The costs of losing credibility

One of the most noted dynamics of advocacy institutions in recent years is the subsumation of single-issue groups into their larger political coalitions. For watchdog groups, this can have real consequences that weaken their surveillance of problematic figures in US government and public life. Simply put, how do groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center that label mainstream opposition to their politics as “hate” or groups like the Anti-Defamation League that use their civil rights reputation to push left-leaning progressive policies full-spectrum reliably identify groups on the right that truly go beyond pallor, and how can people who don’t support SPLC and ADL political agendas trust these assessments?

Left-wing watchdogs tend to “cry wolf” by blaming immigration restrictors for racist motives; some would cynically suggest they do so to aid the electoral and political prospects of their coalition partners. But like the fable, it weakens their appeal to fight the characters who, in fact, cross the lines.

All together now

This grouping of formerly single-issue or issue-focused groups into ideological foot soldiers is broad and cross-party. This has happened in unionism, with the process ideologically clothed in the concept of “social justice unionism” to justify Big Labor taking left-wing positions outside its traditional economic bailiwick on issues ranging from gun control to fire to abortion through racial ideology. On the right, some gun rights activists have criticized the National Rifle Association for being too close to a Republican establishment that caved in to some gun control measures, leading to increased support for gun groups. “no-compromise” gun rights advocates like the Gun Owners of America.

The Anti-Defamation League is one of the single-focus groups that has taken the path of integration into the coalition bloc of parties. Formed in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism, the ADL has long favored abortion rights, a liberal immigration policy, and strong civil rights protections, but in 2015 new leaders took it on board. ideological director of the controversial Southern Poverty Law Center. Under ex-Obama administration official Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL embraced fashionable liberal causes and faced widespread criticism for failing to respond in a timely manner to anti-Semitic comments from liberal politicians.

make persuasion difficult

Here enters the American Immigration Control Foundation. With a name like that and a record of support for restricting immigration, it should come as no surprise to readers that the SPLC has put the group on its highly controversial and widely contested “hate map,” since the mainstream organizations that support immigration restriction like the Center for Immigration Studies are also listed. This overbroad classification, clearly intended to stifle debate about social policies beyond immigration, is why Capital Research Center and other groups campaigned to convince the charitable rating service Guidestar not to use SPLC ratings.

But here is the (first) problem: American Immigration Control Foundation possesses associations that go well outside the mainstream and into morally questionable territory. It is alleged that John Vinson, the leader of the AICF, was deeply involved in the “Southern League”, a neo-secessionist group with racist views, and helped engineer a nominal segregationist (and I would stress the “nominally”) Christian theo-political view known as “Kinism”.

The second problem? These claims are made by the ADL and other liberal organizations with ideological axes to grind. There is no obvious reason to believe that these claims are fake—Vinson features in the 2004 Southern League credits Gray Book: Master Plan for Southern Independencelikely indicating close ties to the group, but some are not easily verifiable.

The Purpose of a Watchdog

And that poses a problem for someone who doesn’t share preferred ADL or SPLC policies, but is concerned with keeping outright extremism out of public life. It is also a problem for anyone who may share Vinson’s desire to limit immigration but not his radical ideology, who should ensure that spokespersons for these views are not easily dismissed as lunatics who tarnish this which might otherwise be defensible political positions. This problem is provide clear and convincing evidence to a reasonable person that this time ADL or SPLC is telling the truth.

If one takes a cynical view of ADL’s or SPLC’s intentions, this difficulty is a feature, not a bug. From this point of view, confusing a group with genuinely radical associations like the AICF with a more traditional group like CIS under the banner of “hate” distracts moderates from the views of the latter by associating them with the former. It can also cause supporters of the latter’s immigration positions to dismiss accusations against the former, even when well-founded, leading them to push back against moderates.

But if the purpose of these supposed watchdogs is to isolate and identify the real nefarious influences on public life – genuine “hate groups”, not just “organizations advocating policies they don’t like ” – the fact that it is difficult to present their findings in a persuasive way for those who do not share their premises is a problem. One would think that these issues would be important enough to set aside the cynical ideological advantage. Unfortunately, SPLC’s track record and ADL’s recent track record make it hard to give them the benefit of the doubt either.

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