(CN) – The founder of the far-right group the Proud Boys filed a lawsuit Monday claiming the Southern Poverty Law Center’s designation of the organization as a hate group has derailed his career.
In a 61-page defamation lawsuit filed in Montgomery, Alabama, federal court, Gavin McInnes, who also co-founded Vice Media, said SPLC is now using the reputation it forged during the struggle for civil rights to smother people that are out of step with its political views.
The lawsuit brought by lead attorney G. Baron Coleman in Montgomery describes McInnes, a resident of Winchester County, New York, as a humorist, social critic and television personality that is “understood widely as satirical, meant for grownups and the ‘rebellious.’”
But SPLC’s action of labeling him as aligned with a hate group was, according to the complaint, a “deplatforming and defunding campaign” that prevented McInnes from taking online bank payments, using crowdfunding services, speaking at venues and having a robust online platform.
It also allegedly caused him to lose his job at Blaze TV.
“SPLC’s campaign against Mr. McInnes is arguably the most successful employment of its system to personally destroy those it disagrees with, but who in fact is not an extremist, on ideological grounds, but not its first,” the complaint states.
According to the complaint, the definition of “hate” used by the SPLC is different than how federal law enforcement defines it, but SPLC’s designations are taken as objective determinations by social media organizations, journalists and law enforcement.
SPLC has labeled people such as Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson as aligned with hate and Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom as a hate group.
The organization’s website states that while the self-described “western chauvinist” Proud Boys say they are against bigotry, their actions tell a different story.
In October, the New York City Police Department arrested two members of the Proud Boys as they fought with anti-fascist protesters outside the Upper East Side’s Manhattan Republican Club.
McInnes’ claims against SPLC include tortious interference with economic advantage, defamation, false light invasion of privacy and aiding and abetting employment discrimination.
He asks the court to issue an injunction, among other actions, ordering SPLC to issue “appropriate corrective advertizing.” He also seeks actual, compensatory, pecuniary and reputational damages.
In addition to being represented by G. Baron Coleman, Ronald D. Coleman and Lauren Topelsohn of the New York law firm Mandelbaum Salsburg applied to appear to represent McInnes pro hac vice.
Ronald Coleman represented a rock group before the Supreme Court in 2017 as it successfully challenged the practice of blocking trademarks for disparaging names. The Asian-American band was called The Slants.
As Coleman posted a copy of the complaint on Twitter, he wrote, “You may not agree with what I say. But I hope you’ll fight with me for the right not to be called a Nazi for saying it -*especially* if I’m not… And – for the ability not only to say it, but to permit those who would hear me to decide whether to hear, or listen. For themselves.”
As for SPLC, its president Richard Cohen issued a statement saying, “To paraphrase FDR, judge us by the enemies we’ve made. Gavin McInnes has a history of making inflammatory statements about Muslims, women, and the transgender community. The fact that he’s upset with SPLC tells us that we’re doing our job exposing hate and extremism. His case is meritless.”
Meanwhile, McInnes’ lawyers are seeking to raise $250,000 for his legal fight against SPLC. By Monday evening, a little over $10,000 had been raised.
In a message on the fundraising website, McInnes wrote that SPLC was simply fundraising to make money, which it uses to influence what can be said online.
“This power and influence has embedded the SPLC into big tech and their new ‘Change the Terms’ campaign positions them to start deciding who can say what on social media and beyond,” McInnes wrote. “It already has. I want to get into it with these guys. I want to learn exactly who is taking orders from them. I don’t like what they’re doing to this country.”