From implying that undocumented immigrants were responsible for the mortgage crisis to promoting falsehoods about a brutal murder in Tennessee, syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin has never let the facts get in the way of her rants.
Now, in a column this week criticizing a U.S. Department of Homeland Security report on right-wing extremism, Malkin has made another utterly erroneous assertion: “The SPLC,” she wrote, “has designated the venerable American Legion a ‘hate group’ for its stance on immigration enforcement.” The claim rapidly spread to right-wing sites on the Internet and elsewhere.
In fact, the SPLC has never listed the legion as a “hate group” nor put it on any other kind of list. Intelligence Project Director Mark Potok on Thursday wrote Malkin and her syndicate to demand a retraction of the libelous statement. “Your assertion … amounts to reckless disregard of the truth,” he stated in an E-mail sent early Thursday. As of Friday afternoon, however, the SPLC had received no response. Malkin’s columns appear in major newspapers nationwide and are also published online.
In addition to including the misinformation in her April 15 column titled “You Might Be a Radicalized Right-Wing Conservative if…,” Malkin also proclaims the same falsehood in an item she posted the previous day on her blog. In it, she links to another blog called “This ain’t hell,” which she appears to have relied on for her “facts” — never mind that the blog doesn’t even get the SPLC’s name right. “This ain’t hell,” in turn, links to an SPLC blog post that doesn’t come close to asserting that the legion is a hate group. Instead, the story points out numerous misstatements and myths in a legion report on immigration enforcement. The legion later issued an updated report from which the most egregious mistakes had been removed.
Malkin and other right-wing media pundits are in a tizzy about the DHS memo, which they say defames veterans and conservatives generally as potential terrorists. In fact, the report — which identifies several economic and political factors contributing to a surge in rightwing extremism — does no such thing. It merely states that the department “assesses that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.” The SPLC separately investigated the issue and found that a significant number of white supremacists were joining the military to gain access to weapons and combat training.
It’s not only Malkin. Many on the far right reacted with white-hot fury to the DHS report and blamed SPLC (falsely) for its allegedly nefarious characterizations. On Wednesday, for instance, Michael Savage — a radio talk show host who has a weekly audience of more than 8 million people — attacked Potok with a viciousness that was remarkable even for him. Potok, Savage fulminated on his show, is “the hater of America,” a “communist slimebag” and “piece of garbage” who “target[s] patriotic Americans” and “comes from a communistic New York background.” The SPLC (“gangsters”) and Potok work for “Chairman Maobama,” Savage said, adding of “this piece of trash from New York, Mark Potok” that “I’d like spit in his face.” Savage’s furious rant set off a small avalanche of anonymous, threatening hate E-mail and telephone calls directed at Potok and the SPLC.