Bil Browning

Cognitive Dissonance: The SPLC effect

Filed By Bil Browning | December 13, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: anti-gay organizations, Belief Disconfirmation Paradigm, cognitive dissonance, Family Research Council, Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC

Jeremy Hooper at Good As You has one helluva scoop about an initiative several religious right orgs are launching to combat the Southern Poverty Law Center's designation of some of the most virulently anti-gay outfits as hate groups. cognitive-dissonance.jpgJeremy has printed an unreleased document showing the orgs' plans to launch a new site and promotional campaign aimed at portraying SPLC as part of "the radical Left" and themselves as the victims of "slanderous tactics."

The sheer amount of cognitive dissonance in the release is stunning and hardly accidental. Especially on display is the Belief Disconfirmation Paradigm which can be summed up succinctly as:

Dissonance is aroused when people are confronted with information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. If the dissonance is not reduced by changing one's belief, the dissonance can result in misperception or rejection or refutation of the information, seeking support from others who share the beliefs, and attempting to persuade others to restore consonance.

Check out how the Family Research Council tries to spin the designation by preying on their followers with the most extensively studied theory in social psychology after the jump. The sheer chutzpah is astounding.

Notice the first paragraph of this joint release sets the tone for the entire document. I've taken a screenshot of the first few paragraphs, but you can hit up Good As You for the full document. (You can clickety to embiggen this screenshot.)


The First Paragraph

Let's start at the beginning. The first sentence starts off strong.

The surest sign one is losing a debate is to resort to character assassination.

Surely we can all agree on that point. We're off to a roaring start and we're even agreeing. Soon we'll all be holding hands and singing "This Little Light of Mine," right? Hardly. The release goes south as it heads into the second sentence (emphasis mine).

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal fundraising machine whose tactics have been condemned by observers across the political spectrum, is doing just that.

Apparently, these paragons of civil virtue have no problem using the very technique they are decrying. If the "surest sign" you're losing is to engage in "character assassination," they have just proven their own point by immediately resorting to smearing the SPLC just six words later in the same paragraph.

The Second Paragraph

In the second paragraph we head right into cognitive dissonance territory. The groups simply can't justify their beliefs (that they are correct and innocent) with the facts (they've been labeled a hate group by a recognized authority).

The group, which was once known for combatting racial bigotry, is not attacking several groups that uphold Judeo-Christian moral views, including marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

What's wrong with this sentence? After all, the SPLC has labeled these orgs as hate groups and they do believe that marriage is solely the union of a man and a woman and SPLC is known for combatting extreme bigotry. These are the facts - and the orgs acknowledge them as such.

But did you catch how they started to spin the truth into something that's more palatable for their members and target audience? Did you see how cognitive dissonance has started to creep in? They can't recognize that the facts logically lead to their designation as a hate group by the authority so they misinterpret the facts and attempt to gain support from other people who share their beliefs.

In reality, while the SPLC did condemn "several groups that uphold Judeo-Christian moral views," they didn't list them as hate groups just for those beliefs. Believing that marriage is the sole domain of opposite sex couples didn't earn them the designation either - it's just an attempt to find common ground with supporters. Instead, they were listed for specific examples of extreme bigotry and prejudice meant to incite hatred and/or violence from their supporters.

If opposing same-sex marriage were enough to list a group or organization as a hate group, Congress would long ago have earned the distinction. It obviously hasn't - but Congress hasn't said that gays should be deported, decided gay sex is domestic terrorism or queer people shouldn't be allowed to hold public office. Instead, the groups SPLC designated as hate groups have advocated those positions - and more.

The groups are trying to convince their followers to continue their support by twisting the facts in an attempt to ease the dissonance. They are seeking validation for their actions - which have been shown to be incorrect/morally repugnant based on the facts.

The Third Paragraph

The third paragraph calls for the impossible as a rational plan.

How does the SPLC attack? By labeling it's opponents "hate groups." No discussion. No consideration of the issues. No engagement. No debate!

Yes, according to the Family Research Council, the Southern Poverty Law Center is attacking them by stating the facts; the FRC and other far right religious organizations have engaged in a campaign meant to deliberately stir prejudice and hate against LGBT people. They call for a debate "of the issues" as an appeal to their followers that their position is a moderate one other reasonable and practical folk would agree with. "If the SPLC would only discuss same-sex marriage or LGBT politicians or whether or not gay people should be deported with the hate groups, the SPLC could be persuaded as to the error of their ways," goes the thinking.

When was the last time that the SPLC met with the Ku Klux Klan to discuss whether or not it is repugnant to discriminate against racial minorities? Could the Aryan Nation build a case that reasonable people should be able to debate whether or not some races are inferior to others? Of course not. There simply isn't a "debate" to be had.

As former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan so famously said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." The facts here say that some religious right organizations have crossed the line from public policy advocacy on behalf of Judeo-Christian beliefs into knowingly disseminating false information about queer people in an attempt to stir violence and prejudice against them.

A Wretched Quandary

This call for a debate or discussion is meaningless. It's a desperate grasp for relevancy hidden behind a not-so-subtle public relations campaign meant to prey upon the general public's rapidly spreading realization that queer people are often vilified and scapegoated without cause.

This too slow epiphany has the religious right's supporters in a moral quandary as thick as if they've been suspended in amber. The only thing left for hate groups like the Family Research Council to do is to gnaw at the sheeple's moral dissonance in a wretched bid to continue their influence and relevancy.

These groups have been exposed. They have been named. Their influence is quickly waning.

No public relations campaign will solve their problem that the truth truly will set you free. You can't debate the facts.

And the fact is that the Family Research Council is a hate group.

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Excellent catch, Bil.

The fallacious argument in this "rationalization" is designed to attack and enrage, something The Family Research Council is very good at doing- and exactly what landed them on the hate group list in the first place.


Oh, I so love a logical, point by point refutation! It's a bit more trouble than just denouncing some idiot, but it can be a comfort for those not well trained in rhetoric. Those people really DON'T have a leg to stand on.

Like I said before, I'm surprised that FRC is so bothered by this. The entire point of the labeling is to move the group to the fringe of the debate, but that's really never bothered them before since the Washington Post and other news orgs are just fine with quoting known hate groups.

For what it's worth, the SPLC really IS a liberal fund-raising machine.

1. SPLC founder Morris Dees writes in his autobiography that he served as the primary fund raiser for the McGovern, Carter, Ted Kennedy and Hart campaigns. You have to admit, those are some pretty liberal bona fides.

Oddly enough, Dees began his career as "Youth Coordinator" for Gov. George "Segregation Forever!" Wallace.

2. Take a look at the SPLC's spurious "Hate Map" and count the number of liberal "hate groups" you find there.

Peruse any SPLC fund raising literature and count the number of times the terms "conservative" and "right-wing" appear. Contrast that with the number of references to "liberal" and "left-wing"

Whatever the SPLC is, it's NOT impartial by any means.

3. There is no legal definition of the term “hate group,” which is why even the FBI doesn’t use it. The term is meaningless. The SPLC has no mandate, no authority, legal, moral or otherwise, to designate anyone as anything.

4. The SPLC IS a fund raising machine. In 1994, Morris Dees vowed that he would stop soliciting donations when the SPLC’s Endowment Fund reached $100 million dollars.

It reached that mark in 2002, yet the fund-raising letters continued to go out like clockwork.

By 2007, the Endowment Fund had reached $200 million, and still the fund-raising letters went out.

Last year the Endowment Fund generated $39 million dollars in interest, or more than $15 million dollars in excess of the SPLC’s total annual expenses, (minus the $5.3 million they spent on fund-raising), and yet the fund-raising letters, like this one from this past September,,keep coming.

For every $100 donation some blue-haired old lady makes to the SPLC, $40 dollars goes toward salaries, $3.70 cents go toward "legal case costs," and $19 dollars go toward getting Granny to cut the NEXT $100 check.

The most ironic (read: "hypocritical") thing about the Southern Poverty Law Center is that NOT ONE of its top ten, highest paid executives is a minority.

In fact, according to the SPLC's hometown newspaper, the Montgomery Advertiser, despite being located LITERALLY in the back yard of Dr. Martin Luther King's home church, the SPLC has NEVER hired a person of color to a highly paid position of power.

Sadly, you can't believe everything you read on a web site. Sometimes people have to dig beyond the PR press releases and look at the actual facts.

Sorry for the long post, but somebody wrote that they liked point-by-point refutations.

Whatever the SPLC is, it is NOT unbiased or an uninterested third party. There are hundreds of millions of donor-dollars involved.

Let the cognitive dissonance commence...

This is interesting info, and for the moment I will take you at your word and assume it is all accurate.

Even so, none of this is a show-stopper:

• I would not expect SPLC to be a totally objective org -- I would expect them to be fair-minded, but it is clear their purpose is to champion the rights and social justice of minority individuals, especially African-Americans. I personally support these goals.

• Your point about no accepted definition of a "hate group" is well taken. There are legal problems with creating a legal definition (I can't go into that here), but I would encourage any group such as SPLC to come up with a precise definition, or precise criteria, about why a particular group is named a hate group. For example, I'd like it if they could say, "We have designated Group A as a hate group, because their literature has consistently violated our Principle No. 7" etc.

• Good for SPLC for establishing an Endowment Fund, and for managing it so that it grows. To me, this is a reason to continue donating to them, not a reason to discontinue.

• The points about their top executives not being minority people themselves does call for further investigation, but it does not in itself indicate a problem. We would have to look at their payscales and the availability of minority workers in their labor market who have those skills and are willing to work at those pay levels. Keep in mind that minority people with top skills are in high demand in the corporate world, too -- and in public service as well -- look, for example, who is currently in the White House.

As an example for my second bullet, I would encourage the SPLC to state, among other criteria, that "a group is a hate group if it attacks a target group by saying that the individual members of the target group should not have Constitutional rights enjoyed by the general public, based solely on the individual's inclusion in that target group."

Then, the SPLC could say, specifically, "We regard FRC as a hate group because their literature consistently urges that gay people shouldn't be allowed to hold public office, and this would be a clear violation of a gay person's right to equal protection and equal access to the law."

OK -- there you have it: a concise explanation why the FRC deserves to be called a hate group. Of course, there are other concise reasons we could formulate, probably many.

First of all, please allow me to express my thanks to the owners of this forum for posting my opposing opinions. There are many "progressive" people out there who brook no dissenting opinions.

Second, let me say that I do not support the FRC or any other "hate group." My sole interest is in pointing out that the SPLC is NOT an unbiased third party. There are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

My wife and I have many gay and lesbian friends. We were even married by an openly gay JP and her partner. We believe that people should have the legal right to live with and love with whomever they please under the law.

As to the accuracy of my information. It is taken directly from Morris Dees' own writings, the IRS Form 990 and annual reports of the SPLC as posted on their own website, and the writings of Dan Morse of the Montgomery Advertiser. I cite all my sources and I welcome alternative explanations for the data given.

I do not expect the SPLC to be fair minded either, but this is how they are portrayed in the popular media, and indeed, in this article. My only point is that the SPLC is a private fund-raising group with no more authority, moral or legal, to designate "hate groups" than does the SPCA.

My contention that there is no legal definition of "hate group" is the very core of my argument. Granted, most thinking people of any political bent will agree that groups like the KKK and neo-nazis are "hateful," but the problem is that they have a legal right to exist.

The real danger is that without a legal definition of "hate group," the SPLC can smear any group with which it disagrees. Last Spring the Missouri Highway Patrol passed along a "report" from the SPLC that explained how "domestic extremists" could be identified by their third-party bumper stickers.

I don't care who you voted for last time, but that kind of unchecked power scares me to death.

It's all well and good when you do not care for a group the SPLC designates as a "hate group," but what happens when they decide that YOUR group is politically incorrect?

I'm not willing to hand that power over to anyone arbitrarily. There are legal definitions for hate crimes; without a legal definition for "hate groups," it's all so much fund raising propaganda.

Mark Potok, the SPLC's $146,000 donor-dollar a year Public Relations guru has stated that “…a “hate group” has nothing to do with criminality… [or] potential for violence...” Rather, as Potok put it, “It’s all about ideology.”

No crime, no violence, just "wrong thinking"

Worse yet, Potok claims that "Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing."

I don't know about any of you, but the schools I went to made out that marches, speeches, meetings and publishing were Constitutionally protected civil rights.

Just think about how many of those "hate" activities Dr. King or President Obama engaged in. THAT ought to scare you to death.

As for the SPLC's bloated Endowment Fund, the whole purpose of the fund, according to SPLC annual reports is to " for the future by setting aside a certain amount of its income for an endowment, a practice begun in 1974 to plan for the day when nonprofits like the SPLC can no longer afford to solicit support through the mail because of rising postage and printing costs."

Well, the Endowment Fund has achieved all of its goals. The SPLC no longer needs to solicit funds. If you want to donate, go for it, but the SPLC needs to stop sending out solicitations claiming they are broke.

In 2009, the SPLC took in $31 million in donations while the Endowment Fund grew by $39 million dollars. That's $70 million dollars overall.

Of that $70 million, the SPLC spent $29 million for the year, including $5.3 million for fund-raising, and only $1.1 million on "legal case costs." In 2008, the SPLC actually spent more on office equipment than it did on legal case costs. I'll leave it up to you to decide if that is good return on investment.

If you actually look at the SPLC's case docket, found on their own website, you'll see that the handful of cases they have taken on consist of suing broke school districts and representing illegal aliens. While some might consider this important work, it doesn't take $70 million to do this kind of work.

The SPLC doesn't NEED your donations.

And finally, to address your and Cynthia M's contention that perhaps no qualified minorities have ever been tempted to work for the SPLC, let's look at the big picture:

The SPLC spends millions of dollars a year to promote itself as "the nation's premiere civil rights organization," yet you contend that perhaps "no qualified minorities could be found or those that are may not want to work for them."

This sounds a lot like the NBA's rhetoric for explaining away why it never hired any black head coaches for decades. "There just weren't any interested or qualified applicants."

Here are the salaries of the the SPLC's top ten, highest paid executives, per their own IRS Form 990, .

This isn't chump change. Even if the top tier of minority activists could find better paying jobs, you have to contend that in FORTY YEARS no second tier applicants were interested in these six digit salaries? Talk about cognitive dissonance.

Dan Morse, an investigative journalist with the Montgomery Advertiser was reporting a lack of diversity at the top levels of SPLC management as far back as 1994:

Dan Morse, “Equal Treatment? No blacks in center’s leadership,” Montgomery Advertiser, February 16, 1994.

The SPLC is headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama, the cradle of the American Civil Rights Movement and hometown to Rosa Parks. The SPLC's "Poverty Palace" headquarter building sits LITERALLY in the back yard of Dr. King's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and you STILL have no problem with the lack of diversity in the top management after FORTY YEARS??

Morse also reported that the only two black lawyers hired by the SPLC quit due to what they called "a plantation mentality." Your local library can get you copies of Morse's week long exposé through Interlibrary Loan. Read it for yourselves and see what conclusions you come to.

Again, I express my gratitude for being allowed to speak, and again I apologize for my long-windedness. There is a lot of information out there to pass along.

I freely concede that I may be misinterpreting the data the SPLC provides, but I just don't see how I could believe otherwise without delving into cognitive dissonance.

Cynthia McCorison | December 14, 2010 10:58 AM

Richard, You make it sound as though the SPLC being a liberal organization that is able to raise large sums of money to advance their cause is a bad thing!I don't see it.Consider that the groups that have been designated as hate groups like the FRC has, are uber conservative groups that raise large sums of money to advance their cause as well. FRC advances their cause through a distortion of the facts, and outright lies meant to discredit and demoralize an entire population. The SPLC on the other hand exists to counter those lies, and distortions,which do incite violence towards TBLG persons. That the SPLC is not sanctioned through the Gov-ment is really of little consequence. The gov-ment takes part in discrimination towards TBLG as well!

Now if the FRC started THIS kind of critique of SPLC, it might get some traction! But criticizing ANOTHER big fund raising machine might bight them in the ass. Perhaps it's better to play to their base. After all, the base is more likely to visit sites like NARTH than Bilerico.

Cynthia McCorison | December 14, 2010 11:39 AM

As a side note to my previous post...When i owned, and ran my own company in California, before I became disabled, I on many occasions needed to hire, and I put out signs, and put notices in the paper, and such, however, in all of those years I was doing this, not once did a black person apply for a job. I have no problems with diversity, or race, or sexual orientation. If, a black person had ever applied, and was willing to work hard, I most definitely would have hired her or him. Is it a possibility that this is the same for the SPLC? I'm just 'sayin.

Let the cognitive dissonance commence!

For this audience, it was an extremely good catch. As for actually addressing an audience of cognitively dissonant people, emotional appeal seems to work better.

I think for example that the Trevor Project (while also criticized technically for being inaccurate...yes, it often gets better for those who don't die, it doesn't always get better than it was in the past...) was a great approach. Furthermore, despite being technically inaccurate, it provided a realistically needed service which trumps whatever error they might have had.

Here, this organization fails on both counts and they should be called out for being the cry-babies that they are being their hate being so not vogue anymore. They are seriously, so 60 (or more) years ago.