Inside Defamation Lawsuit That Could Blow Southern Poverty Law Center Wide Open

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The Southern Poverty Law Center is notorious for branding mainstream conservative and Christian organizations, such as the Alliance Defending Freedom and Moms for Liberty “hate groups” or “antigovernment extremist groups,” placing them on a map alongside chapters of the Ku Klux Klan.

Many of the SPLC’s targets have sued for defamation, but almost every lawsuit has failed. Earlier this year, however, a judge allowed one defamation lawsuit against the SPLC to move forward.

D.A. King, founder and president of the Dustin Inman Society, brought a uniquely strong case against the SPLC. King didn’t just argue that the SPLC was lying by branding his organization, which supports the enforcement of immigration law and has legal immigrants on its board, an “anti-immigrant hate group” that “focuses on vilifying all immigrants.”

King argued that the SPLC had reason to doubt the claim that the Dustin Inman Society is an “anti-immigrant hate group” because the SPLC itself had explicitly stated that it did not consider his organization an “anti-immigrant hate group” years before it later did so.

In 2011, Heidi Beirich, then-director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project (the project behind the “hate map”), told The Associated Press that the SPLC did not consider the society a “hate group.” In 2019, however, the SPLC published its 2018 version of the “hate map,” and it included the Dustin Inman Society. The SPLC has kept the Dustin Inman Society on that map ever since, including this past June, even after a judge ruled that the society is likely to succeed in its lawsuit.

In another interesting twist, most of the quotes the SPLC uses as evidence to brand the society a “hate group” date to before 2011.

I sat down with King recently to discuss his important case. In our interview, he noted, “It’s the SPLC versus the SPLC.”

Many defamation suits against the SPLC fail due to the quirks of Supreme Court jurisprudence on defamation law. The bar for a plaintiff suing for defamation is extremely high, especially if the plaintiff counts as a “public figure.” While the Supreme Court precedent that established this kind of rule—New York Times v. Sullivan (1964)—actually involved an elected official, later precedents expanded the definition of “public figure” to include anyone who puts himself or herself out to the public, and nonprofits such as the Dustin Inman Society fit that definition.

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Public figures who seek to restore their good names in court have to prove that those they’re suing acted with “actual malice,” which means proving they published their statements with “reckless disregard for the truth.”

In order to demonstrate that, a plaintiff such as King must prove that the SPLC had reason to doubt the truth or falsehood of its claims, and the 2011 AP article would appear to meet that criteria.

A federal judge rejected the SPLC’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit earlier this year, allowing the case to move to discovery. That means King can request documents from the SPLC that may help prove his case (and the SPLC can also request documents from him).

King is far from alone in facing the SPLC’s “hate group” accusation.

As I explain in my book “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the SPLC took the program it had used to bankrupt organizations associated with the Ku Klux Klan and weaponized it against conservative groups, partially to scare its donors into ponying up cash and partially to silence ideological opponents.

In 2019, amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal that led the SPLC to fire its co-founder, a former employee came forward to call the organization’s “hate” accusations a “highly profitable scam.”

In 2012, a terrorist with a gun used the “hate map” to target a Christian nonprofit in Washington, D.C. Although the SPLC condemned the attack, it kept the gunman’s target on its “hate map.”

The FBI used the SPLC’s “hate group” list to target “radical-traditional Catholics” in an infamous memo earlier this year. According to the SPLC’s logic, the entire Roman Catholic Church arguably should be listed as a “hate group,” because the SPLC cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church in branding the small pro-family nonprofit the Ruth Institute a “hate group.”

Yet President Joe Biden—a self-described devout Catholic—and his team have hosted SPLC leaders and staff at the White House at least 11 times since Jan. 20, 2021, and Biden nominated an SPLC attorney, Nancy Abudu, to a federal judgeship.

Earlier this year, the SPLC added Moms for Liberty, along with other parental rights groups, such as Parents Defending Education, to its “hate map.”

King’s lawsuit represents the best chance to date to expose how the SPLC chooses whether to add an organization to its “hate map,” and that information may prove vital to restoring the good names of so many of the SPLC’s targets.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Tyler O’Neil: This is Tyler O’Neil. I’m managing editor at The Daily Signal and author of the book “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center.” I’m honored to be joined in studio by none other than D.A. King, who is the founder and president of the Dustin Inman Society, which is a very important organization in Georgia fighting illegal immigration and specifically illegal immigration, a pro-immigration man over here. But the illegal problem is really wrecking our country right now.

And he was allegedly defamed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which branded his organization a hate group, put him on a hate map with chapters of the Ku Klux Klan. And now, you filed a very important lawsuit alleging that defamation and the court rejected the SPLC’s motion to dismiss, which is huge because usually, the SPLC gets away. They file these motions to dismiss, they say you’re not stating a claim, and then the case dies. We even had an organization appeal all the way to the Supreme Court, only to find it rejected again. But your case made it. And I really want to delve into all of those things. But again, it’s great to have you in studio with us, D.A. King.

D.A. King: It’s my great pleasure. Thank you for letting us be here. And if I may, before we get started, I want to make it clear how much I admire your work and your tireless efforts for exposing the Southern Poverty Law Center. So, good for you. Thank you.

O’Neil: And I think you had told me that after reading my book, that was one of the things that inspired you to actually take the leap and file this lawsuit.

King: Well, your research surpassed mine. I remember telling my wife after I read your book that, “Wow, this guy knows more about the SPLC than I do.” And I thought I knew a lot. I do. But anyway, I am a big fan and thank you for the book.

O’Neil: Yes. No, my pleasure.

King: So yes, it’s true. We have a pending defamation case against the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is also true that the case that’s been filed in a Montgomery, Alabama, federal court, in which the judge in his opinion told the world that the plaintiff, us, has the better argument, the nuts and bolts are that we are a self-funded organization that accepts donations.

But what we have done since 2005 is try to educate people on the consequences of illegal immigration. And I find that it’s easy to explain to people who don’t follow the issue or are not immersed in it up to their neck like we are for 20 years of my life.

Immigration and especially illegal immigration can be viewed in two general categories. And people take either a pro-enforcement attitude or an anti-enforcement attitude. We are on the pro-enforcement side.

We believe that we cannot honor the real legal immigrants like my adopted sister and the members of our board who join the American family lawfully according to American immigration laws. And neither can we honor the rich tradition of immigration into our country unless and until we actually secure the border and enforce the existing laws.

So we’re all about the legal end of making sure that statutes already on the books, and more if it helps, are obeyed. And we operate mostly on a state level in Georgia where people are surprised to find out that more illegal aliens live in Georgia than live in Arizona.

O’Neil: Wow. Yeah.

King: There is a higher concentration or population of people in the country illegally in Georgia than green card holders. So we have our hands full. We have been extremely successful since 2005. We’re very proud of it. But what success does, if you fight the organized crime that is illegal immigration, is it draws people like the SPLC who are clearly on the anti-enforcement side.

O’Neil: Yeah. So two things. Your organization is called the Dustin Inman Society, who was Dustin Inman? And then how did the SPLC move from saying you’re not a hate group to suddenly saying you are a hate group?

King: Thank you. I don’t do this very well sometimes. Dustin Inman is a Woodstock, Georgia, youth in the suburbs of Atlanta who is forever 16 years old because United States of America does not secure our border and enforce immigration laws.

Dustin Inman was killed on Father’s Day weekend, the year 2000, when somebody in the country illegally plowed into the back of the Inman family car stopped at a stoplight in North Georgia. It killed Dustin and the family dog in the backseat.

And it put Dustin’s parents, who later became very dear friends of mine, Billy and Kathy Inman, in comas for weeks. And when they were awakened, they were told their only child was gone. They missed the funeral. And Kathy would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair, which she did. She’s gone now as well as a direct result of that crash.

So Dustin Inman is but one example of the consequences of illegal immigration, which, one more time, people should recognize it for the organized crime that it is.

O’Neil: Yeah. So fast-forward to the SPLC’s claims against you. The SPLC speaks to The Associated Press at a specific time, I believe it was 2007, and then later decides, and at that time they say, “Your organization is not a hate group.” And then later they come in and say, “Your organization is a hate group.”

King: Let me fix that a little bit. So, what we do in Georgia, and I’m very proud of it, I’ve helped to draft multiple pieces of legislation—many, if not most, of which are now state law. We can do a separate interview to examine why they’re not enforced. But nevertheless, the laws are on the books and we’ve been successful.

This doesn’t present the kind of environment that people like the SPLC really, really want. So in 2011, not ’07, respectfully, The Associated Press did a profile on me on the fourth or the third of July in which one of the questions, to get balance to the Southern Poverty Law Center, who in great detail replied to The Associated Press that D.A. King, the Dustin Inman Society is not a hate group. And in their detail, they went on to explain why, because we did not match their already ridiculous definition of what an anti-immigrant hate group is. But they made it clear that we don’t fit that however ridiculous description in their in-house happenings.

Well, fast-forward to 2018 when there was yet another bill being processed in the committee system in the Georgia Capitol. Now, the SPLC has actually registered to lobby officially against what they were already opposing. And in the process and within a very short time frame of them registering to lobby against a bill we were pushing and advancing, they decided that the original classification wasn’t working, and now we’re going to be an anti-immigrant hate group that denigrates all immigrants.

And I have to go a little bit longer to make it clear how much that amazed the real legal immigrants on our board of advisers, not to mention my adopted sister who happens to be an immigrant from Korea, or the immigrant donors to our pro-enforcement cause.

So in a nutshell, if people want to keep up with this, the Southern Poverty Law Center has told the world that we are an anti-immigrant hate group that denigrates all immigrants. And then they’ve thrown in a bunch of out-of-context sentences from newspaper columns and things that I have written and said that had nothing to do with any of their charges. But their effort is to silence us or to marginalize us to the point where it doesn’t matter what we say or do. And in that effort, they’ve had some success.

O’Neil: So can you paint a picture of what happened, how the Dustin Inman Society had been progressing, had been achieving your victories before 2018, and what this hate accusation really did to your reputation and to your ability to achieve your goals after 2018?

King: Sure. It’s human nature. People want to take the path of least resistance.

If you are a Republican legislator in the state of Georgia and the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta, and you have X amount of your constituents demanding that you do something on a state level about illegal immigration, it’s not their favorite topic because you have the Chamber of Commerce, for example, takes a dim view of those kinds of actions.

But it’s difficult to get people interested in government to go after illegal immigration, it’s difficult enough, but if someone can point and say, “You don’t want to talk to that particular individual because the SPLC has said he’s a hate group,” the goal and the result is that some of that might rub off on me, and the legislator, plural, can go and does go in a different direction.

So it has certainly diminished our effectiveness. It’s reduced our fundraising. It’s marginalized my own good name, which I intend to do everything I can to get back. It’s put our family, put my family in a state of great caution because it’s well-documented that the “hate group” designation from the SPLC can and has resulted in very violent attempts to take people’s lives. So I’m very careful in what I do. I have security in my home and I am always conscious of what might happen to my wife.

O’Neil: And we’re sitting just a few blocks away from the Family Research Council, which was also put on the hate map. And they received not just a threat, but an actual terrorist coming into their building with a semi-automatic pistol and a bag of Chick-fil-A sandwiches, planned to kill everyone in the building and smear a sandwich in their face. So this terrorist was convicted of terrorism. He actually pled guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The SPLC has kept the Family Research Council on the list ever since. And so they must know to some degree that there are people out there who will look at the list as a target to go after people. And of course, the SPLC condemned that attack, but they haven’t removed the Family Research Council and they’ve put you on there since that horrific attack.

King: Yes, it’s definitely had an effect on my life. I’m not the kind of ex-Marine who would go and have therapy, but it definitely has changed our view on the world and it makes us more careful, as it’s intended.

The intention of the ridiculous category that a group that includes real legal immigrants that is opposing illegal immigration and begging for enforcement is somehow anti-immigrant or denigrates all immigrants is ridiculous on its face. And what we want is an opportunity to present that to a jury.

O’Neil: Well, I think the SPLC repeatedly has shown what I’d call routine defamation, where they go after all of these. And of course, your case in particular is very strong. What makes your case different? Because I’ve seen many groups—the D. James Kennedy Ministries, who I mentioned earlier, filed a defamation lawsuit and appealed it all the way to the Supreme Court and encouraged the Supreme Court to reconsider New York Times v. Sullivan. But of course that went—

King: Well, I think we’ve touched on what is unusual about our case, as if the whole thing wasn’t unusual enough, in that you have, essentially, and the way I present it to people with limited time is what we have is the SPLC of 2011 versus the SPLC of 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and this year, 2023. Because they did not just list us as an anti-immigrant hate group that denigrates all immigrants one time, they repeatedly did it even after court documents were filed illustrating that we are made up of immigrants and most immigrants don’t hate all immigrants kind of an affair. So there’s that wrinkle.

The media has stayed away from it. I am very proud to say that on June 8, which is now more than 90 days ago, I did a two-hour interview with a very polite, reputable New York Times reporter. That interview has not resulted in any kind of a news story. And again, it’s 90 days old. I trust and assume that this long delay has nothing to do with the SPLC’s influence, and I’ll leave it at that. But I am anxious to see the results of the June 8 interview with The New York Times.

O’Neil: Yeah. And talking about the personal aspect, you said that it has been harder to fundraise for the Dustin Inman Society since the SPLC’s attack. Can you unpack that a little bit more? From what I understood, you had to mortgage your house at some point to keep the organization running. Is that true?

King: That is true. I’m not sure that I would do that again. But we live in a house, it’s the only house we’ve ever owned that we bought in 1984 when it was new. We still live in that house. I love it. It suits us. I grow my tomatoes and vegetables. But we just paid off one of the mortgages, which was, at a time, we had two mortgages on it. I live in a house since 1984 and I still have nine years to pay it off.

O’Neil: Wow.

King: That is a result of our determination to do this. We have in the past had donors and regular grants, it is no longer enough to operate. And the attention, however welcome it is, to the SPLC lawsuit has resulted in, I think I said, donations to the legal end of it, which, money dedicated only to and will only be used for the lawsuit. But if anybody feels any desire to help us with operational money so that we can continue to fight illegal immigration, especially in Georgia, I will come wash their car.

O’Neil: And if they want to do that, they can go to your website.

King: We have a website. It’s You can Google D.A. King, the Dustin Inman Society. You can Google the Dustin Inman Society, SPLC. You can get to us a million ways. Most people in Georgia know our work. Not everybody approves of our pro-enforcement view, but on the website we have a donations page and I’m a little embarrassed to say it, but we need help.

O’Neil: Yeah. And there are some quotes that the SPLC had from you and from members of your board that—it was funny when I was going through the charges against you, because the SPLC doesn’t always do this, unfortunately, but sometimes they actually have the webpage where they say, “Oh, here are the claims.” And I like to go through because I want to verify that an organization is not a hate group whenever I report on them, because there are a few actual real hate groups on the SPLC list.

But would you address, one of these quotes was so taken out of context to suggest that there was animus there. I just want to hear from you your responses to some of the things that they’ve claimed against you.

King: If you write a newspaper column—which I did for the Marietta Daily Journal for 13 years on a periodic basis—but if you write a 750-word newspaper column and you have a sentence that is directed at two paragraphs above it, and you take that one sentence and, however innocuous it could be, if you tell the reader that this is somehow an evil statement or take it out of context—I wish people would read more of what the SPLC really says because it’s just ridiculous on its face.

But you brought up a good point. Very quickly, in 2011, we’ve already mentioned that the Southern Poverty Law Center told The Associated Press we’re not a hate group. Most of these out-of-context quotes that they have on their hate sheet, because they hate us, are from before 2011. Things that they had already been through and digested and arrived at the opinion that they’ve shared with The Associated Press that they were not a hate group. Now they’ve changed their mind one more time: It’s the SPLC vs. the SPLC.

O’Neil: Yes. And I think that’s key to explain why your lawsuit has been so successful because in order to prove defamation under the New York Times v. Sullivan and later Supreme Court rulings, you have to demonstrate actual malice.

Well, if you are considered a public figure, which, under the rulings, pretty much anybody who puts themselves out in the public is, which is arguably a twisting of New York Times v. Sullivan anyway, but that aside, the way the law works now, if you are a public figure, you have to demonstrate actual malice from the person who defamed you. And that means that you have to show that they made the statements out of reckless disregard for the truth. And that means you have to prove that they had reason to doubt the veracity of their own statement.

So, you see many of these cases, and I love the way you emphasize it online, you say, “The SPLC admits that their statements are just opinion, that these aren’t a real investigative determinative thing,” but what you’ve done and what so many other organizations couldn’t have done necessarily is demonstrate that the SPLC had good reason to doubt the veracity of its own claims when it has continuously made them since 2018, specifically this claim that they themselves disagreed with in 2011.

King: Correct. And I think it’s important to show viewers, your viewers, and your audience, that the SPLC in a response to one of the court filings actually wrote in a filing to a federal court that, and I’m paraphrasing, but, “It doesn’t matter that we have designated X, Y, Z groups as hate groups because it doesn’t necessarily reflect the facts.” And that’s a paraphrase. I hope people will go find it. I have it all over my Twitter page, @DAKDIS, I try to post it at least once a month.

If there’s any justice in this world, the SPLC will pay dearly for what they have done to me and many, many others. And it’s not just us. There are good, well-intentioned people who are opposed to illegal immigration who have been similarly labeled.

And we’re not just doing this for ourselves. This has to stop somewhere. And apparently, the greatest efforts of a lot of people with much more money than we have had failed.

I think we have a very strong case, a lot of people think we have a very strong case. I look forward to going to court if that’s what they want because we have a lot of evidence to put forth, and that mountain of evidence is growing by the day. I’m very grateful for this time.

O’Neil: And I think one of the other main issues we have is in 2019, the SPLC fired its own co-founder, Morris Dees. The president stepped down amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal.

But the scandal—which came a year after they settled a different defamation lawsuit from a Muslim reformer named Maajid Nawaz, they paid him $3 million. But amid this scandal in 2019, a man by the name of Bob Moser came out and wrote an opinion for The New Yorker, saying that the SPLC, we called it the poverty policy, he was a former SPLC employee, and he said, “The hate accusations are a highly profitable scam.” He said, “The SPLC is constantly engaged in bilking donors,” which is not a new claim. That goes back into the ’90s.

King: It’s not. And I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I want to do his quote before you do because I really love it.

O’Neil: Oh, yeah. Go.

King: And it goes that after explaining the scam that it is, Moser wrote in his New Yorker expose that, “We were part of the hustle, and we knew it.”

O’Neil: “Part of the con,” yeah.

King: “Part of the con,” excuse me. “We were part of the con and we knew it.”

O’Neil: And the real question is, did he know it? When he was writing a long, in-depth article about you and the Dustin Inman Society years before, and this was before they decided in 2018 to—

King: True. And in that interview, I made it clear that my adopted sister is an immigrant, that we’re after illegal immigration.

What has happened here, if people are familiar with this, there’s a woman named Heidi Beirich, who was in charge of the hate warehouse, if you will, and she had to continually create their stock-in-trade. But she was allowed to get away with unconscionable statements and actions.

I think, in my opinion, she got so arrogant that she believed she could do anything that she wanted and say anything that she wanted against anybody that she wanted to smear. And I think they may have gone too far with this. We’ll see what the federal court says.

O’Neil: Yes. And I mean, they’ve branded Moms for Liberty, now putting them on the hate map, parental rights organizations. And we’ve seen weird synergy. The Biden administration, they’ve met with Biden personally eight times and gone to the White House over 10 times in the two years that [Joe] Biden has been president.

So this organization, I think it would be important for you to defend your good name, even if this organization did not have quite the outreach that it does, but this is an organization that’s meeting with President Biden, that had one of its attorneys recently confirmed to a circuit court because Biden appointed her, a woman by the name of Nancy Abudu. And I think your lawsuit is critical to exposing what they really are and what they’re engaged in. And the SPLC does a little bit of good work here and there, but this hate accusation is so destructive.

King: I’m going to respectfully disagree. I don’t know that the SPLC has done anything good in a very long time, if ever. And if it helps your audience to understand the SPLC, much of it in offshore accounts, has something over $700 million in assets. When you start attacking somebody who’s fighting illegal immigration on their own dime and with donations with $700 million, it’s a good reflection on our success, I think. But I think it also should illustrate to the world the desperation with which they don’t want anybody to be successful in their disagreement.

O’Neil: Right. And I think that outshines any of the good work that they do. But I don’t want to be unfair. I think the SPLC, the most important things that they do are the negative things. They’re raising their money off this hate list, they’re demonizing people they disagree with, but it’s a huge organization, and there are a few people here and there who are representing pro bono cases.

I want them to go back to what they were in the 1970s where they actually represented people who needed legal representation in the South. They were the Southern Poverty Law Center, and they got people off of death row who were falsely accused. And then of course, they decided to become this anti-KKK group, and then they decided to take that and weaponize it.

King: I’m going to respectfully disagree. I think the ship on redemption has sailed, and that is my educated experience. And I hope, as Christian as I can get opinion: I don’t know that there’s redemption possible for these people.

O’Neil: Yeah. Well, they at the very least need to be proven, dragged through the court, and shown that this—

King: Again, we hope to get this and much more in front of a jury. If people have the inclination to read the court filings, when they can actually read what the SPLC has done, they can read our complaint. It’s on the Dustin Inman Society website, they can put the SPLC in a search box. And they can gather a lot of information, especially, again, on the court filings.

O’Neil: How is the case proceeding right now? I think you’ve mentioned to me that this is the beginning of the beginning.

King: I would describe it as the beginning of the beginning. And I don’t want to talk too much about the actual mechanics of the case, merely because I am not an attorney and I’m afraid that I’ll say something that’s inaccurate. I think it’s enough to say that the federal judge has indicated that he dismissed their motion to stop the case and said that we have the best argument and is now giving us a chance to do discovery and get into the SPLC records. And there’s a lot of things that I know they don’t want out in the world.

O’Neil: Yeah. Well, D.A. King, where can the people find, follow you, support your work?

King: Again, I’m not hard to find. I don’t have many Twitter followers. It’s @DAKDIS, that’s DA King Dustin Inman Society. The Dustin Inman Society website, we’ve already mentioned. Come on by my house, I’m glad to welcome people who are like us, again, who take a pro-enforcement position on immigration. And people can look around in this country right now and see that that is not the position of the current administration and it’s certainly not the position of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

O’Neil: And why is that so important in Georgia? Just real quick. Because many conservatives think of it as a red state, but you’re constantly fighting for enforcing the immigration laws that are on the books.

King: We are very successful in putting a lot of legislation up as laws. We have statutes in Georgia that are designed to deny … jobs, benefits, and services to people in the country illegally, proper name illegal aliens. We have these statutes in place and many, if not most, of them are not being enforced. And we are going after that and we don’t care who knows it.

O’Neil: Yeah. Well, thanks again so much for joining me. It’s been a great pleasure and best of luck in the future.

King: Thank you very much.

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The post Inside Defamation Lawsuit That Could Blow Southern Poverty Law Center Wide Open appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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