The nation's most venerable, effective, and credible anti-hate organization set foot in Paso Robles recently, only to be mauled about the leg and ankle by a snarling pit bull of an outfit that it had labeled a hate group.
That sharp-fanged group calls itself Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), here represented by its Paso avatar, City Council candidate Michael S. Rivera, who is the CAPS's secretary. The outfit with the shirred shins is the relentless caller-out of America's hate groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
The SPLC, headquartered in Alabama, is coming up on 50 years of fighting the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazis, white supremacists, and others of that ilk. Not surprisingly, it has been ceaselessly attacked by those it exposes, including assassination attempts on its founder. Nevertheless, it persists.
In addition to helping generations of children learn openness and compassion through its Teaching Tolerance programs in schools, the SPLC has been effective in slowing down the rise of anti-American, racist groups, although they continue to slither forward.
SPLC helps the powerless. In June, for example, the organization won a case in Kentucky that kept nearly 100,000 low-income people from being kicked off of Medicaid.
SPLC has achieved success mostly through the courts, but also through maps identifying, mapping, and monitoring activities of hate groups nationwide.
It puts out documents publicizing its findings, such as its annual "The Year in Hate," and has become a go-to source for the news media.
It has made mistakes, including an egregious whopper of a goof in 2016, when it erroneously labeled a British man and his organization anti-Muslim. The man, Maajid Nawaz and his group, the Quilliam Foundation, sued and won. The SPLC apologized.
That was one of tens of thousands of actions the SPLC has taken. But its opponents have used the error to try to destroy the group's overall credibility.
That brings us back to Paso, where Rivera chastised New Times and The Tribune for printing the story about his CAPS affiliation and then attacked the SPLC. He upchucked a list of sources he said have disavowed the SPLC. It was an impressive list, almost as long as the line of children being torn out of their mothers' arms at the U.S.-Mexico border while CAPS does nothing. But it lacked context, contained half-truths, the usual.
That's how it is these days. A good offense is the best defense, and if someone prints something that makes you look bad, simply attack the messenger and call the whole thing fake news.
Sadly, many fall for this, and I can't blame them. It's increasingly hard to know where the truth lies. In this case, for example, is Rivera right, or am I? For a third view on Maajid Nawaz I recommend a balanced June 18 piece in the unassailable Atlantic by David A. Graham, who covered that case from its beginning.
As to assessing the organizations in question, I suggest their websites.
We've spoken about the SPLC and its credibility, and you can visit their home page to help decide for yourself.
What about the CAPS? Is it a hate group? The SPLC tagged them because they were founded by a white nationalist and have played footsie with white supremacists, at one point employing a neo-Nazi (whom they later fired).
Is there more to the accusation? Let's stroll over to the CAPS website and take a look.
First, however, think about the group's name. Really, give it some thought. "Population stabilization." That's a chilling euphemism for something that can turn sinister, and has. It's been tried in many places.
On the site, the first thing that caught my eye was a photo, and, oh baby, is this picture worth a thousand words. It shows a skinny, blond white boy running gleefully toward the camera, a girl, also white, not far behind. The headline is "Help Save Some America for Tomorrow."
The message I saw: We need to save the state for the children of Ward and June Cleaver. I didn't see a kid wearing a hijab in that photo, or a Hispanic child. There is an apparently minority youngster in the background, but that's the key phrase—"in the background."
The site also has an article about the murder of Mollie Tibbetts in Iowa, allegedly by an immigrant. Her grief-stricken father has begged people not to use Mollie's death for political purposes. But who cares about a parent's anguish when you can use the girl's death to imply that all undocumented immigrants are potential murderers.
Right. And all Irish-American ex-military are potential murderers because Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City and murdered scores of people.
I'm still waiting for the headline "American born-and-bred citizen kills woman."
What about the CAPS action plan? It's run-of-the-mill Trump playbook stuff: oppose sanctuary cities and "birthright citizenship," manipulate the media (Hello New Times and Tribune!).
My favorite article here, however, describes as a "myth" the notion that the United States is special because it is a nation of immigrants. Adios, 240 years of national identity; hasta la vista, Statue of Liberty!
The argument seems to be that everyone everywhere has always emigrated, including the people we call Native Americans, who, after all, started in Asia and sashayed across the Bering Strait from Asia back in the day.
The argument draws forth the question, if immigration is inexorable and inevitable what's the point of fighting it? The answer seems to be, it depends upon who is doing the immigrating. They deny it, but it seems clear that CAPS's concerns are about immigrants coming from south of the U.S. border.
Overpopulation is a problem, one that should be taken seriously. Many responsible citizens do. But when a group starts worrying about who is on the move, rather than the movement itself, and tries to keep a category of people out, then they cease to be concerned citizens and become citizens we should be concerned about. Δ
Bob Cuddy is a retired, award-winning journalist who lives in Arroyo Grande. Send comments through the editor firstname.lastname@example.org.