Gavin McInnes, the right-wing founder of the violent Proud Boys gang, is suing the Southern Poverty Law Center over its decision to include the Proud Boys on its list of hate groups.
In response, the SPLC has stood firm. "To paraphrase [Franklin D. Roosevelt], judge us by the enemies we've made," Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC, said in a statement shared with Pacific Standard on Tuesday. "The fact that he's upset with SPLC tells us that we're doing our job exposing hate and extremism. His case is meritless."
McInnes is the latest in a series of figures and groups suing the SPLC. The hate-group watchdog, which is headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama, has come under fire in recent years over allegations that it has been overzealous in its decision to label certain organizations as hate groups. In 2014, the SPLC apologized to then-Republican presidential hopeful (and current secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development) Ben Carson for including him on its list of extremists—which includes the names of Neo-Nazis and Klan leaders—for Carson's views on same-sex marriage. In 2018, facing the threat of a lawsuit, the SPLC apologized to the British political activist Maajid Nawaz for its decision to label him an "anti-Muslim extremist," and paid his organization a $3.4 million settlement.
But the SPLC has held its ground in the face of criticism before. After the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies sued the SPLC and some of its employees in January, the SPLC did not change its decision to label CIS a hate group. (The lawsuit is ongoing.)
In his statement, Cohen explained why he's confident that McInnes' defamation suit is meritless, noting that McInnes "has a history of making inflammatory statements about Muslims, women, and the transgender community."
McInnes' bigoted statements are well-documented. In 2010, he wrote that "the Muslim world is filled with shoeless, toothless, inbred, hill-dwelling, rifle-toting, sodomy-prone men." McInnes' 2014 article in Thought Catalog, titled "Transphobia Is Perfectly Natural" was taken down from the site after readers objected to its overt xenophobia.
The organization McInnes founded, the Proud Boys, is a male-only, self-described "Western Chauvinist" group, known for instigating and engaging in brutal street brawls. In November of 2018, McInnes claimed to have left the group he founded after the Guardian reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had categorized his gang (to use the word Mcinnes himself has used to describe the Proud Boys) as "an extremist group with ties to white nationalism." After the news broke that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had joined the SPLC in labeling the Proud Boys an extremist group, McInnes immediately attempted to distance himself from the group, posting a bizarre YouTube video of him saying, "I am officially disassociating myself from the Proud Boys."
In his lawsuit, McInnes claims that the SPLC's decision to label his violent gang as a hate group caused him to be kicked off multiple social media sites and PayPal, and made him "essentially an untouchable, unable to retain or be considered for gainful employment in his line of work."