The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is back in the spotlight again after one of its lawyers was arrested on charges of domestic terrorism related to recent acts of violence committed by adherents of the Antifa movement. The organization, which started out as a group committed to opposing bigotry and discrimination, has gone through a metamorphosis, of sorts, and looks today more like a fully dedicated leftist propaganda operation backing radical progressive operatives. But will media reporting of the incident serve to further discredit the SPLC?
Domestic Terrorism Charges
On Sunday, March 5, a group of Antifa operatives attacked a new police training center located near Atlanta. The city’s initiative, which is derisively referred to as “Cop City,” has come under fire from leftist activists who argue that it will only serve to promote the further militarization of law enforcement and lead to more state-sponsored violence. The rioters hurled rocks, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks at officers.
The authorities rounded up 35 alleged perpetrators, charging 23 of them with domestic terrorism. One of these individuals was Tom Jurgens, who has been working as a staff attorney for the SPLC since 2021.
“On March 5, 2023, a group of violent agitators used the cover of a peaceful protest of the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center to conduct a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers,” Atlanta police reported on Sunday. “They changed into black clothing and entered the construction area and began to throw large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks at police officers.”
“The illegal actions of the agitators could have resulted in bodily harm,” the authorities added. “Officers exercised restraint and used nonlethal enforcement to conduct arrests.”
Jurgens was released Monday on bail. The SPLC has defended its employee, arguing that he was there to report any possible violations of protesters’ rights by police.
“We are pleased that the DeKalb County assistant district attorney (ADA) agreed to a consent bond for Tom Jurgens,” SPLC President Margaret Huang said in a written statement. “As we previously stated, Tom was performing a public service, documenting potential violations of protesters’ rights. We are outraged that police officers present at the protest refused to acknowledge Tom’s role as a legal observer and instead chose to arrest him. We are confident that the evidence will demonstrate he was a peaceful legal observer.”
The organization released a statement on Monday claiming that the arrests “are part of ongoing state repression and violence against racial and environmental justice protesters” who are supposedly “fighting to defend their communities from the harms of militarized policing and environmental degradation.” The statement referred to Jurgens as “an experienced legal observer” and insisted that his arrest “is not evidence of any crime, but of heavy-handed law enforcement intervention against protesters.”
What Is the SPLC’s Relationship With Antifa?
The Southern Poverty Law Center appears to have quite a cozy relationship with members of the Antifa movement. It has refused to condemn the conduct of its members, defending their actions despite the fact that many use violence to further Antifa’s political ends.
Indeed, when former President Donald Trump floated the idea of designating Antifa a terrorist organization, the SPLC ran cover for the group faster than Rep. Eric Swalwell chasing a Chinese spy. On its website, the SPLC published a piece excoriating the president for insinuating that Antifa’s operatives were involved with domestic terrorism and argued that applying this label would somehow have “significant implications for the civil liberties of U.S. citizens, particularly those of color,” and would “grant federal law enforcement broad powers…to surveil and investigate anyone labeled as antifa.”
The organization claimed this effort is “rooted in politics” and that the designation “retreads some of the darkest moments in our federal law enforcement’s past.” The SPLC has not outright formed an alliance with Antifa, nor has it publicly supported their violent activities. But it clearly finds solidarity with the radical left-wing movement.
Some would argue that the SPLC has itself fomented political violence through its Hatewatch program. While pursuing its mission to expose hate groups and extremists in the United States, Hatewatch has deceptively labeled several organizations and individuals as entities promoting bigotry and violence.
In 2012, a gunman targeted the Family Research Council’s headquarters in Washington, DC, shooting and wounding a guard. After being apprehended by law enforcement, he told the FBI that he learned about the organization on the SPLC’s “hate map” and decided to murder everyone in the building. The SPLC placed the Family Research Council on its list because of its opposition to abortion and support for traditional marriage.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has been the subject of controversy on many occasions. Before the incident in Atlanta, the group came under scrutiny after an FBI analyst used SPLC as a source to make the case for infiltrating traditional Catholic groups supposedly to prevent violent white supremacist extremism. Despite having laudable roots, the organization has transformed over the years into a more politically partisan group. Instead of focusing on protecting civil rights, SPLC seems to have chosen to dedicate itself to a decidedly radical agenda.
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