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Southern Poverty Law Center Apologizes For Article Linking Journalists With Fascists Allegedly Influenced By Russia

The Southern Poverty Law Center retracted a post that was written by a freelance journalist on their “Hatewatch” blog and apologized to several journalists who were inappropriately attacked.

On March 9, SPLC, which is a legal advocacy organization that campaigns against hate groups, published, “The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left-wing resentment,” by Alexander Reid Ross. It lumped anti-war or anti-imperialist journalism in with the work of fascists, who are allegedly part of a massive Russian conspiracy to create a multipolar world where the United States is no longer the greatest superpower.

It named journalists Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton, Rania Khalek, Tim Pool, and Brian Becker. Blumenthal and Norton pursued legal action, and the SPLC posted an apology on March 14.

“Shortly after its publication, we received complaints registered by or on behalf of several journalists mentioned in the article that it falsely described one or another of them as white supremacists, fascists, and/or anti-Semites, and falsely accused them of engaging in a conspiracy with the [Vladimir Putin’s] regime to promote such views. Because neither we nor the article’s author intended to make any such accusations, we took it down while we re-examined its contents,” SPLC declared.

SPLC claimed the intent was to show that there are individuals on the left, who share “policy views with respect to multipolarism” that far right media also promote at conferences. Nevertheless, it singled-out certain individuals who did not deserve it so the article would not be restored.

“We extend a sincere apology to those who believe they have been falsely described in it, including Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton, Tim Pool, Rania Khalek, and Brian Becker, and disclaim, as clearly as we can, any intention to suggest that any of them are white supremacists, fascists, and/or anti-Semites, that they hold such views, or that they are engaged in a conspiracy with the Russian government to promote such views or otherwise,” the SPLC stated.

Attorney Bill Moran was paid a total of $20 to represent Blumenthal, Khalek, and Norton (and later Pool). He sent the SPLC a letter detailing alleged factual inaccuracies and a theory for further legal action over the post.

By the time Moran was involved, Blumenthal had already contacted SPLC director Richard Cohen. Moran said a “polite” phone call with Cohen led the organization to take the post down.

“I commend the Southern Poverty Law Center for actually doing the right thing here and issuing that apology and giving those journalists their voice back,” Moran told Shadowproof. “A big part of this was an effort to smear journalists with dissenting perspective, particularly on foreign policy.”

Moran added, “Whether people agree with them or disagree them, the thrust of that piece was to name progressive journalists with different perspective and to silence them.”

The piece was actually one of multiple posts with smears against Blumenthal that were published in the past few months, which SPLC chose to take down and re-examine.

“[The SPLC] has taken consideration of the facts and the work of those that freelance writer Alexander Reid Ross unfairly slandered. I appreciate their full retraction of his smear piece and their thoughtful apology,” Blumenthal wrote.

Khalek reacted, “Thank you to the [SPLC] for their retraction and apology for the article they published slandering me and my colleagues. It’s much appreciated.”

Remarkably, Cody Roche, who describes himself as “an anti-tank guided missile and faction tracker focusing on the Syrian Civil War,” replied to this statement, “Just wait for what’s coming next.” Roche contributes to Bellingcat.com, which receives funding from the U.S. State Department’s National Endowment for Democracy. Khalek viewed this as a threat.

“How is it [okay] for U.S. government-funded trolls to threaten dissident American journalists?” Khalek wondered.

Ross defended the piece, “While I’m disappointed that my article was taken down, I respect the SPLC’s decision. The article was taken down [because] of legal threats based on misinterpretations of the claims in the article, not due to factual inaccuracies. I stand by the facts as they’re presented in the piece.”

However, the SPLC does not typically respond to legal threats in the way that the organization did. Maajid Nawaz sued the SPLC for labeling him an “anti-Muslim extremist.” The SPLC did not cave to legal threats from a far-right promoter of Islamophobia in the United States, even though Bill Maher gave him a platform on his HBO show, “Real Time.”

Ross asserted it was vetted by “six independent scholars, journalists, and researchers” and that several “human rights activists and media professionals” praised his work. He did not name these individuals, but several neoconservative commentators, like Jamie Kirchick and Michael Weiss, were ecstatic about the post. Activists upset with Blumenthal, Khalek, and Norton’s work on Syria were pleased with it as well.

“It’s a pretty sorry state of affairs when a well-connected journalist threatens legal retaliation against a civil rights media outlet in order to suppress factual information they find inconvenient,” Ross contended. “However, it does reinforce my reason for writing the piece in the first place.”

As Ben Norton described on the “Unauthorized Disclosure” weekly podcast (which this author co-hosts), this kind of attack, which invoked a “red-brown alliance” between left-wing journalists and fascists, was part of an “incredibly dishonest smear campaign” that was led by “some of the most notorious anti-anti-imperialists. They are anti-anti-war.”

According to Norton, the effort aims to finish off the complete neutralization and/or destruction of any kind of meaningful U.S. antiwar movement.

“We are deeply anti-fascist at our core, much more than these people who are attacking us,” Norton said. “In fact, our positions on Syria and other conflicts are precisely motivated by anti-fascism and anti-racism.”

Quite a bit of disinformation was spread after legal action against SPLC over the post became public. For example, several individuals promoted the idea that Moran was targeting journalists to shut down their freedom of expression in some KGB-style operation.

Moran did not contact or send papers informing any journalist they would be sued and has no plans to go after any journalists, who promoted the article.

Several upset with the fact that SPLC took the post down suggested Blumenthal recruited his father, Sidney Blumenthal, a former aide to President Bill Clinton, to assist him. At no point was Max’s father ever involved in pressuring SPLC over a post the organization admitted was inappropriate and poorly conceived.

Photo via Grassroots Leadership on Facebook.
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."