I must confess I’ve often scoffed at the idea that there was a “War on Christmas,” much less that anyone attempting to wage such a war had any hope of victory against the biggest holiday celebrated in America (and much of the world).
But then here comes the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), with their new project: a “hate tracker” that is monitoring Twitter trends of “extremists,” including topics like “Christmas.”
The SPLC Hate Tracker launched a few months ago with a website (hatetracker.io) and a Twitter account (@splchatetracker). According to the website, the project’s purpose is to “detect trends in a community of far-right Twitter users…a range of extremists — from the conspiratorial fringes of mainstream conservatism to outright white supremacists.”
Very little of this information is on the @splchatetracker Twitter account, which simply posts the “latest top trend” and “also trending” topics from their data. While some of the topics are associated with white nationalist groups like #altright, #whitegenocide, and #deportthemall, many topics are ones that no reasonable person would consider hateful, like #armynavygame, a reference to the annual college football matchup between the U.S. Naval Academy and West Point, or general news topics.
In recent days, the list has been dominated by Christmas topics, like #christmaseve, #christmas, #merrychristmas, #religion, and #jesus.
Some tweets combine Christmas topics with more controversial ones.
The account used to post a link to the website in their tweets, including a description of their project as “Tracking trending topics among far-right Twitter accounts,” but they stopped doing this for some unknown reason in early December.
The claimed sources for these tweets are SPLC’s list of hate groups, a list of domestic organizations which they update at the beginning of every year. This list starts with various KKK and neo-Nazi groups but as you scroll down the list, you’ll find a number of groups that seem to be included for the crime of espousing Christian values or simply being conservative.
Liberty Counsel, a pro-bono law firm dedicated to defending religious liberty, is listed in the same category as the Westboro Baptist Church. Other organizations on the list may be hardliners on immigration policy, like FAIR and ALIPAC, but advocating for stronger border security and severe limits on immigration is not in and of itself “hate.”
Except, apparently, in the minds of the SPLC.
On the FAQ page, they insist that they are not listing organizations as hate groups merely for being conservative or espousing Biblical principles, and even make a point to highlight that they include some groups viewed as “anti-white” and leftist like the New Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam. But still, it’s the groups on the right that are their main concern:
But, as a general matter, prejudice on the basis of factors such as race is more prevalent on the far right than it is on the far left.
This does not mean that extremism and violence on the far left are not concerns. But groups that engage in anti-fascist violence (antifa), for example, differ from hate groups in that they are not typically organized around bigotry against people based on the characteristics listed above.
It should also be noted that the SPLC Hate Tracker mentions monitoring the trends of only “far-right” Twitter accounts. I was also unable to find any clarification on exactly which Twitter accounts SPLC was monitoring in order to produce this data.
Even if you’re willing to be charitable and give the SPLC the benefit of the doubt that their main goal isn’t to demonize conservatives, it’s hard to argue that isn’t the practical result of this project. When they fail to be fully transparent about their data sources and the Twitter account posts that they are a “hate tracker” monitoring topics like “Christmas,” what is a reasonable person supposed to believe, other than they consider tweeting about Christmas a potentially hateful activity?
The SPLC put their cards on the table when they expressly state they are monitoring “far-right” Twitter accounts, but not “far-left” accounts. They also assert that many hate groups “operate in the mainstream.”
Can organizations operating in the mainstream be hate groups?
Yes. In fact, it’s even more important to call out groups that demonize others while having a foothold in the mainstream. It’s easy to recognize the hater in a white sheet for what he or she is. It’s the wolf in sheep’s clothing that’s harder to identify.
What the SPLC should realize is that this clumsily-executed “Hate Tracker” project is providing fuel to the fire for those who have used a perceived “War on Christmas” as a rallying cry, clickbait method, or fundraising appeal.
President Donald Trump campaigned on ending the “War on Christmas” and has been taking credit for making it “OK to say Merry Christmas again,” a claim that has caused many in the media to scoff.
People are proud to be saying Merry Christmas again. I am proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 25, 2017
This “War on Christmas” has been a topic of countless commentary panels on Fox News Channel programs and fundraising pleas from conservative groups. In my email inbox today was one such missive, exhorting supporters to celebrate the holiday season and pray “while we still can.”
If the SPLC is going to insist on tweeting that #christmas is something worth monitoring as potentially hateful and make such a concerted effort to connect hate groups with mainstream conservatism, they should consider reporting their expenses for the SPLC Hate Tracker as an in-kind contribution to Trump’s reelection campaign.
[Note about authenticity: I was originally skeptical that @splchatetracker was a real account, but the hatetracker.io website uses the exact same logo and design as the official SPLC website, and contains multiple links to official SPLC content. I called the phone number listed for a media contact on the SPLC website for a comment, but have not received a response. If I do, I will update this article.]
Photo credit: “Grumpy Santa” by Richard Elzey via Flickr.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.