gold Butte for 20 years.
Though the SPLC says 900 of Bundy’s cattle had been rounded up and placed in pens, media reports place the number at less than 500. SPLC also notes that the BLM packed up and left, citing a “serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public,” not mentioning that the BLM had not secured any place to take the confiscated cattle and had no choice but to let them go, as Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie has confirmed.
The report also makes numerous redundant references to the presence at the ranch of Jerad and Amanda Miller — who later ambushed and killed two Las Vegas police officers and a civilian who tried to stop them — suggesting an ideological affinity. The report did not mention that the couple was told to leave the ranch or that they had also attended a leftist Million Mask March in Indiana.
SPLC’s definition of hate groups is broad, sweeping in groups that question amnesty for illegal immigrants and church groups that oppose gay marriage. None of the so-called hate groups on its list is on the left of the political spectrum. There are groups with the phrase tea party or patriot in their names but none with occupy or pro choice.
SPLC was founded in 1971 by direct mail marketer Morris Dees. According to the organization’s 2012 IRS report, the latest available, it had assets of more than $290 million, receiving more than $37.5 million in contributions and grants that year.
Writer Potok was paid $163,000, while Dees fetched more than $350,000, as did President and CEO Richard Cohen. Eight other staffers were paid between $100,000 and $200,000 each.
As for tolerance, Potok told a hate crimes conference in 2007, “Sometimes the press will describe us as monitoring hate crimes and so on … I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, to completely destroy them.”
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may share your views with him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Read additional musings on his blog at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.