MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The founder of a far-right men’s group filed a defamation lawsuit Monday against the Southern Poverty Law Center for labeling the organization as a hate group, in the latest attempt to use litigation to fight the extremist label.
Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys — an organization that describes its members as “Western chauvinists” — contends in the lawsuit that he was banned from social media platforms and saw his livelihood suffer after getting the designation from the SPLC.
“What they do is they cast this wide net of ‘everyone’s a Nazi’ and they start destroying lives,” McInnes said during a news conference in front of the SPLC building in Montgomery, Alabama. “This is a free speech nation, and this is not a free speech organization.”
Facebook and Instagram announced in October that they were banning the Proud Boys and McInnes from their platforms because of policies against hate groups.
Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement Monday that the lawsuit is meritless.
“Gavin McInnes has a history of making inflammatory statements about Muslims, women and the transgender community. The fact that he’s upset with SPLC tells us that we’re doing our job exposing hate and extremism,” Cohen said.
The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center is best known for tracking right-wing extremists including the Ku Klux Klan. Some organizations have filed lawsuits to fight being labeled as hate groups.
The SPLC on its website says the Proud Boys have an ideology of “general hate” and are known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric.
McInnes on Monday described the Proud Boys as “basically a pro-Trump drinking club.” Members of the group brawled with anti-fascist protesters following a speech by McInnes at a Manhattan Republican club in October, resulting in arrests of both Proud Boys’ members and anti-fascists. McInnes lives in Westchester, a New York City suburb.
The lawsuit is at least the third filed against the Southern Poverty Law Center or its leaders since June, when the organization apologized to a British group and its founder and agreed to pay $3.4 million after labeling them as anti-Muslim extremists.
Under the out-of-court settlement, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued written and video statements saying it was wrong to include the London-based Quilliam and Maajid Nawaz in a “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists” in 2016.
Last month, the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies sued Richard Cohen, the law center’s president, and Heidi Beirich, the director of its intelligence unit, in federal court claiming the organization had wrongly labeled it as an anti-immigrant hate group. The suit seeks an unspecified amount, court records show.
Maryland attorney Glen K. Allen filed a lawsuit in December seeking at least $6.5 million from the law center, Beirich and Mark Potok, a former senior fellow with the organization. Allen’s lawsuit says he lost his job in the city of Baltimore’s legal department after the Southern Poverty Law Center published an article wrongly calling him a “neo-Nazi lawyer.”
The law center hasn’t responded in court to either of the lawsuits.