SUNDAY UPDATE: Ernest Luning of the Colorado Springs Gazette:
A coalition of civil rights groups and left-leaning organizations on Friday demanded an apology from the Colorado Republican Party for “viciously attacking” the Southern Poverty Law Center on Twitter, but the state GOP’s chairman called the request ridiculous and doubled down on the party’s criticism of the watchdog group.
The dispute centers around what the civil rights groups term “a bizarre outburst on Twitter” by the state GOP’s official account — a series of tweets and retweets questioning the SPLC’s credibility as an arbiter of hate groups and extremists…
Citing articles critical of the SPLC “from across the political spectrum” and a letter written this week by prominent conservatives that calls the SPLC a “discredited, left-wing political activist organization that seeks to silence its political opponents with a ‘hate group’ label of its own invention,” Hays told Colorado Politics he has no intention of apologizing.
“The notion that the Colorado Republican Party should apologize for joining this broad chorus of critics is ridiculous,” Hays said in a statement. “Our tweet was correct to suggest the SPLC is an unreliable source of information, and stories that cite it uncritically ought not to be trusted.”
A late-arriving press release today from several local civil rights leaders including the Denver Ministerial Alliance and LGBT rights group One Colorado calls for an apology from the Colorado Republican Party–who in the last couple of days has engaged in a series of off-message attacks on the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the nation’s leading anti-discrimination organizations:
Following a bizarre outburst from the official Twitter account for the Colorado Republican Party viciously attacking one of the nation’s foremost civil rights defense and anti-hate group organizations, Colorado civil rights leaders called on the chairman of the Colorado Republican Party to publicly apologize and hold the staffer responsible for these tweets accountable.
“Today’s conservative movement under President Donald Trump is empowering and mobilizing the forces of hatred in America, threatening America’s most fundamental values,” said Superintendent Patrick L. Demmer of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance. “The Southern Poverty Law Center’s job since 1971 has been to fight back against organized hatred, and they’ve done that job brilliantly. Less than one month since Charlottesville, the solution to the growing epidemic of hate in America is not to vilify the messenger.”
“It is outrageous to witness the Colorado Republican Party attacking an organization that has fought for civil rights and equality for over 45 years,” said Demmer. “With racist hatred and violence on the rise across America since Trump took office, the Southern Poverty Law Center is sounding the alarm that something very bad is happening. Instead of smearing the SPLC, Colorado Republicans should be reading Hatewatch—and making sure that hate is not being legitimized within the Republican Party, in Colorado or any other state.”
“The Southern Poverty Law Center’s has a long history of tracking and documenting the individuals, organizations, and funders of anti-LGBTQ extremism in this country,” said One Colorado Executive Director Daniel Ramos. “It is indeed possible that being marked as a hate group makes it harder for groups to retain their legitimacy and they may lose support from the public. That’s how it should be. Over the last two decades, we have made enormous progress in putting the days of anti-LGBTQ hate and discrimination behind us. SPLC’s ongoing work to expose hate in America is crucial to that progress.”
“Instead of denying the problem and attacking the messenger, every American should ask themselves: what am I doing to help put a stop to hatred in our country?” said Felicia Griffin, Executive Director of FRESC, Good Jobs, Strong Communities. “Sen. Cory Gardner, the top Republican elected official in this state, has repeatedly disavowed the racism that manifested in Charlottesville last month. If those words were more than platitudes, Gardner must demand that the Colorado Republican Party apologize for smearing one of the nation’s foremost civil rights organizations.”
In the aftermath of the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last month–but really since the beginning of President Donald Trump’s administration, and even before as the GOP sought to accommodate and exploit the rise of the so-called “alt-right”–there’s been what seems to be a concerted push to de-legitimize the SPLC, as well as its mission to identify and hold hate groups accountable. Where SPLC has called out organizations that promote bigotry against LGBT Americans, they’ve been on what you might call a “civil rights frontier.” As a result, SPLC’s equation of bias against LGBT people with racial prejudice makes people who still think it’s okay to be biased against LGBT people…well, uncomfortable.
The commonality between “traditional” racial hatred and prejudice against LGBT people is not a new concept, and has been increasingly recognized in civil rights law–but there are some people out there who still don’t want to acknowledge that they are equally unacceptable in a just society. That includes, apparently, the Colorado Republican Party in its official capacity. Despite the fact that the party has on many occasions tried to soften its image on LGBT rights. And hopefully, the benefit of the doubt we’re affording them on the matter of straight-up racism is justified.
Instead of (metaphorically) shooting the messenger, maybe it’s time to consider what SPLC is saying.