April 16, 2023
By Jason Hopkins and Matt O’Brien
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has made a fortune accusing mainstream conservative groups of being extremists, but a recent domestic terrorism charge, coupled with a pattern of behavior by its organization, raises the question: who are the actual extremists here?
Recently, 40 individuals were arrested following a violent assault on Georgia police officers guarding the site of a proposed first responder training facility in Atlanta. Armed with shields and improvised weapons, these alleged domestic terrorists chanted “stop cop city” as they hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at police guarding the land reserved for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.
These rioters — claiming that this training facility will lead to the militarization of local police and harm the surrounding environment — breached a fence, set heavy machinery on fire, destroyed a police vehicle, and assaulted officers with fireworks and incendiary devices.
Among those arrested was one Thomas Webb Jurgens. Jurgens stands out not just because he was one of only two arrestees who actually reside in Georgia, but also because he is an attorney — and not only that, but a full-time staff attorney for the SPLC. According to profiles on the Georgia and Florida Bar websites, Jurgens is licensed, and in good standing, in both states.
The SPLC, for the uninitiated, is an extremist, left-wing, purportedly nonprofit law firm that is best known for its annual “hate map,” an extensive list of purported “hate groups” operating within the United States.
Once it became publicly known that Jurgens was one of roughly two dozen individuals charged with domestic terrorism, the SPLC released a statement accusing police of “heavy-handed law enforcement” and claimed that Jurgens was there simply to act as a “legal observer.”
Finding all this interesting, the Immigration Reform Law Institute obtained police documents filed in connection with Jurgens’s arrest from the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office. The affidavit sworn out by arresting officers noted that Jurgens was “observed with muddy clothing from breaching and crossing the embankment [surrounding the site].” So was he really just an observer? Perhaps he was. After all, if you wish to observe a riot, it makes sense to go where the rioters go.
But the SPLC’s defense of Jurgens raises questions of its own. What if two men conspired to rob a liquor store, and a third man, a lawyer, decided to accompany them as a “legal observer” of the crime? Doesn’t it seem certain that some sort of criminal charges would lie against the attorney?
Jurgens is now out on bond and definitely deserves his day in court. A key question may be whether Jurgens knew about the Molotov cocktails and the riot that was planned, or thought he was just there to observe a nonviolent protest protected under the First Amendment. One thing is clear, though: in one way or another, the SPLC — this self-professed bulwark against “hate” and “extremism” — has repeatedly been associated with violent thuggery.
For example, when President Donald Trump announced in 2020 that he would designate Antifa as a terrorist group, the SPLC released a statement condemning such an action. According to the SPLC, designating Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization would be “dangerous” and threaten civil rights. And the SPLC persisted in this fantasy despite the fact that Antifa has been connected to countless acts of vandalism and violence, particularly amid the George Floyd riots.
Another example is when a domestic terrorist — reportedly influenced by the SPLC’s designation of the Family Research Council as a “hate group” because of its position on same-sex “marriage” and similar issues — shot up the Council’s D.C. lobby, injuring a security guard. According to a statement of offense, signed by the defendant as well as the government, the man “entered the building with the intention of shooting and killing as many employees of the organization as he could.”
Despite these associations, the SPLC is a cash cow. Its “hate map” is hugely profitable, apparently because it is used to frighten donors with phantom menaces of “right-wing hate” prowling the country. By now, the SPLC enjoys over half a billion dollars in net assets, which include millions in offshore accounts. Even some aligned with the SPLC’s avowed mission have called foul. In 2019, Bob Moser, a self-avowed leftist who once worked for the SPLC, wrote an article for The New Yorker calling it “a highly profitable scam.”
The organization’s modus operandi is painfully clear. While excusing blatantly violent terror and intimidation tactics when employed by radical, far-left groups like Antifa, the SPLC has consistently labeled decidedly nonviolent, conservative-leaning organizations — like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the Center for Security Policy, the Family Research Council, and Alliance Defending Freedom — as “hate groups.” Why? Because that’s what keeps the donations rolling in. And, equipped with an army of lawyers funded from its half-billion war chest, the SPLC thus far has been able to smear its mainstream, civic-minded political opponents with impunity, arguing in court that its “hate” designations are merely non-actionable “opinions,” not false statements of fact.
Far from being a protector of civil rights, the SPLC is a vicious smear machine whose primary goal seems to be to prohibit anyone who disagrees with its far-left views from being heard at all. And, as Webb Jurgens’s alleged crimes may indicate, and the organization’s defense of Antifa clearly shows, the SPLC seems remarkably comfortable with silencing tactics that go much farther, descending into physical intimidation, destruction, and mayhem.
It’s high time for the SPLC to take a break from its cynical smear-for-money schemes and take a look in the mirror. If it does, it will see total hypocrisy staring back at it.
Jason Hopkins, a former investigative journalist, serves as investigations manager at the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI). Matt O’Brien is the director investigations at IRLI and co-hosts IRLI’s podcast “No Border, No Country.” Matt has nearly 30 years of experience in immigration law and policy, having served as an immigration judge and in numerous positions within the Department of Homeland Security.
Also published at American Thinker, April 15, 2023.
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