Source File Corrupt: The Left’s Faustian Bargain with the ADL and the SPLC

Posted on February 18, 2018


last shot

The SPLC’s “Return of the Violent Black Nationalist” article, dated August 08, 2017 and the “Black Identity Extremist” report from the FBI, dated August 3. The FBI report would not be released to the public until October, 2017

The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center were two ancient orgs slumping into the horizon with barnacled hulls and weather-beaten jackets, when antifascist fever took off around 2015. ADL’s rep as a right-wing organization that had spied on left of center organizations and Black political groups for years was common knowledge. Most of the ADL’s work from the 80’s onward was in ideological defense of Israeli colonial projects and violence, and cynical inflation and ‘tracking’ of anti-Semitism. These attacks had a single purpose, which was to create arguments for the critical importance of Israel, and vindication for Israel’s crimes against Palestinians and other Arab and Muslim targets by inference. By this time, no one on the Left actually believed the ADL’s mission was to combat anti-semitism.

foxmanpicThroughout most of the ADL’s modern iteration the organization remained intrinsically connected to its director, Abe Foxman. Foxman became an increasing embarrassment and hinderance to the organization’s propaganda machine, especially after the accusation of spying resurfaced in the work of Walt and Mearsheimer, and an Israeli documentary revealed Foxman’s unscientific and often absurdist methods of identifying supposed incidents of anti-Semitism. The ADL’s increasingly bad fortune became entwined with Foxman’s hyperbole.

The self-coup de grace came in 2010, when Foxman publicly opined in the name of the ADL that anti-Islamic bigotry was fine from certain groups and opposed the construction of a mosque near the World Trade Center. Even J Street, a liberal organization that nonetheless calls BDS anti-semitic, rebuked Foxman. A Leftist time traveller  jumping forward from the year 2010 to 2016, would expect to find no trace of the organization in the modern left-wing geography.

But a curious thing happened around the same time that anti-fascists began mobilizing around specific white supremacist groups on the national stage—Foxman retired from the ADL, and was replaced by Jonathan Greenblatt. Greenblatt, the former Director of Obama’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, had a clear mandate—cleaning up Zionist activism for an increasingly skeptical liberal generation of millenial Zionists suspicious of the ADL’s long-reputation as a right-wing organization. To be clear, not much changed in the ADL’s day-to-day to real work, running cover for Israel’s worst atrocities, and bullying organizations interested in justice for Palestinians, and the like. But under Greenblatt’s management, the organization has created a cottage industry for hate group monitoring that quickly became its public mask.

Though the ADL previously had a “center for extemism”, its primary focus was slandering pro-Muslim and pro-Palestinian organizations as anti-semitic. Thus, in 2012, for example, instead of monitoring white supremacists, the organization promoted a top ten list of hate groups that contained CAIR and Jewish Voice for Peace [a report that can no longer be found on the ADL website]. The image of the ADL anti-semitic research arm—a Mcarthyite paranoid pointing the finger at anyone who ever wept listening to an Oum Kalsoum ballad—quickly changed under Greenblatt. While Greenblatt busied himself with guest articles and op-eds promoting liberal concerns with anti-immigration and nativism, the ADL ramped up its focus on white supremacy research.

greenblatt picOvernight, beginning in 2015, the start of Greenblatt’s tenure, the ADL returned to mainstream journalism’s white supremacy sourcing a-list. The ADL’s Center for Extremism was welcomed back to hipper mags like TeenVogue for adding Pepe to its database of hate symbols. In The Verge, the ADL was celebrated for reclaiming the formerly beloved Pepe for millenials along with the character’s creator.

Often the rationale for citing the ADL on any particular issue of white supremacist organizing is slim to non-existant, a reality proven by quick googling which reveals all the information being tasked to the ADL is available through regular reporting by mainstream papers of record. This was especially true for the reporting on Arthur Jones, a famed neo-nazi with many years of self-promoting hucksterism on the electoral stage. Despite dozens of articles in mainstream newspapers having been written about Jones’ neo-nazi efforts for decades, newsites still sought quotes from the ADL, which did little but re-cast reporting published as recently as 2016 as a function of its “expertise”.

Arthur Jones Nazi

The status-factor that has become associated with an ADL citation, however, has promoted few processes of accountability for the ADL, even in its strictly “white supremacist” research. With very little research at all, and in the midst of the media frenzy surrounding the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a former student in February, the ADL rushed to report that the shooter was linked to a tiny neo-nazi organization located hundreds of miles away in Florida.

The claim was based solely on the claim of Jordan Jereb, the founder and likely only committed member of Republic of Florida.  Despite the ADL’s fame in white supremacy research, the organization did no due-diligence to back up the claims of the well-known self-promoter Jereb, and reported them within 12 hours of the massacre. There was little downside for the ADL’s rush to report, because, after all,  few mainstream and leftist reporters ever bother to question the ADL’s expertise in the first place.

Nevertheless, the ADL continues its role as anti-Islamic and anti-Palestinian hate-monger and fabulist, with renewed credibility. This has included attacking Keith Ellison when he was in the running for DNC chair, based on his pro-Palestinian views. Nothing changed for the ADL’s main mission of smothering pro-Palestinian activism and rhetoric whenever it surfaced. Indeed, in the same week journalists on the antifascist beat were seeking a status-based quote from the ADL on Atomwaffen, the ADL was bullying the New Orleans city council into rescinding a pro-human rights/BDS proclamation.  Regardless, the ADL perversely continues to be a main source of “research” on extremism for both papers of record and the anti-fascism activists who use these reports and mainstream reporting to bolster their claims about the growth of the alt-right.

Though the SPLC doesn’t have the ADL’s sordid legacy of outright bigotry, it has been associated with a more insidious shell-game. The SPLC began as the brainchild of Morris Dees and Joe Levin. But Dees, far more even than Foxman/ADL, has been the guiding hand of the SPLC since its inception, creating a burgeoning and successful charity organization that in 2015 raised 50 million dollars. Questions about the SPLC’s methodology and goals dogged the organization for years, especially its habit of threat-inflation and raising far more money than it required for operations. Dees himself is a problematic figure, who became rich through direct-marketing and turned to civil rights causes long after the civil rights movement’s heyday.

deespicClearly, the line between self-enrichment and the public good may have always been a bit blurry to Dees. Deborah Ellis, now the director of the NYU’s Public Law Center quit the SPLC in the 80’s, because of what seemed to be Ellis’ cash-motivated pursuit of the largely moribund KKK, “I felt that Morris was on the Klan kick because it was such an easy target — easy to beat in court, easy to raise big money on.” Indeed, the SPLC has always liked soft-targets, and these soon ranged out of no-brainers like the KKK. Ironically, the SPLC even targeted anarchists, implying that they were being unknowingly recruited into neo-nazi cadres through radical Black Block activities, during the WTO demonstrations in Seattle.

But with the waning of the organizations influence, legitimate concerns and critique—especially from the radical left—also faded. Indeed, one of the most difficult challenges for researching the SPLC is the force-field the org has created from left-leaning scrutiny, given the character of its focus. There’s a lot of right-wing criticism of the SPLC motivated by, yes, a soft-spot for white supremacy, and its become difficult to adequately judge the org without appearing to be joining in. The many smarmy racist critiques of the SPLC smother due-diligence criticism from the Left. That’s actually alarming, given the SPLC’s unique contribution to systemic racism.

Starting in 2015, the SPLC appeared again and again as a source for journalism covering white supremacist movements in US papers of record. It’s not at all an exaggeration to say the SPLC has been ubiquitous from 2015 to the present. For Leftist orgs like It’s Going Down News, the SPLC was a much less tarnished source than the ADL. IGD began relying heavily on the SPLC to validate its analysis of rising hate groups, and, of course, it made sense for IGD to do so. With an underground brand, heavily associated with anarchist groups, IGD may have been trying to provide a bulwark against liberal and centrist responses that would smear the news organization as conspiracy-minded moonbats. But while IGD news was reinforcing the SPLC’s white supremacy research–and even encouraging them to source IGD’s research in their hate reports–the SPLC was busy doing the ideological legwork of institutional white supremacy in the federal government.

black seperatist groups

The SPLC’s “Black Seperatist” hate map. The category is just one of many in the Hate map pull down menu, and counts toward the growth of ALL hate groups in the SPLC’s math.

Visiting the SPLC’s “hate map” project, is to step through the looking-glass. As I reported elsewhere, the SPLC actually rates the growth of “Black Seperatists”, a hate group flavor of its own invention, as the fastest growing, most pervasive hate group faction. The SPLC’s methodology is laughable even for white supremacist tracking. Historically, Dees has counted self-described “groups”, not individuals or influence, setting artificially high numbers as a way to legitimize the need for the SPLC by always depicting target movements as “growing”. The Black Seperatist/Extremist tracking the SPLC does is no different. Whenever a well-meaning left-wing activist pointed to the SPLC’s tracking methodology and database to prove the need for anti-fascism organizing, they also validated the org’s strange obsession with smearing non-violent Black political organizations, because the tracking for both are methodologically and ideologically unified.

The SPLC’s cheerleading for new ways of criminalizing Black discourse didn’t go unnoticed by more powerful actors. In a report dated August 3, 2017, but not leaked to the public until October, 6, 2017, the FBI described a new terror threat to America–the “Black Identity Extremist”. The neologism rightfully earned the scorn of anti-racists after the leak, but the FBI was not alone in validating this new harrassment-generating profile. The SPLC’s “Intelligence Report” article, “Return of the Violent Black Nationalist”, was also published in August, and reads in many places, like an excerpt from the FBI report. The date on the SPLC piece is August 8, 6 days after the FBI report’s publishing date, but two months before it was first reported to the public via leak by Foreign Policy magazine.

The author of the SPLC piece, Daryl Johnson, is an ex-DHS senior domestic terrorism analyst who has had ties to SPLC for over 5 years. Johnson himself was quoted in the FP article that leaked the FBI report, wondering aloud why the FBI would use such terms. The article failed to divulge Johnson had advanced notions similar to the FBI’s “Black Identity Extremist” under the rubric of “Resurgent Violent Black Nationalists”–and, in an unlikely coincidence, advanced them just when the FBI was internally circulating its similar report.

Ultimately, these coincidences are less surprising when you look at criticism the SPLC racked up before current lucrative and influential periods. Randal Williams, a journalist who briefly worked for SPLC and founded its Klanwatch Project, explained why he left the organization by saying, “We were sharing information with the FBI, the police, undercover agents…we were more of a super snoop outfit, an arm of law enforcement.”

It’s not far-fetched to wonder if Johnson was disseminating ideas in the FBI report for audiences already conditioned to take the SPLC’s proclamations as expert fact, and had to walk them back after FP leaked the original [and as SPLC also attempted to do in its absurdly hair-splitting and dishonest attempt to separate the nearly identical terms and definitions]. Even if, the suggestive timing is, unbelievably, a coincidence, clearly the FBI is reading the SPLC and the ADL, which were cited multiple times in the FBI’s report. One would think all these circumstances would raise serious questions. But surprisingly, none were asked.

Regardless of the origin, the focus on and redefinition of political Black violence have had real-world repercussions, as Foreign Policy later reported. On December 12, 2017, just four months after the SPLC published what was for all intents and purposes an advance copy of the FBI’s report on Black Identity Exremists, Christopher Daniels was arrested on a raft of offenses. According to witnesses, the FBI had been monitoring and surveilling Daniels for at least 2 months, if not longer. As his brother stated: “The [black identity extremist] classification has grown from a report on paper, to a national investigation of Black Lives Matter and and black gun ownership advocates.” Despite at least having played a prominent role in identifying the web of organizations Daniels may have been involved in, the SPLC has not come Johnson’s defense or pushed back against the FBI’s attack on him.

Still, proponents of the validating effect of using SPLC or ADL sourcing might yet argue that organizing and informing around the threat of white supremacy outweighs the damage. Perhaps, if it was true that the alt-right and some additional entrepreneurial white supremacist groups were a much greater concern, than say, the prison or military industrial complexes, and all the mundane liberal evil agencies like the FBI and ATF that support them, they could be right. But the alt-right is all but a thing of the past, and the great bulk of organized white supremacy through the Aryan Brotherhood is ignored by the Left [a choice so laden with class preferences and consumerism that it will require another article to discuss].  Meanwhile, the continued racist slander and targeting abetted by the SPLC and ADL stand to be with us for many years to come thanks to a left-wing enabled soft reboot. What should worry anti-racist activists is that in this rise to legitimacy that was assisted and paralled by that of anti-fascism, it’s not clear who is using who, nor to what ultimate ends.

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