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Florida Media Unleashes Dangerous and Defamatory Article

Contact: Liberty Counsel, 407-875-1776, Media@LC.org; Press Kit


ORLANDO, Fla., Aug. 17, 2017 /Christian Newswire/ -- Gatehouse Media, which owns the Florida-based News Chief, The Walton Sun and The Destin Log, published a defamatory article on Tuesday that includes Liberty Counsel in a list of active "hate groups" in Florida. The article, "Florida ranks 2nd highest in US in hate groups," is attributed to the Associated Press, but Gatehouse Media added additional defamatory information about Liberty Counsel not in the original AP article and uses the discredited Southern Poverty Center Law Center (SPLC), a reckless organization that falsely labels nonviolent people and organizations as "haters" or "hate groups," as a source. Liberty Counsel has sent a demand letter to Gatehouse.

The article states, "According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are currently 63 active hate groups in Florida, behind California's 79. The SPLC's report features a map detailing more than 900 hate groups actively operating across the country. None are listed for the Volusia-Flagler area. There are six in the Orlando region, according to the SPLC: ACT For America (anti-Muslim), Legal Immigrants for America (anti-immigrant), Insight USA (general hate), All Eyes on Egypt Bookstore (black separatist), Liberty Counsel (anti-LGBT) and Vanguard America (white nationalist)."

This Gatehouse Media article is not only defamatory but dangerous, especially after the recent Charlottesville tragedy. The article includes a picture of a recent white supremacy rally in Charlottesville along with the following: "James Alex Fields, the man charged with second-degree murder after driving into a crowd of anti-protesters at the Charlottesville, Virginia white nationalist event Unite the Right Saturday, was seen with the Vanguard America group at the rally. Vanguard America has since issued a statement claiming Fields was not an official member."

The SPLC's caustic and false rhetoric is dangerous because it creates a "Hate Map" listing so-called "hate groups" that includes nonviolent, pro-family, Christian, or conservative organizations. Mark Potock with the SPLC admitted in an interview: "Our criteria for a 'hate group,' first of all, have nothing to do with criminality, or violence, or any kind of guess we're making about 'this group could be dangerous.' It's strictly ideological." Mark Potok is on video in a public meeting stating: "Sometimes the press will describe us as monitoring hate crimes and so on. I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, to completely destroy them..."

James Hodgkinson recently gunned down Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), Zach Barth, a staff member for Congressman Roger Williams, former Congressional staff member Matt Mika and two U.S. Capitol Police officers at a Republican Congressional Members practice for a charity baseball game.  In 2015, the SPLC wrote an article pushing the idea that Rep. Scalise promoted white supremacy and supported a "hate group" founded by former KKK member David Duke. The SPLC article clearly tries to infer that Rep. Scalise is a so-called "hater" and supporter of a "hate group." Hodgkinson "liked" the SPLC Facebook.

The SPLC is also linked to the attempted mass murder in the 2012 shooting at the Washington, D.C. office of the Family Research Council (FRC).  Floyd Corkins II was stopped by the FRC security guard, who was shot in the process. Corkins confessed to the FBI that he intended to commit mass murder and was motivated by the so-called "Hate Map" on the SPLC website that listed FRC as a "hate group."

The Philanthropy Roundtable recently published an article about the SPLC pointing out the false labeling. The SPLC even labeled famed surgeon Dr. Ben Carson as a "hater." The SPLC rakes in millions of dollars each year and has huge financial reserves, causing some to wonder what nonprofit work the SPLC does.

"Gatehouse Media has committed a grave harm and injustice to both the public and to Liberty Counsel," said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. "Including Liberty Counsel in the context of the Charlottesville violence using the same 'hate group' label is defamatory and dangerous. Any responsible journalist would know that this false label has resulted in at least two attempted mass murders targeting people and organizations that are nonviolent. Liberty Counsel opposes violence. I condemn the racist and violent people and groups in Charlottesville and elsewhere. Not once did any journalist with Gatehouse reach out to us to verify their trash story. This article is the epitome of 'fake news.' It is not just fake, it is dangerous and adds to the division in America. It is well known that the SPLC not only promotes hate but its reckless and false labeling provides the motivation for extremists to commit acts of terrorism against innocent people. It is defamatory to Liberty Counsel and dangerous to many people to falsely label them as 'haters' or 'hate groups' and publish such an article on the heels of the Charlottesville tragedy. Liberty Counsel is not a violent or hateful organization. I call upon Gatehouse Media to retract and correct this article immediately," said Staver.

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.