The Violent Consequences of Being Branded ‘Hateful’

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The Southern Poverty Law Center is America’s premier ‘hate watch’ organisation. It is treated by many as an impartial arbiter of extremism. It designates certain organisations as ‘hate groups’ and produces a ‘hate map’ of the US. But the concept of hate – as with hate speech and hate crime – is entirely subjective and elastic. It can be applied to groups that genuinely promote hate and violence, or simply to groups promoting a message that is at odds with progressive orthodoxy. In 2012, Jessica Prol Smith worked for the Family Research Council (FRC), a Christian organisation. She discovered firsthand the potentially violent consequences of being labelled as hateful – and being lumped in with racists and fascists.

Prol Smith currently works for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), another Christian organisation promoting religious liberty. spiked caught up with Prol Smith and her colleague, Jeremy Tedesco, ADF’s vice president of US advocacy, to find out more.

spiked: Can you describe the attack on your offices in 2012?

Jessica Prol Smith: It was 15 August, 2012 – so, seven years ago. It ended up being one of the worst days of my life. I was working as an editor for the Family Research Council. I was just about to go to lunch when we were put on lockdown. A man with a gun entered my office with a plan to kill as many of us as possible. He had brought in a dozen Chick-fil-A sandwiches in his backpack and rounds of ammunition. He later testified that he wanted ‘to smear the chicken sandwiches in victims faces as a statement’.

My co-worker, Leo, managed to interrupt his attempt to shoot the place up. He really saved the day. It was later that we learned from the gunman’s testimony to law enforcement that he had got the idea to target our office by looking at the SPLC’s hate map. The map lumps together mainstream conservative organisations right next to the KKK and other racists. It was appalling and offensive to see the SPLC compare peaceful, Christian organisations like the ones I’ve worked for to the KKK.

spiked: Are the Family Research Council or Alliance Defending Freedom hateful organisations by any stretch?

Prol Smith: The FRC focuses on protecting freedoms of religion, protecting the rights of the unborn and protecting the value of the family. The ADF is one of the nation’s most respected and successful Supreme Court advocates. We’ve won nine cases at the Supreme Court since 2011, and we work so that all Americans can peacefully live out their faith. But the SPLC has decided that they disagree with both organisations on some policy stances and so it slapped a ‘hate’ label on them. It has slandered them, simply because it disagrees with them.

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