A Russian Link to the Charleston Massacre?
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), treated by the media as an objective source of information on right-wing “hate” groups, sent an email message to its supporters on Monday declaring evidence that the Charleston church shooter was “connected to [a] worldwide white supremacist movement.”
This seemed like a big discovery. After all, the shooter, Dylann Roof, had declared in his alleged manifesto, that “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the Internet,” when it came to racist support groups for his planned massacre of black people. The drug-abusing 21-year-old was complaining about a lack of organized support for his views.
Had the SPLC dug up some new evidence? Indeed, where was the evidence that Roof was “connected” to a global plot?
SPLC President Richard Cohen informed his supporters in this email begging for financial support that “through his symbols and writings, suspect Dylann Storm Roof has expressed sentiments that are uniting white supremacists across the world— from the United States to Europe to Australia.”
His symbols and writings made him part of an international plot? Is this the best the SPLC can do?
Welcome to the world of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the media’s designated “experts” on right-wing extremism. The SPLC “tracks hate groups” is the usual claim in the media. In fact, it helped inspire an actual terrorist attack on the Washington, D.C. offices of the conservative Christian Family Research Council (FRC), after a gay militant discovered the location of the FRC on an SPLC “hate map.” A security guard was wounded before he succeeded in taking down the attacker.
“Thank you [for] supporting this vital fight against hate and extremism,” said Cohen in the fundraising letter exploiting the Roof case. They are desperate to add to their $245.3 million financial endowment.
At the top of the email message was a “DONATE” button. Readers were also told they could become a financial “partner” through a planned gift, or a “friend of the Center” through monthly giving.
On the same day that Cohen inflated the facts in the Roof case in a crass appeal for money, he and his associate, Morris Dees, had written an op-ed for The New York Times including similar exaggerations. The piece, headlined, “White Supremacists Without Borders,” insisted that the “themes” adopted by the killer were “signs of the growing globalization of white nationalism.”
The term “globalization” can apply to just about anything on the Internet, since that technology is international in scope. That was good enough for those who procure and place op-eds at The New York Times.
“When we think of the Islamist terrorism of groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, we recognize their international dimension,” said Dees and Cohen. “When it comes to far-right domestic terrorism, we don’t.” Perhaps that is because the “evidence” of Roof’s international connections is thin, if not non-existent. Indeed, as noted, Roof complains in the manifesto about the absence of even local grassroots support for his cause in the supposedly racist enclave of South Carolina.
The only evidence of an international connection, not mentioned by Cohen or Dees, is that several in the media have determined through a simple search on the Internet that Roof’s website was hosted by a Russian server, apparently located in Moscow. At a time of news about Russian and Chinese hackers getting access to federal and other websites in the U.S., this seems mighty interesting and newsworthy.
Does this mean that Russian interests had advance knowledge of Roof’s manifesto and murder plans? This seems worthy of follow-up, but is not mentioned by the SPLC in its Times op-ed.
The op-ed ignores the real hard evidence of the international connections of the white supremacist movement in the form of former KKK leader David Duke once traveling to Russia and meeting with Alexander Dugin, a one-time adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party. We reported on this connection back in March of last year.
Duke called Dugin “one of the leading intellectuals of Russia’s patriotic movement.” The SPLC is aware of Dugin, having published an article noting that he “has close ties to the Kremlin” and “supports a Eurasian empire made up of Russia and former Soviet republics such as the Ukraine and set against ‘North Atlantic interests.’” But it calls him a “fascist,” rather than a staunch ally of Putin and advocate of Russian imperialism.
The SPLC did report previously on what it termed a “Russian White Nationalist Conference” held in St. Petersburg, Russia, in March of this year, with various foreign groups and individuals in attendance. Strangely, however, there is no evidence that the SPLC seriously investigated a possible Russian connection to any of this in the Dylann Roof case. Instead, it claims a foreign connection through images and themes he invoked, a very weak case to present to the Times’ readers.
Euromaidan Press, a voice for Ukraine’s anti-Russian activists, reported extensively on the St. Petersburg conference, even publishing the names of those attending the event. An article noted “…the prevalence of statements in support of Russia and Putin in particular as the true conservatives that can save the world,” citing “quotes from now infamous speeches of Putin’s in which he talks of the emergence of nationalism and conservatism as a natural expression of Russian patriotism.”
As we have argued in the past, however, Putin’s alleged conservatism is a grand deception, designed to lure conservatives around the world into supporting Russian aggression. Putin has never given up his old KGB and Soviet ways.
In their op-ed, Cohen and Dees said, “Europe has also seen the rise of a powerful, far-right political movement that rejects multiculturalism. The anti-Semitic Jobbik Party in Hungary and the neo-fascist Golden Dawn in Greece are prime examples. In Germany, there has been a series of murders by neo-Nazis. Britain, too, is experiencing an upswing of nationalist, anti-immigrant politics.”
Left unsaid in the case of Greece is that the new left-wing ruling party, Syriza, is pro-Russia and anti-Western, and that Vladimir Putin has promised financial assistance if the European Union balks at another economic bailout.
It turns out that the SPLC has been conned by the Russians in the past. SPLC staffer Mark Potok, described by the group as a “leading expert” on extremism, actually appeared as a guest on Putin’s TV channel, Russia Today. Embarrassed over this fact, the group later published a “Full disclosure” disclaimer, noting that Potok had appeared on an edition of Russia Today’s “CrossTalk” program to discuss the rise of militias in the U.S. The SPLC then belatedly began to take note of the channel’s anti-American propaganda and disinformation campaigns.
Potok, their expert, apparently didn’t understand—or didn’t care—that Russia Today TV was actually linked to Russia and the Russian government. His expertise is clearly lacking about Russian influence operations.
We see similar blindness regarding other threats.
“We know Islamic terrorists are thinking globally, and we confront that threat,” Dees and Cohen declare in their Times op-ed. “We’ve been too slow to realize that white supremacists are doing the same.” The SPLC has been way too slow to investigate the Russian connection to the white supremacists it claims to be so concerned about. There is certainly no evidence of what they have uncovered in that Times op-ed.
As far as Islamic terrorists are concerned, the SPLC turns things around by targeting the critics of radical Islam. A simple search of the group’s website brings forth several stories about the dangers allegedly posed by “Islamophobes,” not the terrorists themselves.
Consider the article that begins, “In the weeks following the terrorist attacks in France, major players in the American anti-Muslim movement have unleashed a tirade of bigotry and renewed their energies in attacking the federal government. But not to be left out, prominent anti-immigrant figures and politicians have also joined the show.”
This is typical of how the SPLC operates. The problem is not radical Islam trying to kill Americans or others. Rather, the problem is the people who focus on the threat and want the federal government to protect the American people from the threat.
Hence, Pamela Geller, later targeted in a terrorist attack on American soil, was an “Islamophobe,” according to the SPLC and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The term is usually applied to anyone who suggests taking the threat of Islamic terrorism seriously and takes action against it.
By attempting to orchestrate the coverage of terrorism in such a way as to ignore the threat posed by the terrorists themselves, the SPLC employs the tactic of “partisan tolerance,” meaning that the conservatives who want to protect America and its allies from Islamic terrorists or Russian aggression become the problem.
This is why Dylann Roof must be transformed by the SPLC from a drug-abusing loner into a global right-wing terrorist. It is political exploitation of a national tragedy that confuses and misleads the nation.
It’s shocking that the major media continue to take the SPLC seriously. Liberal media bias helps explain, but not justify, this curious state of affairs. Another factor has to be laziness on the part of reporters, who don’t want to take the time to do their own research or work. It’s easier to cite the “experts,” even if they are frauds and con men.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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