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What’s a hate group?

From Dispatches From the Culture Wars:

 The Southern Poverty Law Center has added several “mainstream” religious right groups to their list of hate groups for their zealous opposition to equal rights for gays and lesbians, including the American Family Association and the Family Research Council. And the theocons are throwing quite a fit over it.

I’ve said many times that I think the SPLC sometimes paints with too broad a brush so it’s always a good idea to examine the evidence on which they base such conclusions. You can see their report on these anti-gay groups here and judge for yourself. I think they make a stronger case against some than against others.

“No organization better defines what a hate group is all about than the Southern Poverty Law Center,” said Robert Knight, Washington correspondent for Coral Ridge Ministries. “Smearing legitimate groups merely for disagreeing about homosexuality is a very hateful act.”

But the evidence is pretty good in some cases. The American Family Association, for example, has hired Bryan Fischer as one of their chief spokesmen and he has repeatedly offered views that are bigoted and hateful beyond any legitimate doubt. For example, he has argued for forcing gays and lesbians into “reparative therapy” to “cure” them. He has called gays “domestic terrorists.”

Most bizarrely, he has claimed that Adolf Hitler and all the leading Nazis were militant homosexuals, declaring, “[h]omosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and 6 million dead Jews.” He claims that only homosexuals could be as savage as the Nazis were.

Is this bigotry and hatred? Of course it is. No reasonable person could conclude otherwise.

 I sifted through the SLPC’s list, and every group on it is doing far more than “merely disagreeing about homosexuality.”  Some are advocating that homosexuality be made illegal, not just by reversing Lawrence v. Texas but by making sodomy punishable by execution.  At the very least, every group on the list is actively lying about homosexuality in order to bolster its case, which I would say qualifies for the term “hatred.”   I know what a contentious statement this is, but I think it’s possible to be bigoted without being hateful.  To be bigoted, in my understanding, is to hold prejudices, and all it takes to hold prejudices is simple ignorance and the inability or refusal to think critically about that particular subject.  By that standard, I think people who disapprove of homosexuality because they think God disapproves of it could be called bigoted but not hateful.  The hateful ones are the ones who form organizations with wholesome names like the American Family Association which are in actuality specifically devoted to making homosexuals miserable.  The ones who made ridiculous distortions of the truth like claiming that to be gay is to secretly be a pedophile, or that gays have an organized agenda to convert everyone in the country to homosexuality, or that the Nazi Party was controlled by homosexuals.  People who make such claims aren’t simply ignorant or mistaken– they have lost touch with reality, because that’s something hatred tends to make people do.  As the SLPC’s statement says:

Generally, the SPLC’s listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.

People who insist on repeating falsehoods in order to justify their opposition to others are hard to reason with, which is what makes them scary.  It’s what makes them important to watch, which is why this list was made.   I think it’s important to point out that while ad hominem arguments (arguments “against the man”) are still fallacious, the marketplace of ideas can’t be allowed to keep viewing groups who have a demonstrated willingness to lie their asses off as credible.  Dan Savage has some commentary on this topic specifically relating to the SPLC’s list, but I think it’s definitely worth quoting from his post entitled When Will We Reach The Tipping Point?:

I’m old enough to remember when “objectivity” required that a racist troglodyte be included in any discussion about the civil rights of African Americans. I can remember—I can remember barely (I’m not that old)—when racist bigots were regularly invited on television and asked to write op-eds. They argued in favor of segregation and against interracial marriage and were treated like reasonable people who represented one side of an important political debate. (“African Americans: Are they human?”) Amazing but true: Within my living memory, a person could go on TV and argue against the basic civil equality of African Americans, or take a stand against interracial marriage (always out of “concern” for the poor “mixed-race children” of “selfish” interracial couples), and be invited back the next week to serve up more of the same. People made careers out of trafficking in what we now recognize as baldly racist hate speech.

But then a day came when the racist troglodytes weren’t welcome on television anymore. Our culture reached a tipping point. We decided, as a society, that discrimination based on race was wrong, full stop. There were still racists out there, of course, and there still are. But they were no longer treated like respectable people with a legitimate points of view. They were bigots, they were cut off, they were cast out.

For a few days after Tyler Clementi’s suicide, it looked like we might be reaching that same tipping point on LGBT civil rights—the same tipping point we reached on race and the equality of the sexes: bigots would no longer be welcome to pollute our airwaves, our op-ed pages, our culture, and our society with their hatred. Just as we had recognized the harm that racism was doing to our society and said “enough” (which didn’t end racism), and just as we had recognized the harm that sexism was doing to our society and said “enough” (which didn’t end sexism), maybe we were finally ready to recognize the harm that homophobia is doing to our society and were prepared to say “enough” (not that it would end homophobia).

In my flu-induced delirium I thought we were there. I was wrong.

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