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TYLER O’NEIL: Evangelical Protestants Can’t Afford To Ignore The FBI’s Targeting Of ‘Radical-Traditional’ Catholics

FILE PHOTO: An FBI logo is pictured on an agent's shirt in the Manhattan borough of New York City

TYLER O’NEIL: Evangelical Protestants Can’t Afford To Ignore The FBI’s Targeting Of ‘Radical-Traditional’ Catholics

Tyler O’Neil on March 20, 2023

Last month, the FBI published an internal memo targeting “radical-traditional Catholic ideology,” warning of a nexus between some Catholics and white supremacists and citing the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization notorious for smearing mainstream conservative and Christian nonprofits as “hate groups” and placing them on a map with chapters of the Ku Klux Klan.

The FBI rightly rescinded this memo, but it has not responded to follow-up questions about how the memo came to be in the first place.

At first, this may seem like a problem merely for Roman Catholics. After all, the FBI memo encouraged agents to develop “sources with access” in “places of worship”— in this case, Catholic churches.


Yet evangelical Protestants like yours truly cannot afford to ignore this incident of what CatholicVote President Brian Burch called “the new Inquisition” of “anti-Catholic bigotry.” The noxious prospect of the FBI investigating religious services at the SPLC’s beck and call should alarm orthodox Christians of every stripe, along with conservatives in other religions like Judaism and Islam.

As I explain in my book “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the SPLC took the program it used to bankrupt organizations associated with the Ku Klux Klan and weaponized it against conservative groups, partially to scare donors into ponying up cash and partially to silence ideological opponents.

After the SPLC fired its co-founder amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal in 2019, a former staffer claimed that the SPLC’s accusations of “hate” are a “cynical fundraising scam” aimed at “bilking northern liberals.” Critics across the political spectrum have voiced opposition and alarm at the organization’s “hate group” smears.

In 2012, a terrorist targeted the Family Research Council’s headquarters in the nation’s capital, entering the lobby with a semiautomatic pistol and then shooting and wounding a guard. The man told the FBI that he found the conservative organization on the SPLC’s “hate map” and intended to kill everyone in the building.

The man later pleaded guilty to committing an act of terror and received a 25-year prison sentence. The SPLC condemned the attack but has kept the Family Research Council on its “hate map” ever since.

The SPLC has claimed repeatedly that it does not consider “opposition to same-sex marriage or the belief that being LGBTQ+ is a sin as the sole basis for the hate group label,” noting that the SPLC does not consider Focus on the Family a “hate group.”

However, its track record suggests otherwise. FRC has repeatedly debunked the SPLC’s claims against it — namely, that FRC demonizes LGBT people and that FRC has “linked being gay with pedophilia.” FRC adopts the classic Christian position of “love the sinner, hate the sin,” and the organization “has never said, and does not believe, that most homosexuals are child molesters.”

Similarly, Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the nation’s premier religious liberty law firms, has debunked the SPLC’s “hate group” accusation against it. The SPLC claims that ADF supports recriminalizing homosexuality, but the law firm is not pursuing any effort to criminalize homosexual activity or put people in prison for their sexual orientation.

Similarly, the SPLC twisted ADF’s record on a case involving France’s right to make its own laws regarding legal gender changes — a move that SPLC frames as ADF supporting “forced sterilization for transgender Europeans.”

Whatever the SPLC claims, it appears that evangelical Christians who stand by the Bible’s standards on homosexuality risk accusations of “hate” simply for disagreeing with the ever-expanding LGBT agenda.

Few cases illustrate this threat so clearly as that of the Ruth Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to helping the victims of the sexual revolution. In branding the Ruth Institute a “hate group,” the SPLC repeatedly quotes its founder, Jennifer Roback Morse, who called homosexual acts “intrinsically disordered.” Morse didn’t just come up with the idea on her own; she was directly quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“If this claim is enough to make an organization a ‘hate group,’ then the SPLC should call the Catholic Church a ‘hate group.’ Otherwise, it is being intellectually dishonest,” I wrote in my book.

If the FBI uses the SPLC as a source in tracking “extremism” and “hate”— as if constitutionally protected speech amounted to a terror threat — then this tracking won’t stop with Roman Catholics. In fact, it won’t stop with evangelical Protestants. Orthodox Jews and traditional Muslims also believe that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Evangelical Protestants should care about this story just as much as Roman Catholics, and we should demand answers.

Tyler O’Neil is the Managing Editor of the Daily Signal at The Heritage Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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