The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was once a venerated civil rights organization. Unfortunately, these days it’s little more than a partisan smear factory—and Andrew Yang is its latest victim.
The SPLC is blasting the former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate for attending FreedomFest, a right-wing political convention held over the last few days in Las Vegas. Yang attended the event to speak about his project the Forward Party, a new political party attempting to build a cross-ideological coalition around “common-sense solutions.”
For daring to attend a right-leaning political convention, the SPLC is going after Yang hard—and even attempting to link him to white supremacy and anti-semitism.
🚨NEW #Hatewatch: Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang will speak at the 2022 FreedomFest, which will feature far-right libertarians with ties to white nationalists & antisemites.
— Hatewatch (@Hatewatch) July 14, 2022
This is an outrageous smear. The SPLC is using an extremely distorted guilt-by-association tactic to tie Yang, who is not white and whose remarks had almost nothing to do with race, to a fringe, hateful ideology. The “Hatewatch” article smearing Yang attempts to do this by cherry-picking a few of the hundreds of speakers at FreedomFest and then discussing other people those other speakers have allegedly associated with. Even though Yang didn’t even appear alongside any of the individuals referenced and many of the individuals cited as evidence of guilt-by-association were not even speakers at the conference.
Here’s a revealing passage from the article:
“Another Mises Caucus-linked speaker, Clint Russell, is a host of the ‘Liberty Lockdown’ podcast. Russell started the podcast in May 2020 to push against COVID-19 lockdowns meant to stop the spread of the virus. Russell has appeared alongside Ryan Dawson, a Holocaust denier and self-described journalist who combines criticism of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with antisemitic tropes.”
For context, Clint Russell spoke at FreedomFest (not even with Yang), Ryan Dawson did not. So, the SPLC is saying that Yang is tied to bigotry because a different speaker has in the past appeared with someone in a different setting who has allegedly said hateful things. Seriously.
That’s right. The SPLC is actually arguing that because Yang spoke at a conference where a few of the hundreds of speakers have in the past associated with other people—who are not even speakers at the convention—who have in the past said distasteful things that therefore Yang is tied to white supremacy and bigotry.
In reality, Yang is only responsible for what he said at the convention. He can’t in any way be held responsible for everything the other speakers have said or everyone they’ve ever associated with. If that were the litmus test practically every speaker would have to be concerned with appearing at any conference.
And FreedomFest itself is overall very mainstream. I attended and spoke this year and last year, and I can personally tell you that it’s a very diverse group of people, including Libertarians, Trump Republicans, classical conservatives, and yes, a few fringe figures. (That’s true for almost any political movement or gathering.)
But some attendees, like my friend Isaac Saul of Tangle, even specifically came to debate against fringe right-wing views! The SPLC’s twisted logic would associate him with the views of his debate opponent for daring to be in the same location as him.
We won’t solve any of our nation’s problems by locking ourselves in echo chambers and refusing to even engage with any group that contains a single distasteful member. (Or a single member who has in the past elsewhere associated with someone distasteful). Contrary to the SPLC’s suggestions, that kind of siloing is a recipe for more extremism and polarization—not less.
What’s more, throwing accusations of white supremacy and extremism around like candy on Halloween weakens our ability to call out hate where it actually exists.
Andrew Yang deserves credit, not condemnation, for stepping into the lion’s den and reaching out to a right-wing audience. He also deserves an apology from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
But don’t hold your breath on that one.