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The SPLC Fails the Intelligence Test

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

What do you call an organization whose so-called intelligence reports are sometimes an insult to intelligence, an organization that brands some groups “hate groups” and yet, using its own criteria, should itself be branded a hate group? You call that organization the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center). The scary thing is that many people still take them seriously.

According to the SPLC website, its quarterly magazine, the Intelligence Report, “provides comprehensive updates to law enforcement agencies, the media and the general public. It is the nation’s preeminent periodical monitoring the radical right in the U.S.”

The radical right? Well, let’s do a fact check on the Spring 2012 edition, Issue Number: 145, entitled, “The Year in Hate and Extremism 2011,” so we can find out just who this “radical right” really is. I’ll focus on the article by Ryan Lenz (with help from Evelyn Schaltter), “NARTH Becomes Main Source for Anti-Gay ‘Junk Science’,” since I spoke at a conference the article describes and since I was able to have the article reviewed by a staff person at NARTH (the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality).

The article starts off with a dramatic (and hardly impartial) description: “PHOENIX: Michael Brown took the dais in a sterile Marriott ballroom last fall, beaming for the 40 or so therapists who form the devout core of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). With a hulking frame packed tightly into a three-button black suit, one of the nation’s most vociferous anti-gay activists began his speech with a dire warning.”

Well, the “hulking frame” description wasn’t too bad, but I didn’t begin the speech with “a dire warning” and there were probably 75-80 (not 40) in attendance. So, not the best start for an investigative report. As for being “one of the nation’s most vociferous anti-gay activists,” I had no idea I had achieved that status.

Moving on, here are some of the most egregious errors in the report. Describing the NARTH conference itself, the article states that, “True to form, the people speaking at that conference were not therapists promising revelations about human sexuality, but rather prominent culture warriors of the religious right, like Brown [and Sharon Slater].”

This is unmitigated nonsense. As noted by my NARTH source (and as I witnessed firsthand), Slater and I were “the only two speakers who were not clinical, research, and academic experts, not to mention the keynote presentation of Dr. Nicholas Cummings, the former President of the American Psychological Association.” Broken down by the hour, “Clinical/Research/Academic presentations = 29.25 hours (21 speakers), Policy presentations = 2.75 hours (2 speakers).”

All Lenz had to do was look at the conference program to get the facts right, but who cares about facts when you’re writing biased articles designed to advance a particular agenda? Why let truth stand in the way when your goal is to discredit people by claiming they belong to the “radical right,” along with skinheads and neo-Nazis and the like?

The article claims that, according to NARTH, “homosexuality is an unnatural deviation from normal sexual development, a form of mental disorder.” Actually, my source notes that “NARTH does not use that term [a form of mental disorder] to label homosexuality.” The best the SPLC could do was cite a 15 year-old quote from a NARTH co-founder, the late Dr. Charles Socarides, but this was simply his personal opinion and is not part of NARTH’s official statements or standards.

The article quotes (and attacks) Dr. Paul Cameron of the Family Research Institute without mentioning that he has nothing to do with NARTH. But why quibble?

The article then approvingly cites gay activist Wayne Besen who claims that, “There’s no other play in the playbook except going back to the fire and brimstone.” Is he kidding? A professional counselor helping a client deal with unwanted same-sex attraction equals “fire and brimstone”? And this is part of an “intelligence report”? (I know. The term is sounding more oxymoronic by the second.)

In 2009, a conservative watchdog group ran this headline: “Prominent homosexual activists lead screaming demonstration, terrorize Boston church sponsoring ex-gay religious event.” And it was none other than Wayne Besen at the helm of this event, shouting through a bullhorn outside the church windows. And he is a trusted source for the SPLC?

Besen is also famous for his over the top, vitriolic rhetoric, yet the groups he attacks, rather than his own organization, make it onto the SPLC’s hate-group list. (To give one of the more amusing examples, in a single article, he described me as a pathological monster, a slick, sick, cynical, diabolical madman with a messiah complex, also accusing me of trying to incite a bunch of “unstable thugs [referring to Christian families in North Carolina] . . . to engage in a violent physical clash with LGBT people.”)

Returning to the SPLC article, it claimed that, in 2007, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, then the president of NARTH, “came under fire after an essay seeming to justify slavery appeared on NARTH’s website,” as a result of which “Nicolosi stepped down as NARTH president after criticism mounted, but he remains instrumental in the group.” As noted by my NARTH source, this is a “total fabrication. Nicolosi was replaced as President by Dr. Dean Byrd, Byrd by Dr. Julie Hamilton, Hamilton by Dr. Christopher Rosik, all in good order as leadership changes on a regular basis.”

But I’m out of space. What is clear is that this “intelligence report” is riddled with fabrications, falsehoods, and fallacies, which means that either the SPLC is lying through its teeth or its research is so poor that it can’t even figure out how to read a list of conference speakers.

No wonder Townhall columnist and professor of criminology Mike Adams suggested to me that a more accurate name for the Southern Poverty Law Center would be the Intellectual Poverty Law Center.

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