Jessica Prol Smith, Opinion contributor
USA Today. I’ll never forget the moment I learned we were on lockdown. It was Aug.15, 2012. My frustration mingled with fear. Trapped on the sixth floor, we knew someone had been shot. We knew we couldn’t leave yet. We knew little else.
While I was missing lunch, a crime scene played out in the office lobby below me. My coworker and friend Leo wasn’t armed, but he had played the quick-thinking and inadvertent hero, disarming a young man on a mission to kill me and as many of my colleagues as possible. The gunman had packed his backpack with ammo and 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches — later admitting that he had planned to smear them on our lifeless faces as a political statement. Leo took a bullet in the arm but managed to hold the attacker until law enforcement arrived.
I wrote and edited for the Family Research Council, a public advocacy organization that promoted the principles I have cared about since childhood: protecting the family, promoting the dignity of every human life and advocating for religious liberty. It reads like a tagline, but it’s also just what I believed and the way I chose to match my career with my convictions.
I never expected that everyone would celebrate or share my beliefs. But I did expect to be able to discuss and debate these differences without becoming a political target in an act of terrorism, the first conviction under Washington, D.C.’s 2002 Anti-Terrorism Act.
It was the type of violent incident that one could expect a group that purportedly monitors “hate,” like the Southern Poverty Law Center, to notice, research and decry. In fact, we were on the center’s radar but for all the wrong reasons. The assailant acknowledged later in FBI testimony that he had selected our office precisely because the SPLC had labeled my employer a “hate group.”
It has always been easier to smear people rather than wrestle with their ideas. It’s a bully who calls names and spreads lies rather than thoroughly reading a brief’s legal arguments or challenging the rationale underlying a policy proposal. The SPLC has chosen to take the easy path — to intimidate and mislead for raw political power and financial benefit.
For years, former employees revealed, local journalists reported and commentatorshave lamented: The Southern Poverty Law Center is not what it claims to be. Not a pure-hearted, clear-headed legal advocate for the vulnerable, but rather an obscenely wealthy marketing scheme. For years, the left-wing interest group has used its “hate group” list to promote the fiction that violent neo-Nazis and Christian nonprofits peacefully promoting orthodox beliefs about marriage and sex are indistinguishable. Sometimes, it has apologized to public figures it has smeared, and it recently paid out millions to settle a threatened defamation lawsuit.