The conservative blogosphere lit up this weekend with the news that potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson had been designated an anti-LGBT “extremist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
William A. Jacobson of the blog Legal Insurrection appeared to have been the first to notice that Carson was among those listed on what he called the SPLC’s “‘Extremist’ watch lists.” He wrote Friday that “the Southern Poverty Law Center ceased long ago to be a neutral source of information.”
There were two issues with Jacobson’s blog post, however: the SPLC does not maintain “watch lists,” and Carson’s profile had been live in the organization’s “Extremist Files” for months.
SPLC spokesman Mark Potok told TPM on Monday that including Carson in the organization’s “extremist files” isn’t tantamount to following the potential presidential contender around in fear that he is plotting to blow up a federal building.
“Our criticism of him was based in large part on his very extreme rhetoric about the evils of gay people,” Potok told TPM by phone. “He says that any criticism he makes is always kind and never meant to destroy the person, but then he says that gay marriage will lead to the destruction of America much in the same way the Roman Empire collapsed.”
Carson’s profile, which Potok said went up on the SPLC’s website at the end of October, states that the group gave the retired neurosurgeon the “extremist” designation for “linking gays with pedophiles, comparing the U.S. to Nazi Germany and endorsing biblical economic practices for 21st century America.”
The SPLC cites several of Carson’s past public statements to make its case, including a 2013 interview Carson gave on Fox News’ “Hannity” where he compared gays to people who advocate pedophilia and bestiality.
“Marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s a well-established pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Association, a group advocating pedophilia], be they people who believe in bestiality—it doesn’t matter what they are, they don’t get to change the definition,” Carson said at the time, according to the SPLC.
By way of evidence, Potok also pointed TPM to some of Carson’s other disputed statements: that the AP U.S. History curriculum would make high school students want to “sign up for ISIS” and that undocumented immigrants are carrying diseases into the U.S.
But conservative bloggers were quick to accuse the SPLC of smearing Carson as an “extremist” simply because he opposes gay marriage.
“Carson was included for allegedly being ‘anti-gay,'” the Daily Caller’s Scott Greer wrote. “The SPLC considers his opposition to gay marriage to be hateful and worthy of inclusion in the list.”
“The Southern Poverty Law Center lost what little credibility it had when it put acclaimed pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson on its ‘extremist watch list,’ claiming he’s ‘anti-LGBT,'” read the write-up at the BizPac Review.
“An iconic American civil rights group that was founded to fight the Ku Klux Klan is now taking aim at the only African-American to hint he might run for president in 2016 – because he opposes gay marriage,” the Daily Mail’s David Martosko wrote.
Carson himself turned to conspiracy theory website WND on Monday to respond to his inclusion in the SPLC’s “Extremist Files.”
“When embracing traditional Christian values is equated to hatred, we are approaching the stage where wrong is called right and right is called wrong,” he told the conservative news outlet. “It is important for us to once again advocate true tolerance. That means being respectful of those with whom we disagree and allowing people to live according to their values without harassment. It is nothing but projectionism when some groups label those who disagree with them as haters.”
Potok told TPM that it was a “falsehood” to say the SPLC was calling Carson out because he supports traditional Christian values. He compared Carson’s response to that of the American Family Association or the Family Research Council, which are social conservative groups that similarly chafed at being labelled “hate groups” by the SPLC.
“We are not listing these groups because of their opposition to same-sex marriage. That’s not our criticism,” he said.
“All these groups have claimed that we are criticizing them, or are listing them as hate groups, because they believe in traditional values as reflected in the Bible,” Potok added. “What they never say is what is true, which is the anti-gay groups that we list, we list because they lie and lie consistently about gay people.”