How Do We Determine A Hate Group?

By Nick Blumberg
September 17, 2012

PHOENIX -- Recently, I reported on a Center for American Progress study that examined the economic implications of either legalizing or deporting the undocumented workforce in seven states, including Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada. I conducted an interview with CAP's Director of Immigration Policy -- a no-brainer, they published the study. However, CAP has an obvious pro-immigrant (some say pro-amnesty) opinion. For a fuller perspective, I wanted to speak with someone who disagreed with the report's motivation.

I ended up talking with Steve Camarota of the nominally nonpartisan but right-leaning Center for Immigration Studies. They favor marked restrictions on immigration, and they compile data and conduct research as it pertains to immigrants in the U.S.

Camarota was well-spoken, pleasant, and extremely well-prepared to talk about his positions and back them up with the findings of his research. He has an obvious agenda and strong anti-immigration views, but -- at least during our interview -- he did not behave in a manner that would lead me to call him an extremist.

As a reporter, it's challenging to interview someone who's an extremist on any issue. I want to present information and context as best I can in the space I'm allotted, but I don't want to rebroadcast lies, blind advocacy, or hate.

But hate is a tricky thing. Particularly calling an organization a "hate group."

If you were to google "Center for Immigration Studies," on the first page of results you'd find an article from the Southern Poverty Law Center that says the creation of CIS was "part of a carefully thought-out strategy aimed at creating a set of complementary institutions to cultivate the nativist cause — groups including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and NumbersUSA." SPLC claims CIS was started by a man named John Tanton, "a man known for his racist statements about Latinos, his decades-long flirtation with white nationalists and Holocaust deniers, and his publication of ugly racist materials." SPLC has written about Tanton and his anti-immigrant views extensively over the years. But CIS denies Tanton's involvement. They say he "helped found CIS, but...never had any role here."

CIS, FAIR, NumbersUSA, and John Tanton have been targets of the Southern Poverty Law Center for years. SPLC describes itself as "a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society." SPLC is perhaps best known for tracking what it calls "hate groups."

But SPLC is an advocacy group, with any agenda like any other. It's also a really wealthy advocacy group, and the target of plenty of criticism, too. Ken Silverstein of Harper's Magazine wrote a piece (only available to magazine subscribers) on the SPLC in 2000. In a blog update written in 2007 (free for all to see) Silverstein cited SPLC's total assets as of 2005 at $168 million. Silverstein writes "[SPLC's] stated mission is to combat disgusting yet mostly impotent groups like the Nazis and the KKK. What it does best, though, is to raise obscene amounts of money by hyping fears about the power of those groups; hence the SPLC has become the nation's richest 'civil rights' organization."

So what's the point here? Organizations like SPLC, CIS, CAP, FAIR, and so on all have agendas. They want to get their message out any way they can -- the fulsome beauty of the First Amendment. But journalists must not simply transcribe what someone says about why we should restrict immigration, or how a certain person is motivated solely by hate. Just because someone is pro-immigration doesn't mean they're anti-American. And just because someone is anti-immigration doesn't necessarily mean they're motivated by hatred.