Ari Armstrong, Exclusives, Media, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Questions go unanswered in Colorado ‘hate groups’ coverage

I read with alarm reports that 30 “hate and antigovernment groups” operated in Colorado last year, as tracked by the Southern Policy Law Center. But SPLC left open a lot of questions about its report that local news journalists unfortunately also did not answer.

Some groups listed, such as the Asatru Folk Assembly, obviously are racist groups. But SPLC lists this as a Northern California group and does not mention any specific Colorado tie. I turned to a Google search of local news to discover a connection. Last year KRDO reported that a Colorado Springs public-school teacher was placed on leave because of his ties to the organization. All decent people can agree we don’t want racist teachers! Still, I wonder, what exactly is this group’s reach in the state?

For only eight of the listed groups does SPLC provide a link to additional background information. And four of those links go to a single, general article about Moms for Liberty that does not even mention any of the Colorado branches.

Local news coverage of SPLC’s report has been spotty at best, consisting mostly of warming over SPLC’s media release and perhaps throwing in some solicited quotes. You’d think the professional news media in this state would take the matter more seriously. It’s hard to think of a more important topic. I guess news journalists have better things to do, like cover hot sauce and the “shiny monolith” in somebody’s cow pasture (real examples recently at the top of the web site of a major media outlet in Colorado).

Real news reports would dig into each of the 30 listed groups to discover and reveal the relevant details. What is the nature of the ideology at hand? Have members of any of the groups committed any crimes or threatened to do so? How many people are we talking about?

To be sure, local reporters have covered a small number of the groups in question. The 9News Next segment on the SPLC report briefly discusses FEC United, founded by Joe Oltmann, who has, 9News summarizes, called “for the hangings of his political opponents.” 9news mentions the Proud Boys and the Pray in Jesus Name Project, led by former Republican legislator Gordon Klingenschmitt. 9News notes that the Front Range Active Club is a white nationalist group that “took credit for a masked protest outside a pride festival” in Douglas County.

Far and away the two most important news outlets these days covering people and groups spouting hateful ideologies in Colorado are Kyle Clark’s 9News Next team and the progressive Colorado Times Recorder (which has published a few articles of mine). But even those outlets have paid little or no attention to most of the organizations on SPLC’s list.

The overblown “antigovernment” category

9News focuses most of its attention on Moms for Liberty. On its web site, SPLC puts Moms for Liberty in its “antigovernment general” category. In the 9News segment, though, a representative from SPLC calls Moms for Liberty an “anti-student inclusion group.” That means something quite different from “antigovernment,” no?

9News adds that Moms for Liberty “has been part of the book-ban movement in school districts.” As I have written, Moms for Liberty signed a letter calling for outright censorship of books, everywhere, not just in school libraries. That’s the wrong stance, but wanting to use government power to censor books is very much a pro-government stance. The usually skeptical and tenacious Kyle Clark swallows the ambiguity without raising a single one of his majestic eyebrows.

On June 14, the Times Recorder published Vaughn Vial’s article on Moms for Liberty. Vial starts out by noting that Moms for Liberty is identified among “hate and antigovernment groups,” but then Vial just flatly calls Moms for Liberty a “hate group,” even though SPLC designates it an antigovernment group. But on its broader map SPLC lists all the groups on its “Hate Map,” so maybe it intends to cast “antigovernment” as a sort of hate.

Vial suggests that the “hate group” designation is appropriate because Moms for Liberty wages a “campaign against school curriculums that teach students about gender, sexuality, and race, with many chapters even supporting book bans.”

Similarly, in its longer report, SPLC says that Moms for Liberty (generally, not specifically the Colorado branches) seeks “to control what is taught in schools, including putting limitations on factual history and multicultural reading materials, while forcing diverse students to repress their identities and cultural histories.” Wanting to set government policy for government-run schools is, again, a pro-government stance.

It sounds to me that what SPLC and Vial are really saying is that Moms for Liberty is an anti-LGBTQ group that generally doesn’t want to teach history fully. But then why didn’t SPLC just include it under the anti-LGBTQ category?

I think what SPLC means is that Moms for Liberty is against specific government policies that SPLC favors. But SPLC’s full report also is filled with examples of government policies that SPLC is against, such as anti-abortion laws. Working within legal channels to change government policy is not “antigovernment.”

There is an important sense of “antigovernment” that SPLC also uses, to mean roughly a desire to undermine established governmental authorities, even through the use of violence. Some groups that SPLC mentions definitely are antigovernment in that sense.

Does that stronger sense of “antigovernment” apply to Moms for Liberty? That seems like a huge stretch. The full report mentions that Moms for Liberty supported Project 2025, which is also associated with the Honest Elections Project and the Heritage Foundation, which “amplify false claims that fraud is rampant in American elections” (quoting the Guardian).

Besides being a case of guilt by association, by that standard, Donald Trump, who is running to be the head of the government, also is “antigovernment.” There is an important sense in which conspiracy mongering about elections, and thereby undermining public trust in elections, is “antigovernment” (certainly the January 6 Capitol assault was!), but then over a third of Americans fall into that group.

Incidentally, SPLC says that a Moms for Liberty chapter “quoted Hitler.” While technically true, SPLC leaves to implication that Moms for Liberty was somehow praising or endorsing Hitler, which is plainly false. As an IndyStar article makes clear, and as a subsequent clarification by Moms for Liberty makes extra clear, Moms for Liberty was saying that it’s bad that Hitler tried to “own the youth,” and it would be bad if some other state power tried it. Maybe the Moms for Liberty branch (in Indiana) is guilty of going against Godwin’s Law, but it’s definitely not guilty of praising Hitler, as SPLC so desperately wishes to imply.

It’s fair to call Moms for Liberty an anti-LGBTQ group, especially an anti-transgender group. Vial quotes Darcy Schoening, formerly co-chair of the El Paso County branch, who publicly defended the organization following the SPLC’s report. As I have written, Schoening also has sent out hateful messages through the state GOP demonizing transgender people. If SPLC had listed Moms for Liberty as an anti-LGBTQ group, it would have drawn clearer attention to the relevant problems.

A problem of drawing lines

How far is SPLC willing to go? Obviously the Republican Party of Colorado under Dave Williams is at least as anti-LGBTQ as Moms for Liberty. So is SPLC going to include the Republican Party of Colorado on its list of hate groups for next year? If so, I’ll respect the organization for its consistency. If not, we’ll again have to ask how SPLC draws its lines.

More importantly, while SPLC includes various National Socialist (“Nazi”) groups in its national report, and includes the National Socialist Resistance Front in Colorado, SPLC neglects to mention cases of antisemitism coming from the left (although it does briefly discuss the problem in general terms).

On October 16 of last year, the Anti-Defamation League issued a release stating: “The Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Region is deeply concerned by the extremely harmful and troubling statement released on Oct. 14 by the Denver chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. The statement appears to justify the atrocious massacre by the terrorist organization Hamas in Israel. . . . Indefensibly, the chapter ended its statement with the anti-Israel slogan, ‘May Palestine be free, from the river to the sea.’ Make no mistake, this statement is not a call for peace. It is a clear call for the Jewish state of Israel to be entirely dismantled. Calling for the destruction of Israel and its people is unbridled hate and antisemitism in the extreme.”

Okay, so why isn’t the Denver chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America on SPLC’s list of hate groups? And why did news journalists in Colorado not ask that question? The socialist group is at least as hateful as Moms for Liberty. SPLC’s biases are showing.

An aside: SPLC does not always get things right. The Gazette’s article includes an editor’s note mentioning “that at least one group that was listed in the past successfully fought its inclusion in a court of law via claims of defamation.” According to the 2022 release linked by the Gazette, SPLC had to settle for $3.375 million for wrongly including “Quilliam and its founder Maajid Nawaz” in a list of anti-Muslim extremists. Nawaz, by the way, is Muslim.

In one case, I’m not sure a group deserves inclusion just because it seems not to be a serious group. Colorado Parents Involved in Education, from what I can tell, consists of a Facebook group with 35 members and occasional posts. Is this really a threat?

Other hate groups

Let’s glance at the other hate groups for which SPLC provides additional information. We’ve already peaked at the group Faith Education Commerce, or FEC United. No doubt Oltmann’s group richly deserves inclusion on the list. Incidentally, Lauren Boebert recently was scheduled to host a fundraiser at Oltmann’s gun shop, again demonstrating her profound failure of judgment and moral character.

The SPLC article on Patriot Front unfortunately does not discuss the Colorado connection. The article on Proud Boys mentions one Colorado tie: “Rick Hervey, the vice president of the Colorado chapter, appears in a Facebook photo wearing a shirt bearing the white supremacist ’14 Words’ slogan.'” That explicitly white nationalist slogan was written by David Lane (not the one who today usually makes the news!), who was involved in the murder of Jewish radio host Alan Berg. If you don’t know about that, read Peter Boyles’s review.

Look, I’m just an op-ed columnist. How this is supposed to work is that news journalists are supposed to research and report the facts about hate groups operating in Colorado, and I’m supposed to comment about the significance of that reporting. Yes, all good op-ed writers also do substantial original research, but I’m just one guy without support or resources. One thing I will do is start a page at my own web site tracking all the media reports I can find about hate groups in Colorado.

Colorado journalists have done some important work covering hate groups. But if SPLC is right that 30 hate groups are active in Colorado, the news reports have barely scratched the surface.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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