A coalition of civil rights groups and left-leaning organizations on Friday demanded an apology from the Colorado Republican Party for “viciously attacking” the Southern Poverty Law Center on Twitter, but the state GOP’s chairman called the request ridiculous and doubled down on the party’s criticism of the watchdog group.
The dispute centers around what the civil rights groups term “a bizarre outburst on Twitter” by the state GOP’s official account — a series of tweets and retweets questioning the SPLC’s credibility as an arbiter of hate groups and extremists.
“Less than one month since Charlottesville, the solution to the growing epidemic of hate in America is not to vilify the messenger,” said Superintendent Rev. Patrick L. Demmer, a vice president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, in a statement. “It is outrageous to witness the Colorado Republican Party attacking an organization that has fought for civil rights and equality for over 45 years.”
Joined by the executive directors of gay-rights advocacy group One Colorado and an organization called FRESC, Good Jobs, Strong Communities, Demmer called on Colorado GOP chairman Jeff Hays to “publicly apologize and hold the staffer responsible for these tweets accountable.”
Citing articles critical of the SPLC “from across the political spectrum” and a letter written this week by prominent conservatives that calls the SPLC a “discredited, left-wing political activist organization that seeks to silence its political opponents with a ‘hate group’ label of its own invention,” Hays told Colorado Politics he has no intention of apologizing.
“The notion that the Colorado Republican Party should apologize for joining this broad chorus of critics is ridiculous,” Hays said in a statement. “Our tweet was correct to suggest the SPLC is an unreliable source of information, and stories that cite it uncritically ought not to be trusted.”
The SPLC “serves one useful purpose,” the state GOP tweeted Wednesday. “It lets readers know not to trust stories citing it. #SPLC is like the bright coloring on a poisonous frog.” The tweet linked to a Fox News story about dozens of conservatives organizations urging the media to stop using the SPLC’s data to label “hate groups.”
Ian Silverii, executive director of left-leaning advocacy group ProgressNow Colorado, leaped to the defense of the SPLC. “Look around,” he said the next day in a tweet that tagged the Colorado Republicans. “See what side the @splcenter is on? Be on that side.”
A twitter battle ensued — the Colorado Republicans retweeted a local conservative calling the SPLC “far-left radical hacks,” drawing criticism from a Pueblo newspaper publisher, who chided the “Party of Lincoln” for having “quite the white nationalist tweet day” with its attack on the SPLC.
“Y’all are shark-jumpers,” the Colorado GOP responded, pointing to criticism of the SPLC from “across the spectrum.”
After Sean Paige, the communications director for the Colorado Senate Republicans, weighed in with criticism of the SPLC’s “checkered record and definite bias/agenda” on his personal Twitter account, Silverii fired back. “So there is a coordinated right wing attack on the nation’s premier hate group watchdog” Silverii tweeted. “Good to know.”
The Alabama-based nonprofit made its reputation in the 1970s suing the Ku Klux Klan for hate crimes but is perhaps best known for maintaining its “Hatewatch” site that tracks extremist groups it says “have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
It’s been under attack from the right for years with charges the SPLC’s Intelligence Project unfairly lumps people and organizations who hold conservative views — on topics such as traditional marriage and immigration restrictions — with the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists and other violent extremists. The SPLC has also faced critics on the left who argue it’s lost focus while turning itself into a fundraising powerhouse.
Libertarian-leaning Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle on Thursday — in an online article also cited by Hays — accused the SPLC of lumping together “principled conservatives … with bigots” and muddying the waters when it comes to combatting legitimate extremists.
On Friday, the SPLC swung back against what it called a “coordinated attack by far-right extremist groups we’ve named as hate groups because they vilify the LGBT community, immigrants and Muslims,” demanding a correction from Fox News for a story the cable network aired Wednesday.