Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts this weekend penned a column identifying a new hate group: the Republican Party. Pitts accused the party of being race baiting for years and now believes that they meet the definition of a hate group with the KKK and neo-Nazis. The column is the latest example of how we no longer recognize good-faith differences in opposing views in our age of rage. It also reflects how hate speech often is defined in highly generalized terms that allow for arbitrary designations, particularly for those who espouse different views than your own.
Pitts used the definition of The Southern Poverty Law Center which has been sued for labeling conservative groups as hate groups. The group has reversed some of its prior declarations of hate groups, but has not changed the loose definition that allowed it to capriciously select such groups or individuals as “extremists”. The Center defines the hate groups as denoting “an organization that — based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities — has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
So any group can be declared a hate group if either its beliefs or practices “malign” any group? Yes, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
That made it easy for Pitts who concluded that “For half a century, then, the GOP has taught white voters racial resentment, taught them to prioritize concerns about white prerogative over concerns about shuttered factories, dirty water, lack of health care, foreclosed futures. It did this in code — “Willie Horton,” “tax cuts,” “welfare queen” — which, while obvious to all but the most gullible, still allowed respectable white men and women to maintain fig leaves of deniability.”
With Trump, Pitts asserts that the GOP “fits [the definition] with room to spare.”
Under the SPLC definition, doesn’t Pitts’ column constitute maligning Republicans as a group? It is not an immutable characteristic (though I wonder with a few Republican friends), but such immutability is noted by the DPLC was merely “typical” and not essential.
The column could well have been tongue in cheek but suggesting that an entire political group qualifies as a hate group is hardly a light satire and Pitts seems entirely serious.
Pitts simply declared that “they are now is the party of “Send her back!” — of outrage over Colin Kaepernick kneeling and April Ryan asking questions.” Well, they do have a few other issues that define them. One can disagree with the party’s stance on global warming, immigration, military budgets, or other issues but those issues exist as core differences with the Democratic party. Moreover, the opposition to Kaepernick is shared by a majority of Americans in many polls. I am one of those who disagree with the protest during the anthem. Are we all a hate group because our opposition could be viewed as maligning those NFL players?
I have joined in the criticism of Trump for his tweets (like the highly offensive call for members of Congress to “go back” to where they came from). I have also criticized the GOP for not denouncing Trump on that and many other occasions. However, I do not view the GOP as a hate group or think that it is appropriate to do so. It is an example of how we no longer debate issues but label those with whom we disagree. It is not enough to disagree with the Republican Party. You must declare the entire party to be a hate group. Such arguments only highlight the subjectivity in such definitions — and the danger that such ambiguity holds for free speech.