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Southern Poverty Law Center Hit With Defamation Lawsuit For Allegedly Falsely Labeling A Conservative Organization A Hate Group

MONTGOMERY, AL - The legal team representing the Dustin Inman Society (DIS) and its founder and president, D.A. King, now includes Liberty Counsel. It has been claimed that the Dustin Inman Society and King were defamed by the SPLC when they were labeled as an "anti-immigrant hate group." 

Both the DIS and King have faced reputational challenges, while the SPLC's designation of "hate label" has had negative consequences for the organization and its work on immigration laws. Attorneys Todd McMurtry and James McKoon are also included in the legal team alongside Liberty Counsel. 

In the case of Donald A. King and Dustin Inman Society v. Southern Poverty Law Center, Inc., U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins made a decision on April 24, 2023. The judge denied the SPLC's motion to dismiss the case, allowing it to proceed with discovery. This case is notable as it is the first defamation case against the SPLC involving a "hate group" accusation.


Todd McMurtry, a partner in Hemmer DeFrank Wessels, has been appointed as co-counsel on the legal team. McMurtry is an attorney specializing in defamation cases who has gained recognition at a national level for serving as legal counsel for Nick Sandmann, a student at Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, who participated in the 2019 March for Life event in Washington, D.C. while wearing a MAGA hat.

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James McKoon, an attorney from McKoon and Gamble in Phenix City, Alabama, has been designated to continue serving as local counsel. The lawsuit against the SPLC was initially filed by McKoon.

On March 31, 2023, U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins declined the SPLC's request to dismiss the DIS defamation case. Judge Watkins stated that the SPLC argues that labeling DIS as an anti-immigrant hate group is considered an expression of opinion protected by the First Amendment. 

He said the SPLC believes that the term "anti-immigrant hate group" cannot be proven as objectively true or false. The ruling alleges the SPLC asserted that the designation is a matter of "political opinion" regarding a topic that is widely debated and cannot be proven as false. 

However, the judge followed up by saying the plaintiffs argued that the SPLC's categorization of DIS as an anti-immigrant hate group on its online publications, such as the Hate Map and Intelligence Report, is not simply an opinion. 

The judge ultimately concluded that DIS and King believe the Hate Map and Intelligence Report presents itself as a factual conclusion based on thorough analysis and ultimately he sided with DIS and King, saying their argument is stronger. 

The judge stated the statements made by the SPLC were published after deliberation and investigation, rather than during a heated public debate. He further elaborated that when considering the interpretations made by the DIS and King, it is possible for a neutral reader to conclude that the SPLC was suggesting that DIS is a group that holds strong negative feelings towards and unfairly criticizes all immigrants. 

However, the judge also noted the circumstances suggest that there is a reasonable expectation that evidence will be revealed regarding the accuracy of SPLC's designation of DIS as an anti-immigrant hate group. 

DIS was founded in 2005 by King and was named in memory of a 16-year-old Georgia boy who lost his life in a car crash in 2001 involving an individual residing in the country without legal authorization. 

The DIS was allegedly designated as an "anti-immigrant hate group" by the SPLC in its annual Intelligence Reports from 2018 to 2021. Additionally, it has reportedly been classified as a "hate group" in the SPLC's annual Intelligence Reports and Hate Maps from 2019 to 2021. The SPLC has allegedly criticized King for his focus on vilifying immigrants. 

However, it should be noted that in 2011, the SPLC allegedly stated that the DIS was not classified as a "hate group" and did not meet their definition of an "anti-immigrant hate group." According to Heidi Beirich, a representative from the SPLC, it is noted that King's approach does not involve directly confronting immigrants and making threats towards them. Instead, Beirich said he focuses on advancing his legislation through the political process. 

Beirich also said that regardless of personal opinions on the law, it is important to recognize King's efforts within the political system. However, the SPLC changed its stance in 2018, shortly after hiring a lobbyist to counter a bill that the DIS backed. 

Therefore, it can be argued that King presented the case suggesting that the SPLC had valid reasons to question the accuracy of its claim that the DIS was an "anti-immigrant hate group." 

The SPLC has faced criticism in the past for misclassifying organizations as hate groups. 

In 2019, a lawsuit was filed by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) against Richard Cohen, the then-president of the SPLC, and Heidi Beirich, who was responsible for overseeing the SPLC's "Hatewatch" blog. The lawsuit was filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in the federal court of the District of Columbia. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) allegedly designated CIS as a "hate group," which resulted in a loss of financial support for the organization. CIS then initiated legal action against the SPLC, alleging that the SPLC was engaging in wire fraud by falsely categorizing CIS as a "hate group" with the aim of causing financial harm. 

This legal challenge was supposedly the first of its kind under RICO. An instance of financial consequences occurred when AmazonSmile removed CIS from its charity program, citing the reason as SPLC's label. According to CIS, the removal from AmazonSmile resulted in a financial loss of at least $10,000 for them. 

In 2018, Maajid Nawaz, an Islamic reformer, and his organization, the Quilliam Foundation, reached a settlement with the SPLC concerning allegations of inaccurate reporting. The $3.375 million settlement pertains to the SPLC's "co-publishers," which include Media Matters for America. 

It involved the publication of false statements that accused Nawaz and Quilliam of "savaging Islam." The SPLC agreed to pay the settlement in response to a demand from Nawaz and his organization. The demand was related to their inclusion on the SPLC's "anti-Muslim extremists" list, which was published in December 2016 and is no longer active. 

The SPLC reportedly issued an apology stating that they were mistaken in including Maajid Nawaz and the Quilliam Foundation in their Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists. After the publication of the Field Guide, additional research had been conducted and consultations had taken place with respected human rights advocates. The organization reportedly expressed its apology to Mr. Nawaz, Quilliam, and its readers for the mistake, and wished Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam the best. 

Media Matters allegedly references the SPLC's "hate group designation" when making critical statements on its website about organizations that identify as pro-family and conservative. The labeling by the SPLC has been criticized for being inaccurate and potentially harmful, as it has been linked to acts of violence against groups that have been labeled as "hateful" by the SPLC. 

Floyd Corkins received a 25-year prison sentence in 2013 for an attempted mass murder that took place in 2012 at the Family Research Council in Washington, DC. Corkins acknowledged that he chose FRC as his target based on its inclusion on the SPLC's "hate group" list. 

Mat Staver, the Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, says the SPLC aims to undermine groups it disagrees with by mischaracterizing nonviolent organizations as "hate groups." He believes the accuracy of this label is questionable and says that those who depend on it should reconsider. 

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