The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

After Debate With SPLC, a Professor Offers a Bizarre Take

By Mark Potok on February 24, 2012 - 11:23 am, Posted in Anti-LGBT

Apparently, it’s a lot easier to declare victory than to actually win it.

At least that’s my takeaway from a comment today from Vanderbilt University law school professor Carol Swain, who I debated, along with two others, this Tuesday at the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) convention in Nashville, Tenn. The four of us formed a panel to discuss “Anatomy of Hate: Free Speech Implications.”

In a story at OneNewsNow, a “news” service run by the gay-bashing hate group American Family Association, Swain, a black religious conservative who claims that Christians’ speech is being stifled in America, is quoted like this: “I thought it was great to see Mark Potok make concessions and to admit that we have a right to religious freedom and to actually be in a situation where even he has to admit, whether he says it overtly or not, that there’s a problem with labeling individuals and groups as ‘hate groups’ just because they express their religious beliefs.”

Come again, professor? I “conceded” that Christians have a right to religious freedom? I “admitted” that it’s bad to list hate groups? Are you smoking something?

That is a bizarre, Swainsian construct, to say the least. Both I and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have always and vigorously defended religious freedom and the First Amendment, just as I said at the debate, which was recorded for future radio and Internet TV transmission (no tape or transcripts are yet available). And I in no way, not covertly or overtly or in any other way at all, suggested that there’s a problem with our hate group listings. Just the opposite: I explained repeatedly to Swain that our listings of a few religious right organizations are based on their propagation of known falsehoods, like the bogus claim that gay men molest children far more than their straight counterparts. I pointed out specifically that we did not list groups on the basis of their Christianity, their belief that homosexuality is a sin, or their opposition to same-sex marriage. We list them because they egregiously lie in a propagandistic effort to defame LGBT people.

Swain didn’t seem to get the distinction.

The professor actually sounds a little confused in her description today of the debate, or perhaps she just doesn’t remember what happened. All the panelists — NRB General Counsel Craig Parshall, Americans United for Separation of Church and State Executive Director Barry Lynn, Swain, myself and even moderator Janet Parshall, Craig’s wife and a well-known talk radio show host — agreed that religious liberty was important. All of us objected, for instance, to campus speech codes that seek to impose civility at the cost of free expression. As Janet Parshall pointed out, it was quite something to see us all agree on something.

The heat came in the second half hour of the exchange, when Swain led a nail-spitting attack on SPLC and on me personally, saying the government should “investigate” SPLC and accusing me of trying to “destroy” her reputation. (Briefly, she was angry because after she heartily endorsed a “documentary” that said the concept of racism was merely an excuse to intimidate whites, we found that the filmmaker regularly referred elsewhere to black men as “EVIL monkeys who are DESTROYING” America — and she continued to endorse it. After that, I told the Nashville Tennessean she was an “apologist” for a white supremacist.)

Swain wasn’t much for accuracy in the debate, just as she isn’t in her recounting of it. At one point in her attack on SPLC, she accused us of listing Focus on the Family as a hate group — a complete falsehood, when in fact we’ve pointed out real signs of moderation in that group’s anti-gay activities. I suppose that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Swain was reading directly out of an issue of The Social Contract, a nasty white nationalist magazine that is both obsessed with non-white immigration and notoriously inaccurate, but a place where Swain, who was once a paid contributor to immigrant-basher Lou Dobbs’ CNN show, has many friends.

Swain ended her comments to OneNewsNow with an unexpected conclusion — that Christians should “never become offensive” and instead stick to “truth and love.” If that’s really what she got from our encounter, I suppose it wasn’t a total loss.

  • Alan Aardman

    Mark, as a Vanderbilt student, it seems to me that most of the people here are backing the SPLC.

    Dr. Swain does not speak for the entire university, even if the campus has had a few race-based controversies in recent times.

  • Alan Funt

    Good post, I quickly realized Swain was an oddity after reading The New White Nationalism in America. I was disappointed because I thought it was going to be an actual book, well-researched and all with observations, not a book where she inserts her views that seem decidedly religious and conservative in nature. I thought “well maybe I am misunderstanding what she is saying because surely she can’t be defending or apologizing for some of this nationalistic rhetoric.” I was wrong and after hearing her on AFA talk about this ‘debate’, I knew that things were a little screwy. I listen to AFA because I find it interesting sociologically. I am fascinated with lunatics so it’s right up my alley. I find that I go through the same list of emotions whenever I listen to dolts such as David Barton and friends. First it’s interesting and funny, then I get a little perturbed and find myself talking out loud and pointing out the obvious bs and then it gets to the point where it becomes rather frustrating because stupidity can be taxing and tiresome.

  • funinsnow

    Ellen Myers, I believe that either you’re writing what you know is wrong or you’re deluded. But 33% of gays report homosexual rape in youth. If some1 is repeatedly homosexually raped in youth, then it’s possible that the sex abuse will mess up mind & cause him in adulthood to take part in gay activities in adulthood. Sex abuse can mess up mind & cause people to behave in ways they wouldn’t. To say otherwise is just wrong & I believe people who say there is no link between homosexual rape in youth & adult homosexual behavior usu. don’t believe what they say. This will be repeat, but why people take part in gay/lesbian activities is synonymous to why people get heart attacks. Some people take part in gay activities because homosexuality is their true orientation. But there are many who are gay/lesbian behaviorally speaking though homosexuality is not true orientation & repeated homosexual rape in youth causing a boy to take part in gay activities in adulthood is a case of people who are gay behaviorally speaking. With your last sentence, I’ve never heard a straight man or straight woman blame sex abuse for taking part in straight activities, but I’ve heard gays & lesbians sometimes say that they think sex abuse esp. homosexual sex abuse is the main reason they take part in gay/lesbian activities & it’s hard to know how the sex abuse damaged their mind.

  • Ellen Myers

    Thank you Aron for the advice. There sure is lot of things
    I would like to say to him but I’m sure you’re right about it
    being a complete waste of time, and time is something I don’t have enough of to waste any of it. Anyone who’s thinking is as ridiculous and twisted as his is can’t have a
    sensible, logical discussion .
    But I’m curious, considering what he believes about someone being made gay by having sex with someone of the same sex when they were a teenager, I wonder if he thinks that a minor female who is only attracted to other females but has never had sex with any, would be made heterosexual if she were to be raped by a male.

  • funinsnow

    Ellen Myers, Harvey B. Milk committed homosexual statutory rape & it’s possible that teen boy turned out gay because of it. Why the Calif. authorities didn’t pursue charges against H.B. Milk, I don’t know but adults have no business having sex with minors. Also Harvey Milk by admission of gay activists also would have sex in parks-public indecency. No, what Harvey B. Milk did was not a death penalty case, but I don’t mourn the death of some1 who does it with teen boys. It’s predictable you’d ask me about men who have sex with teen girls & here’s my answer.

    If an man has sex with an underage girl or in some cases if a woman has sex with an underage boy, then they should do prison time for statutory rape which they do. There are many cases where men have been beaten up or even killed by the girls father after they were accused of statutory rape on an underage girl. Juries often convict those who commit these killings of lesser charge such as Manslaughter, so these men aren’t often viewed sympathetically by juries which is fine by me. But as I’ve repeated, gay/lesbian activities whether it’s consent or forced are bad just as using drugs is bad. & to repeat, I believe the punishment for statutory rape must be more when it’s homosexual/lesbian in nature. That means if a man has sex with an underage girl the punishment must be the same as if a woman has sex with an underage boy. But if the statutory rape is gay such as in Harvey Milk’s case, then it’s my view that the punishment for sex abuse must be more because sex abuse is worse when it’s gay/lesbian in nature. I know some people will be offended by this, but homosexual statutory rape as I’ve said is a reason why some take part in gay activities in adulthood. Hope that answers you.

  • Aron


    Don’t engage him. He’s the king of circular logic. And a complete waste of your time to debate.

  • Ellen Myers

    The reason why law enforcement didn’t do anything about Harvey Milk having sex with a 16/17 year old “boy” is because it was probably consenual. While, legally, he
    was still a minor, a 16/17 year old male is hardly a vulnerable child. A 17 year old can join the military, with
    parents consent. In other words, he or she can put their life on the line and maybe get killed but they can’t engage in sex with the person of their choice???
    I don’t know if you’re “sick” or not but you are definitly a bad person because of your hate.
    Do you think that heterosexual men who commit
    “statutory rape” with 16/17 year old females deserve to
    be killed? If they all were, it would sure go a long way toward correcting the over-population problem in the world.

  • funinsnow

    This topic is repetitive but here’s to the rerun show. 1st with gays molesting kids more-what is your definition of straight & gay? If an adult male has sex with a boy, then he is a homosexual. We hear lectures from gay groups that he is a pedophile not a homosexual & some call him straight but I call him a homosexual child molester or homolester. So with saying gays molest more kids, it depends again on what you define as gay.

    With hate crimes, on another blog, Aron got upset after I mentioned things about MW Shepard & Harvey Milk which Aron disliked. Such as when I mentioned that in 1964 Harvey Bernard Milk by admission of gay activisits committed homosexual statutory rape on a 16/17 year old boy for which he was not prosecuted for, he accused me of ‘smearing’. Aron got even more upset by calling me sick when I said that Dan (DJ) White shooting & killing Harvey Milk in 1978 was doing what the California police & prosecutors didn’t do to bring Harvey Milk to justice in 1964. Harvey Bernard Milk & MW Shepard were both bad people & just because both were killed doesn’t change that. Any1 who sees nothing wrong with Harvey Milk committing homosexual statutory rape on teenage boy has something wrong with them.

  • krissy

    The AFA has to be delusional to do the work they do.

  • Ellen Myers

    Richard, the fact that people (all or some) used to think a certain thing does not make it so. As well as considering homosexual people to be “deviants”, we women were considered to be not equal to males and were nothing more than the property of the male. He could even legally beat her if he wanted to because she was his “property”. It’s also only in fairly recent times that that has changed. Do you think we women should still be considered property and should not have the same rights as males because that’s what used to be thought??

  • Richard Valdemar

    So …people who disagree with you are not as smart as you? What arrogance! I could say the same thing about left wing liberal “racist under every rock” people I have debated (but I know better because I have Judeo-Christian ethics and morals). Just about every orthodox Religion and even secular psychologists and psychiatrists considered homosexuality as deviant until only very recent times in the modern era. What changed?
    My unit was involved with the writing of hate crime procedures for the investigation of hate crimes in a major law enforcement department in Los Angeles in the 1990’s. This was highly problematic since we found that the perception of the violations to be subjective and unequal. Why should assaulting a young homosexual African-American be more grievous than assaulting an elderly white woman? Assault is assault.
    Once I was dispatched to the “crime scene” of unknown symbols and “hate” graffiti spray painted in front of the home of the “one and only African American resident” of a Whitter California neighborhood. The law enforcement brass and city officials were ready to form a task force to find and hunt down these supposed “hate mongers.” It turned out to be markings spray painted by city maintenance workers who were working on the water and sewer pipes in the area.

  • Ellen Myers

    Evidently, the truth and telling things accurately is not important to any of the Republican religious right-wing extremists. I have a sister (biologically) who could be a poster child for them. She tells things the way she wants them to be whether it’s true or not and ignores anything that doesn’t fit. She has twisted things I’ve said, more than once, to mean something other than what I said or meant, then used it to bash me. Yeah, I know from first hand experience how those people do. They’re all basically alike. Some are just worse/more extreme than others. She would definitely fit in to a hate category because she’s eaten up with it.

  • ernie1241

    In my experience, political and religious extremists routinely have significant problems accurately summarizing the position of their perceived adversaries.

    In fact, there are studies which show that highly ideological individuals cannot accurately summarize data which they listen to (or read) when the source of the data is a person.organization whom they disagree with.

    In other words, ideologues always filter what they hear and read to conform to their pre-existing adverse conclusions about perceived adversaries. That is why actual “communication” is so difficult.

    In my debates with John Birch Society members, I often have to spend considerable time just defining commonly used words because the JBS uses its own idiosyncratic definitions. Consequently, considerable time must be devoted to what, in normal conversation, is not an issue –the meaning of the English language.

  • Roger Nehring

    Jeff, apparently you didn’t read the article with any effort at comprehension. The known falsehood about homosexuality is clearly stated as the lie that gay men molest children at much higher rates than hetros. It is also clearly stated that a religious group stating moral convictions against LGBT and same sex marriage will not be listed as a hate group. Pay attention sir.

  • jeff

    And what is the “known” falsehood when it comes to homosexuality? If the organization limits its discussion on the issue to its moral understanding will it be listed as a hate group?

  • Concerned Citizen

    Apparently. Ms Carol Swain is trying to reconnect with white roots from a previous life, that if you believe in reincarnation. Just an opinion.

  • Jack Wolford

    You know you are a success when someone calls you an s.o.b. The SPLC has really arrived !

  • Snorlax

    Once again Jason derails the topic.

    That Carol Swain (in the article above) sounds like a real far right wing cougar. All spit and vinegar and evil monkeys.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    I don’t know the story behind Jason Smith’s friend’s firing, but do pay attention, Jason. Private corporations are not required to allow or uphold freedom of speech. They are not the government. This is why issues like net neutrality and media consolidation are so important. You might know this if you hadn’t been busy reading conspiracy BS about how Jews are plotting to force your children to marry same-sex partners of other races.

  • Aron


    It may have been Big Blue. IBM (Holocaust connections aside) doesn’t take too strongly to outright racists.

  • Mark Potok

    Dan, the National Religious Broadcasters shot the film and taped the audio. It was their event, not ours, and I have no control over when and where they put it up. They told us it would be played on Janet Parshall’s show, and also would be broadcast via their Internet TV channel and sold as DVDs. But they didn’t make any promises about when. Mark

  • Mitch Beales

    Aron I thought Jason was related to a different poster who included a link to a corporate website. I don’t remember the name of the company but it wasn’t General Dynamics (although I suspect they have tentacles that are not easily identified). I’m sometimes amazed that these folks are so stupid but, based on their posts, I guess I shouldn’t be.

  • Reynardine

    Nancy, I’m having trouble with what you’re trying to say. You need to use the spell check and grammar check both.

    Meanwhile, I see that the supercilious member of the Jason Smith committee is writing today. I’d rather think that this was a committee of frat boys than General Dynamics workers. Nonetheless, “he” is either a committee, a clinical manic-depressive psychotic, or a multiple personality.

  • http://Facebook Nancy

    Why is the victim nook always the favorite place for scoundrals the white supremacy groups to hid when you point out their false ideas?
    Religious freedom and the Freedom of speech that they enjoy,but do not want any one else to use!These seem to make perfect hiding places for them to burrow into and keep spewing the old racist rants,along with the LGBT and Feminist bais they love to teach! Why? They are like roaches as soon as you turn the shining light of truth they scurry into the dark recesses of our world!

  • Aron


    It’s not certain, but very likely, considering some of his previous statements. And an idiot racist commenter who used a General Dynamics email address.

    You can imagine how much trouble in which she found herself.

  • Mitch Beales

    Co-worker? Jason Smith has security clearance to work at General Dynamics? Frightening!

  • Dan Zabetakis

    “(no tape or transcripts are yet available)”

    What year is this?

    Here’s a website you might find interesting:

  • Stevo

    @Jason Smith. What are you really trying to say? What is your self-selected label and what would you like to say? Why not submit a list of your beliefs and let folks have a look?

  • Aron


    Your co-worker was fired from General Dynamics because she was an idiot and spewed hate-filled vitriol from a GD corporate email address.

  • Jason Smith

    Mark Potok says the word ‘hate’ and we’re supposed to recoil internally with shame, guilt, fear of being labeled “Ahhh!” This is getting old. Let’s stop allowing these people to label us. First of all, who gets to define what is ‘hate’? Who gets to define what is a ‘hate group’? According to Mark Potok, HE is the ultimate judge. Come on! Let’s quit allowing these people to do this to us! Leftists have learned over the years they can shut us up or make us afraid of getting fired from our jobs or stigmatized if they call us a ‘hate group’.

  • Walter Lipman

    I guess this may be an attempt to split hairs, but is being a self-hating black woman worse than being a self-hating black man?

    The radical right encourages both–but, for my money, being a self-hating black woman is marginally worse than being a self-hating black man.

    Any other takes on this?

  • Dave

    Great post! You know, someone should really update her Wikipedia page… none of her controversial statements or positions are listed on it. It seems like she wrote it herself…