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Hate-Group Designation Sends Think Tank to Court

An immigration think tank with ties to Trump adviser Stephen Miller brought a federal complaint Wednesday over its designation as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

WASHINGTON (CN) – An immigration think tank with ties to Trump adviser Stephen Miller brought a federal complaint Wednesday over its designation as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Represented by chief litigation counsel Julie Axelrod, the Center for Immigration Studies has suffered more than reputational damage since the SPLC included it in 2016 on its Hatewatch Blog.

A think tank whose tagline is “low immigration, pro-immigrant,” the center says the label got it booted in 2018 from the AmazonSmile Program, a method for Amazon customers to donate money to any nonprofit organization a customer wishes to support, costing it at least $10,000 to date.

Seeking treble damages and an injunction for alleged violations of federal anti-racketeering law, Axelrod insists that the SPLC “has not even articulated a basis for designating CIS or any organization a hate group based upon its views on immigration policy.”

But the SPLC explained in 2017 that the hate-group designation followed the center’s “shocking circulation of an article from one of America’s most prominent white nationalist websites,” as well as other works by fringe Holocaust-denier John Friend and former Heritage Foundation writer Jason Richwine, a discredited race scientist.

“As our analysis shows, CIS has a long track record of disseminating articles from white nationalist, and anti-Semitic websites for a reason,” the SPLC wrote in May 2017. “That reason is that CIS, founded in part by white nationalist John Tanton, is not some sober think tank pushing numbers, as Krikorian would very much like mainstream press outlets to believe. It’s a hate group.”

SPLC President Richard Cohen reiterated this determination in response to Tuesday’s lawsuit, saying the Center for Immigration Studies “richly deserves the hate group label” because of the group’s  history of publishing racially inflammatory statements, associating with white nationalists, and circulating the work of racist writers.

“Its lawsuit is nothing more than a heavy-handed effort to try to silence us from exercising our First Amendment right to express our opinion,” Cohen said. “We look forward to defending ourselves in court.”

The SPLC reported that Trump administration adviser Stephen Miller “has been instrumental in pushing for anti-immigrant policies in the Trump White House.” While making the rounds to defend the Trump administration’s Muslim ban, according to an article from June 2018, Miller regularly cited claims and figures from Center for Immigration Studies that were ultimately debunked. 

Before he became President Donald Trump’s trusted speechwriter and immigration-policy architect, Miller was director of communications for former Senator Jeff Sessions. He also delivered the keynote address at the Center for Immigration Studies’ 2015 Eugene Katz Award ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

In June last year, the SPLC paid $3.4 million to Muslim activist Maajid Nawaz and his Quilliam organization to settle a threatened lawsuit for the inclusion of the group in the SPLC’s “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists.”

The SPLC apologized for misunderstanding Nawaz’s work to counter Islamist extremism as anti-Muslim extremism.

SPLC founder Richard Cohen later responded to conservative criticism of the Quilliam settlement in op-ed article.

“Ninety-nine percent of the organizations we list as hate groups wouldn’t be disputed by anyone,” Cohen wrote. “A handful, however, operate within the political sphere and are seen by some as closer to the mainstream.”

“In our view, that makes it even more important to expose their bigotry. 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.”

Cohen and Heidi Beirich, who leads the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, are the sole defendants to Wednesday’s lawsuit by the Center for Immigration Studies.

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