Letter: 'Hate Map' numbers are arbitrary


Editor of the Reformer,

I am replying to Sam Costello's letter of May 9, asking what was the intent of my letter of May 1, exposing the flaws in the Southern Poverty Law Center's annual "Hate Map" fundraising tool.

My intent was to show that the SPLC's numbers are entirely arbitrary and in many cases, nonexistent. First off, there is no legal definition of a "hate group," which is why even the FBI cannot designate "hate groups" but somehow a private fundraising company can? The SPLC's own definition, "All hate groups attack or malign other groups for their immutable characteristics" is intentionally broad and selectively applied.

In 2017, the village of Gurnee, Illinois, was accused of harboring a "hate group" because someone claiming to be a Klan "wizard" made a single post on a KKK website saying he lived in Gurnee. That was all it took. As Tony Rehagen noted in his 2018 article in Politico, "What Happens When Your Town Lands on the Hate Map?," it wasn't even enough information to get a letter delivered by the Post Office, but it was more than enough to condemn this small tourism-reliant village. Who would vacation in a town with a "hate group"?

Also in 2017, Amana, Iowa, was accused of having an SPLC "hate group." The proof this time was another single post on a neo-Nazi website in which a single individual opined that Amana would be a great place to have a neo-Nazi meeting. That was it. The gathering never materialized, but another tourist-dependent village was needlessly branded by the SPLC. Amana was founded by German Lutheran immigrants in the 19th century and exists today as a living museum listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. It is populated by costumed interpreters in Victorian-era garb and it is as senseless as designating a "hate group" at Massachusetts' Plimoth Plantation.

What if some anonymous knucklehead posts that Brattleboro would make a great Klan rally site? What then?

My intent, Mr. Costello, is to point out the weaknesses in the SPLC's methodology. They are a private company with hundreds of millions of dollars on hand, who receive no external review or oversight, and who have no authority, legal or moral, to designate anyone as anything. Their opinions on "hate groups" carry no more weight than mine or yours, but you and I are not making millions of dollars on our opinions.

Richard Keefe

New Market, Va., May 10



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