The coronavirus pandemic is not slowing down the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) or its partners. One partner organization is claiming measures to stop the spread of the virus are leading to a rise in exposure to white nationalism, while the SPLC is defending China against what it calls “anti-China coronavirus rhetoric” and “anti-Chinese fearmongering.”
Western States Center
The Western States Center (WSC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to “inclusive democracy” and produces resources similar to the SPLC’s, such as toolkits called “Confronting White Nationalism in School” and “Indigenizing Love.” WSC executive director Eric K. Ward discussed his organization’s partnership with the SPLC in a March 22 piece titled “Who Are We, America?” hosted on the SPLC website.
In this piece on the SPLC website, Ward portrayed America at a crossroads because of the coronavirus and the “authoritarian-tinged” Trump administration. In Ward’s hypothetical America, a coronavirus-induced future can either be one with a new “civil rights movement” or one in which Americans “allow the pandemic to pour fuel on demographic anxiety and ignite xenophobic policies and anti-Asian violence.”
Ward’s piece also attempts to contrast the WSC’s and SPLC’s work with the “fearmongers” politicizing the coronavirus pandemic (which is somehow unlike WSC’s and SPLC’s politicization of the coronavirus pandemic):
We are proud of our partnership with SPLC to challenge the fearmongers and those who would use hate, violence—and a global health crisis—to fan the flames of exclusion. SPLC ensures that untold numbers of activists and organizers will have the tools and knowledge they need to ignite the 21st century civil rights movement.
Inventing a White Nationalist Epidemic
Meanwhile, the WSC and the SPLC are fanning fear by pretending there is a widespread white nationalist epidemic and by kowtowing to an actual authoritarian regime to preserve the appearance of political correctness.
Just days before Ward’s piece went live on the SPLC website, Ward was on a phone call to discuss the SPLC’s “Year in Hate” report. According to Rolling Stone, during the phone call, Ward blamed social-distancing measures for an increase in people potentially being exposed to white nationalist rhetoric. He claimed there is a “huge uptick” in white nationalist content and therefore possibly people seeing white nationalist content. “A lot of it is happening on YouTube platforms and videos and others, at a time where much of the country is sheltering in place or practicing social distancing,” he said. “Ironically, it will serve to give these individuals much more access [to an audience] than they would normally have.” These comments by Ward led Rolling Stone to run the headline “How Social Distancing Could Lead to a Spike in White Nationalism.” Yet YouTube’s community guidelines ban content the site deems “hateful.” YouTube intentionally reduces the reach of “supremacist content” and bans outright any content that YouTube moderators believe supports discrimination, so it is unclear what content Ward is speaking about, much less how long it stayed online before it was flagged and removed.
Rolling Stone also quoted Ward preemptively blaming Trump for any future increase in violence against Asian Americans because, according to Ward, Trump is being “irresponsible” by calling the virus—which originated in China—a Chinese virus. Ward said, “We have an irresponsible president who is continuing to refer to COVID-19 as a Chinese virus. That is intentional, and in a time of great panic and fear that will only lead to physical violence being expressed.”
The SPLC’s Latest Propaganda
The SPLC has gone farther than the Western States Center in defending China. On March 20, the SPLC issued a response to what it called “Trump’s Racist and Xenophobic Attacks on Asians” by referring to the coronavirus as a “Chinese virus.” On the same day, the SPLC issued a press release titled “Trump’s Racist Response to COVID-19 Endangers All Americans, Including Immigrants.”
On March 24, SPLC’s Hatewatch ran the story “Hate Group Leaders, Antigovernment Extremists Push Anti-China Coronavirus Rhetoric.” Throughout the article, the SPLC repeatedly cast doubt on the virus’s origins in China and the Chinese government’s role in covering up the extent of the virus, calling these topics “xenophobic” and “anti-Chinese fearmongering.” Examples of the language in the Hatewatch piece include (emphasis added):
The groups accuse China of trying to blame the virus, which the letter refers to as the “Wuhan Coronavirus,” on the U.S. China has politicized the virus, according to the letter. . . .
The letter also plays into the xenophobic narratives that have been swirling around the global public health crisis as countries try to cope with the spread of the virus. The letter urges the Trump administration to investigate the Chinese government’s supposed mishandling of the virus. . . .
Political reactions to the coronavirus pandemic have been mired with xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, much of which has come from the Trump administration and other government officials. Trump has referred to it as the “China Virus” on Twitter. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a Trump supporter and former Senate majority whip, made ethnocentric comments in an interview, saying it was no surprise the virus was traced back to China “because of some of the cultural practices there.” . . .
The anti-Chinese fearmongering has spanned multiple ideologies across the radical right, as evidenced by the Media Research Center’s letter.
The Media Research Center Letter
However, the actual text of the letter from the Media Research Center (MRC) to Trump (disclosure: this author previously worked for MRC) reads much differently. In the letter, MRC and the co-signers urged Trump to formally investigate the coronavirus, mentioning the Chinese government’s role in suppressing information about the virus. The letter also mentions how Chinese propagandists have blamed Trump and the United States for the crisis.
Given the letter was about an investigation into the virus and the authoritarian Chinese government’s role in suppressing information about the virus—and says nothing at all about Chinese Americans—the SPLC appears to be using its unfounded accusations of xenophobia and fearmongering to defend the Chinese government.
China’s Useful Idiots
When people are already scared for their physical safety, organizations such as the WSC and SPLC are adding fuel to the fire by pretending hordes of people are suddenly watching hateful content online and engaging in hateful acts toward Asian Americans. These organizations are trying to justify their existence by asserting that criticism of the Chinese government and just mentioning that the coronavirus came from the Wuhan, China, are acts of hatred toward Asian people.
In reality, it looks like the WSC and SPLC are carrying the water for the Chinese government, a real authoritarian regime, and using the crisis to achieve their own political goals.