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Right Wing Media Target SPLC As Anti-LGBTQ Hate Groups Come Under Fire

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Right Wing Media Target SPLC As Anti-LGBTQ Hate Groups Come Under Fire


Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.


Following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ controversial speaking engagement at an event hosted by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), right-wing media figures lashed out at ABC and NBC News for accurately reporting that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated ADF as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

On July 11, Sessions spoke at an event hosted by ADF, the nation’s largest anti-LGBTQ hate group. Many progressive and LGBTQ advocacy organizations objected to Sessions’ decision to attend the event, in part because of ADF’s long-standing history of anti-LGBTQ extremism. Sessions’ office initially refused to release the transcript of his speech, but it was leaked to the conservative and extreme anti-LGBTQ website The Federalist.

In their reporting on Sessions’ speech, both ABC News and NBC News accurately noted that the SPLC has designated ADF as an “anti-LGBT hate group.” ABC reported that SPLC described ADF as a group that “specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally,” also adding that ADF objected to its hate group designation as a “lie.” The report also quoted SPLC’s deputy legal director for its LGBT Rights Project, who said ADF had “rightfully earned” the hate group label.

In multiple reports, NBC News described ADF as a “conservative Christian law firm that was designated a ‘hate group’ in 2016 by the Southern Poverty Law Center” and highlighted its role in promoting bathroom bans “aimed at keeping transgender people out of restrooms and other private facilities that correspond to their gender identity and presentation.” NBC noted ADF’s years-long attempts at criminalizing homosexuality and Sessions’ concerning record on LGBTQ issues. The network also included a response from an ADF attorney who attempted to delegitimize SPLC by calling it “increasingly irrelevant” and “extreme.”

Following these reports, right wing media figures quickly attacked NBC and ABC News. ADF responded as well, issuing a statement demanding a retraction from ABC and claiming that the network had “committed journalistic malpractice,” saying it “cut and paste false charges … by a radically left-wing, violence-inciting organization.”

In a July 13 National Review article, senior writer and former ADF senior counsel David French called SPLC a “dangerous joke” that spreads “vicious hate.” French claimed that ADF was labeled a hate group “merely because [its members] advocate for orthodox Christian principles and the liberty to live those principles.” He also suggested that there are only two forms of extremism that SPLC should track — “racist terrorists and white supremacists” — and concluded that “media outlets who use the SPLC to assess Christian speech expose only their own bias and incompetence.”

Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, declared that ABC News reporters “smeared Christians who believe the Bill of Rights secures religious liberty as a ‘hate group’” and argued that ADF “is not a hate group at all, but a civil liberties organization that battles for religious liberty.” Hemingway went on to warn the media against using SPLC’s designations in the future, threatening that they would be turning “journalism into anti-religious propaganda on behalf of a partisan group” and could potentially “be perceived as enemies of average Americans.”

Katrina Trinko, managing editor of The Daily Signal, wrote that SPLC’s designations put “conservatives’ safety at risk” of persecution and violence by the left, and that “once again, the mainstream media is demonstrating it doesn’t care about the impact of extremist rhetoric on conservatives.” Right-wing outlet The Daily Caller published a post about ADF’s demand that ABC News retract its story, writing that SPLC “frequently smears conservatives as ‘extremists.’” It also published tweets from conservatives who “blasted the media coverage of ADF as an obvious example of media bias.”

During the July 14 edition of his show, Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson called SPLC a “totally discredited but extremely rich left-wing organization” that attempts to “shut down legitimate debate by labeling ideas it disagrees with as ‘hate speech.’” Carlson asserted that NBC News and SPLC “think they’re in charge” of deciding “which ideas are legitimate and which ideas are so dangerous we must suppress them.” Carlson also hosted ADF Vice President Kristen Waggoner, who asserted that ABC and NBC had committed “journalistic malpractice,” and she and Carlson both said SPLC is a “scam.”

In addition to the numerous right-wing media attacks, a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #SPLCexposedwas launched by numerous other SPLC-identified hate groups and right-wing figures, including anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council, anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform, and anti-Muslim extremist Brigitte Gabriel.

This reaction is nothing new. Hate groups and far-right commentators have been predictably outraged in the past when mainstream media like The Associated Press and CBS News’ Bob Schieffer properly identified hate group representatives. Just last month, ADF similarly lashed out at Time magazine and columnist Judy Shepard over a piece outlining the extent of ADF’s anti-LGBTQ extremism and its body of work targeting trans students with bathroom bans in schools. In 2014, an ADF attorney asserted that the murder of Shepard’s son Matthew was a hoax to advance the “homosexual agenda.”

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

However, as Media Matters for America has noted, it is a myth that the SPLC bases its hate group designations on conservative or religious beliefs about sexuality and marriage. As SPLC stated in 2010, when it first began listing anti-LGBTQ hate groups, “viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.” Organizations are labeled anti-LGBTQ hate groups when they knowingly spread “demonizing lies about the LGBT community,” engage in “baseless, incendiary name-calling,” or actively work to criminalize the lives of LGBTQ people.

SPLC added ADF to its list of anti-LGBTQ hate groups in February 2017 because ADF’s leaders and affiliated lawyers have “regularly demonized LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians’” and have also “supported the criminalization of homosexuality in several countries.”

As a majority of Americans have grown to support LGBTQ equality, hate groups now cloak anti-LGBTQ extremism under the false pretense of protecting religious freedom or privacy, or protecting women and children from sexual assault. ADF, for instance, has recently made the rounds in the media for representing clients in “religious freedom” and “free speech” cases. But it is also the group behind many of the anti-LGBTQ billsproposed in state legislatures and bathroom bans proposed in school districts, which have been introduced in unprecedented numbers over the last two years.

In the past, ADF has openly advocated to “recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.” And in 2012, ADF published a list of suggested and discouraged terminology in its media guide, instructing readers to use the phrase “homosexual agenda” instead of “lesbian and gay civil rights movement,” refer to transgender people as “sexually confused,”and use the term “special privileges” when discussing anti-discrimination laws. In an amicus brief for Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court decision that declared anti-sodomy laws across the country unconstitutional, ADF argued that “the history of this country reflects a deep conviction that sodomy is criminally punishable conduct and not a constitutionally protected activity” and that “state legislatures have always possessed a broad authority to outlaw private, consensual sex.”

ADF’s actions speak for themselves. Despite the group’s efforts to maintain its highly cultivated facade of respectability in the media, its history of anti-LGBTQ extremism cannot be undone or erased. When journalists employ SPLC’s hate group designation and contextualize ADF’s current work, they provide accurate, much-needed information to the public.


Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters



  1. dbtheonly July 20, 2017

    Though we’ve discussed this before, here’s another example of what constitutes “religious liberty”. How far is it permissible to have “your religious beliefs” impact others? What’s a “man of faith” to do when “authority” tells him to do something that violates his conscience?

    Remember though, rules for one, are rules for all.

    1. kep July 20, 2017

      The SPLC deems any group that does not agree with their agenda as “hate groups”.
      As far as “rules for one, are rules for all.”, why does that not apply to the Clintons, Obamas, or liberals in general? Liberals seem to have a separate set of rules for their ruling elite, and another for everyone else.

      1. dbtheonly July 20, 2017

        You say that and still defend Trump? One rule for all? All billionaires maybe.

        How much do you get paid for each response? I’ve got a few days off &, for the right price, will respond all day.

    2. dtgraham July 21, 2017

      That man of faith who is refusing authority’s call to do something, may want to ask himself first if his conscience is being violated by someone who’s guilty of nothing more than innocently belonging to a certain group for which they have no choice in the matter. No choice insofar as belonging.

    3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 21, 2017

      Let us not forget that those who are most strident about “religious liberty” are usually the very ones who wish to impose their “liberty” on others—whether the other person wishes such an imposition or not.
      True liberty respects the rights of others—not impose it. I should offer my opinion on a subject, but must do so with respect, and whether the time is right to express that opinion. As you no doubt have already noticed in today’s social climate, many people have trouble figuring what is best to say and what we should remain silent on; whether the time is right to make a comment, or whether some passage of time is required before responding—etc.
      To view the world strictly in AC/DC terms, black/white, misses a lot of granularity in between.

      1. dbtheonly July 22, 2017

        True enough, but I’m trying to find the forest, not get lost in a bunch of trees.

        Are you politely pointing out that a failing of mine is to want hard and fast rules when life requires more nuance and gray?

        I certainly view the refusal to bake wedding cakes for gays to be much less threatening to society than the old Mormon idea that Blacks are an inferior race. But I’m still uneasy at allowing the government, or worse, the mob, at deciding what religious practices are permissible.

        1. dtgraham July 23, 2017

          Put yourself in the shoes of those who get told that their cakes are immoral and can’t be done, despite laws which say that everyone who walks through the doors of your business can’t be turned away for frivolous reasons. You might change your mind.

          So all religious practises could be permissible in your view huh. Just so long as the adherents are sincere. The “old Mormons” would agree.

          When your religion causes you to discriminate against otherwise innocent people for no apparent reason other than your religion’s teachings, that’s where your religious freedom must come to an end. It’s at that point. That’s what many other countries have decided. This isn’t that hard.

          1. dbtheonly July 23, 2017

            If you don’t mind my saying, you’ve wandered into those very trees I was speaking to Aaron about.

            But for the record, I view burning women to death and denying a place in your religion to a group based only on the color of their skin to be worse than refusing to bake a wedding cake.

            Equally I’m not sure you see the ramifications when you vociferously defend “your side”.

            “despite laws which say that everyone who walks through the doors of your business can’t be turned away for frivolous reasons.”

            So Cohen’s Bakery has to bake the “Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler” cake they were requested? Happened 4-5 years ago. Parents, unwisely, named their son Adolf Hitler Smith. Bakery refused to do the cake for kid’s third(?) birthday.

            “When your religion causes you to discriminate against otherwise innocent
            people and deny them basic human rights for no apparent reason other
            than your religion’s teachings, that’s where your religious freedom must
            come to an end.”

            Kid is innocent. He’s three years old.

            Sikhs and their beards & hair? France & Muslim women and head scarves?

            Laws need to be applicable across the board, to all religions, the freedom you grant one can not be denied to another.

          2. dtgraham July 23, 2017

            We’re talking blatant and obvious discrimination against wannabe customers who are in a protected group covered by law. For oddball cases and strange one-offs, that’s where lawyers and courts come in.

            The thing is, protection for sexual orientation (transgender etc…) is not covered federally in the U.S., just locally in some cases. I was more referring to countries where they are a fully protected group.

            Protection in U.S. federal law is centered around race, colour, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, and political affiliation or belief. Non-profit organizations like churches are exempt from the 1964 federal civil rights act though.

            If there is no state, federal or local law prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations against a particular group of people, then you can legally refuse to serve that group of people. Gay people can also be denied employment and housing just for their orientation status, in states where they’re not protected.

            You can refuse to serve someone even if they’re in a protected group, but the refusal can’t be arbitrary and you can’t apply it to just one group of people.

            To avoid being arbitrary, there must be a reason for refusing service and you must be consistent. There could be a dress code to maintain a sense of decorum, or fire code restrictions on how many people can be in your place of business at one time, or a policy related to the health and safety of your customers and employees. But you can’t just randomly refuse service to someone because you don’t like the way they look or dress.

            Second, you must apply your policy to everyone. For example, you can’t turn away a black person who’s not wearing a tie and then let in a tie-less white person. You also can’t have a policy that sounds like it applies to everyone but really just excludes one particular group of people. So, for example, a policy against wearing headscarves in a restaurant would probably be discriminatory against Muslims.

            There was one case where a baker refused service to a customer who wanted her to bake a cake with anti-gay Bible verses on it. The customer argued that he was discriminated against because of his religious beliefs. But the court ruled that this was not discrimination because the baker had a consistent policy of refusing to create cakes that used derogatory language or imagery.

            In another case, a baker refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, saying that it violated his religious beliefs. The court held the baker liable, saying that his reason was just a pretext for discriminating against gays. This would obviously have been in a U.S. jurisdiction where gays were protected from discrimination locally.

            No shirt, no shoes, no service, would be a dress code that could also relate to health and safety issues. You usually see a sign like that in beach towns where tourists are walking around shirtless or shoeless. As long as the policy is applied to everyone equally, it’s not likely to violate any discrimination laws.

            Don’t be afraid to protect people based on sexual orientation. Courts will work out unusual cases and begin establishing precedents. Don’t let trees deter you.

            Sikhs? There are a handful of Sikhs now who are members of parliament in the Canadian parliament. They can also be members of the RCMP and the military with their turbins, and they have religious protection that way in employment. Their turbins aren’t an issue, and that’s likely the case elsewhere.

            As to the Muslim headscarf ban in France, that’s one where it’s hard to see this ruling holding up as the inevitable cases make their way through the courts. We shall see.

  2. Kyle July 20, 2017

    If Sessions cracks his knuckles, someone will call it “controversial.”

    1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 21, 2017

      Sessions’ very existence, like that of Trump’s, is controversial, Kyle. The sooner you get hip to this the less underexposed to the light you’ll become.
      Like Trump, Sessions is an anti-Christ type of figure.

      What do I mean by that? Well, as you know, Christianity is all about love for one’s fellow man, regardless of his/her preferences. But Trump and Sessions choose to operate with a different standard than that put forth by Jesus. Ergo, Sessions, Trump, and all others(maybe you?), who insist on fomenting discord and therefore cause rancor, are against the Will and purpose of Religion.
      Even you should be able to follow this obvious path of logic and spiritual verity I’ve laid plain before you.

      In conclusion, Sessions, whether he farts, burps, and opens his mouth, is causing controversy. Such is his nature, as it is Donald’s as well.

      1. Kyle September 2, 2017

        Good satire there. Thanks.
        I like people with a sense of humor.

  3. dtgraham July 21, 2017

    I hate this game that the American right plays about complaining that legitimate debate on the free and open exchange of ideas is being shut down. Who’s to decide what debate is legitimate they claim? It’s all on the table they say. They hide behind that concept as a cover for something much darker.

    As though advocating for the right to openly discriminate against groups based on race, gender, or sexual orientation is acceptable in the marketplace of free speech. As if campaigning on the notion that teaching your children that women aren’t quite equal to men or that LGBT people are degenerates, should occupy the same place as teaching full gender and orientation equality. Just depends on what you believe, right? Sometimes your religion compels discrimination and rejection.

    No, actually, it doesn’t just depend on what you believe or how a religion is personally interpreted. There are long term deleterious costs to any society that allows a wild west of bigotry. There are good reasons why a lot of countries have hate speech laws that can trump their free speech laws. There are some things that simply should not be on the table — full stop.

    You’re free to gather privately with like minded people and discuss how certain races are inferior and how gays should be spit on. However, standing on the street corner and shouting it out publicly is another matter. There are no laws against thought crimes anywhere, but you have to more or less keep it to yourself.

    1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 21, 2017

      What they call “religion” is NOT religion. Rather they distort religion in order to put forward a personal agenda to create dissension and hate.

  4. Aaron_of_Portsmouth July 21, 2017

    As we plainly see from the article, many on the right tend, more so than others of any spectrum, to gravitate towards Hate. Many of these individuals with the most strident voices are also disposed to being intransigent.

    To single out a group for abuse because of sexual preference is NOT sanctioned by any Religion!!!

    There is this recurring tactic of using Religion as a battering ram, and used as a initiator of conflict rather than what it was intended to be used as—a means to bind society together.

    No where do i recall in the Message of Jesus that we are to use Religion in that manner. And since there has been such a splintering of Religion, fulfilling the saying reiterated by Baha’u’llah—“Truth is a point which the foolish have multiplied”.

    The so-called Moral Majority—a Right Wing leaning political arm with militaristic tendencies—have resorted to a “Gospel of Hate”, rather that follow the letter and the spirit of the real Gospels as spoken by Jesus. And therefore, Sessions, and others like him, are acting counter to the Message of Jesus, in broad daylight, for the whole world to see.

    For such hypocrisy, Christianity is taking unnecessary abuse by these nut-jobs who proclaim that they are “Christian”. More like minions of Satan would appropriately describe Sessions, Trump, the “Religious Right”, and others like them. It’s a s simple as that, folks, and there’s no rocket-science involved in reaching this assessment.

    Religion has been distorted beyond recognition by those who would put forth policies intended to divide by force and discord, and act in a manner that is antithetical to that which they purport to believe in.


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