Once upon a time, the Southern Poverty Law Center served as a champion in the civil rights struggle. It's said that the SPLC helped put the Ku Klux Klan out of business. Klan membership used to be in the millions. Today it's only a few thousand.
But when you glance at the SPLC's map of hate groups in America today, there are so many that one might think America is consumed with hate.
But is it?
Changing the Definition of 'Hate'
When you've put the Klan out of business and won all your battles, but you're not ready to close your doors, you've got to find new enemies to fight.
One of those new enemies is former Vanderbilt history professor Dr. Carol Swain. Swain grew up in the old South and fought poverty and racism to become a university professor. She's an expert on white nationalism. But she has publicly attacked the SPLC, and Swain, a conservative Christian, found herself on the SPLC's hate list as a supposed "apologist for white supremacists."
Other SPLC targets have included Dr. Ben Carson – who was later removed from its hate list – female genital mutilation victim Hirsi Ali, and even small charities like the Ruth Institute, whose mission is to help families and children. The Ruth Institute said, "If this makes us a 'hate group,' so be it."
The SPLC: A 'Money-Making Machine'
Among the list of Christian groups on the SPLC's Hate Map are many local churches. It's usually because they oppose the gay agenda.
The list includes the Family Research Council. FRC Executive Vice President General Jerry Boykin doesn't pull any punches, telling CBN News, "First of all, the SPLC, you have to understand, is probably one of the most evil groups in America. They've become a money-making machine and they've become an absolute Marxist, anarchist organization."
Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group, is also on the list. Kerri Kupec, ADF legal counsel and communications director said, the Southern Poverty Law Center once did good work, "but the SPLC lost its way a long time ago."
Nothing 'Poor' About the Southern Poverty Law Center
Kupec dismisses the SPLC as a "direct mail scam," but marvels at the SPLC's revenues, with assets listed at $315 million.
"I have never heard of a group with 'poverty' in its name that has so much money," Kupec said.
Apple, JP Morgan, and actor George Clooney are just a few who have given millions to the SPLC; there's so much money coming in that some of it is going into offshore investments, a red flag for some, but offshore investing among charities is not uncommon.
The Link to Violence
What is more disturbing is what the SPLC's opponents call a link to deadly violence against Christians and conservatives.
On August 15, 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins stormed into the Family Research Council's Washington offices intending to kill. He wounded the building manager before he was stopped. A bullet hole still remains in a console in the lobby.
After his arrest, Corkins told the FBI where he heard about the Family Research Council's Washington offices. On FBI video of his interrogation, Corkins says, "Southern Poverty Law lists anti-gay groups. I found them online, did a little bit of research, went to the website, stuff like that."
Boykin adds, "Our people know coming here, based on reality and based on what happened here, they're taking a risk."
James T Hodgkinson, who shot House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and injured several others at a congressional softball practice this year, had "liked" the Southern Poverty Law Center's Facebook page.
The SPLC later admitted, "We're aware that the SPLC was among hundreds of groups that the man identified as the shooter 'liked' on Facebook. I want to be as clear as I can possibly be: The SPLC condemns all forms of violence."
Is the SPLC Spreading Hate?
But after these attacks, some are asking the obvious: Does the Southern Poverty Law Center spread hate?
The SPLC did not respond to our invitation to be a part of this story and refute the claims made against it, but publicly remains unapologetic. The SPLC has stated repeatedly that their listing of Christian groups who oppose the LGBT agenda "is completely unrelated to religion, Christianity or the Bible. These groups are listed because they repeatedly lie in an effort to defame LGBT people."
In 2007 former SPLC spokeman Mark Potok told a conference in Michigan, "I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, to completely destroy them."
D. James Kennedy Ministries, also on the hate list, is suing the SPLC, and the charitable arm of Amazon, AmazonSmile, for dropping the ministry from their lists of eligible religious charities.
The news media has begun using the SPLC's hate map in stories about racism and bigotry, giving the map even more clout and credibility.
CNN published the list under the headline "Here Are All the Hate Groups Active in Your Area" before taking it down.
Forty-seven conservative groups and Sen. James Lankford have written the media demanding that it stop using the SPLC hate map as a source.
Boykin said, "The SPLC has no authority, except the authority they've given themselves, to build a hate map or to list people or organizations as haters."
But there is no sign the Southern Poverty Law Center is changing course when the Left supports it so strongly, the news media relies it, and the donations keep rolling in.