Barry Smitherman Objects to the Labeling of ‘Hate Groups’

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Barry Smitherman
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Barry Smitherman

Ever heard of Crusaders for Yahweh?

We hadn’t, either, but Barry Smitherman has and apparently he’s upset that the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed the Crusaders of Yahweh—and other “patriot, mormon and judeo-christian religious groups”—as hate groups.

We’re thinking Smitherman, chairman of the Railroad Commission and a GOP candidate for Texas Attorney General, didn’t Google Crusaders for Yahweh. We did and we found two websites apparently associated with the group that display white supremacist language and Nazi imagery.

Turns out Crusaders for Yahweh is a white supremacist organization founded by neo-Nazi Paul Mullet, who’s been in and out of prison and believes Obama is the anti-Christ. The group registered to lobby in Washington, D.C., last year, explaining on its application that it would lobby on “any activities that adversly afect [sic] the White Race.”

The group claims that its “cause is… the advancement and survival of our Racial People’s the true children of Israel [sic].”

(A message left with Smitherman’s campaign was not immediately returned.)

Here’s the backstory: Smitherman wrote an email last year to his daughter’s teacher complaining of “study material provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center” that was apparently used in conjunction with the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Smitherman wrote to the unnamed teacher that while he didn’t object to studying the book, he believed the SPLC “has a more radical view of racism, hate, and intolerance.”

“I identify myself as a Christian and find it intolerant for the SPLC to label me as intolerant,” wrote Smitherman. “Same with many of the patriot groups that have organized in Texas over the last several years. I personally know members of these groups and they are focused not on racism, but on balancing the federal budget and reducing or eliminating our $16 trillion national debt.”

The tea party group Voices Empower posted the text of the email on its Facebook page today.

“For example,” Smitherman wrote in his email, “the group ‘Crusaders for Yahweh’ is labeled by the SPLC to be a ‘Christian identity’ group and is placed on the SPLC’s ‘hate map. The same with the ‘Evangelical Latter Day Saints’ (mormons), the Jewish Defense League, which SPLC calls ‘anti-Arab’, and the Border Guardians, which is labeled by the SPLC as “anti-immigration.”

In an interview this morning with tea-party group Women on the Wall, Smitherman’s wife, Marijane, said the email worked. “I’m happy to report that at least in my daughter’s class the assignment was discontinued,” she said. “It’s a fight and it’s a war.”

Mark Potok, senior fellow at the SPLC, said Smitherman badly misunderstood the nature of the groups he was writing about.

“Mr. Smitherman needs to relearn how to read, maybe return for a comprehensive reading course,” Potok said. “The idea that criticizing a Christian Identity group is somehow calling him, as a Christian, intolerant is entirely ludicrous. Christian Identity believers believe the bible is the story of white people. … They think that the people who call themselves Jews today are preparing for the return of their biological father, Satan.”

The Jewish Defense League is a militant extremist organization linked to beatings, bombings and assassination attempts, including Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, in the name of repelling anti-Semitism. In 2001, the FBI classified the JDL as a “right-wing terrorist group.”

“JDL has something like a 30-year history of real-life terrorism,” said Potok.

In 2006, the founder of the Livingston, Texas-based Border Guardians, Laine Lawless, urged a leader in the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement to undertake a campaign of harassment and violence against undocumented immigrants. Lawless also continued to defend fellow border vigilante Shawna Forde after she was arrested for murdering an Arizona man and his 9-year-old daughter in Arizona.

Potok said there is no such group as the “Evangelical Latter Day Saints” and that Smitherman was likely thinking of the breakaway sect the “Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” (FLDS), whose leader, Warren Jeffs, is serving a life sentence in Texas on two child sex assault convictions.

Full text of the email below (we’ve removed the name of Smitherman’s daughter):

Dear Ms.

This is Barry Smitherman, [name omitted]’s dad. I am presently helping [name omitted] with this project. While I’m incredibly supportive of reading and analyzing “To Kill a Mockingbird,” an American Classic set in the early part of the 20th century in the rural south, I’m troubled by the “Us and Them” study material provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). “To Kill a Mockingbird” not only shows us the tragedy of the Jim Crow south of 60 years ago, played out horribly in the conviction of Tom Robinson for a rape that he didn’t commit, the book also highlights the strength and integrity of Atticus Finch, some of the townspeople of Maycomb, and even apparently a few of the jury members who struggled with their verdict. At the conclusion of the book, Harper Lee has given us hope that the South is moving away from discrimination based upon skin color and toward judging a man (or woman), as Dr. King would say, “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, however, has a more radical view of racism, hate, and intolerance. A quick review of their website shows that the SPLC considers many patriot, mormon, and judeo-christian religious groups across America, including some in Texas, to be hate groups. For example, the group “Crusaders for Yahweh” is labeled by the SPLC to be a “Christian identity” group and is placed on the SPLC’s national “hate map.” The same with the “Evangelical Latter Day Saints” (mormons), the Jewish Defense League, which SPLC calls “anti-Arab”, and the Border Guardians, which is labeled by the SPLC as “anti-immigration.” Equally disturbing, the SPLC calls out groups like “We the People”, “patriots”, The “Constitution Party,” and “oath keepers” as groups which subscribe to unfounded conspiracy theories and are “opposed to one world order”.

I identify myself as a Christian and find it intolerant for the SPLC to label me as intolerant. Same with many of the patriot groups that have organized in Texas over the last several years. I personally know members of these groups and they are focused not on racism, but on balancing the federal budget and reducing or eliminating our $16 trillion national debt.

Perhaps you are unaware of the tenants of the SPLC; I encourage you to research it thoroughly during this exercise and to explain to your students that SPLC, which allegedly fights intolerance, is itself often intolerant. Thanks for your consideration of this issue. Barry

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.

  • Lafollette

    Is there a farm somewhere in the Great State where y’all grow these nitwits?

    • April D. Korbel

      Sadly, they grow wild here, just like prickly pear. Only prickly pear fruit actually tastes good

  • Asher B. Garber

    “Perhaps you are unaware of the tenants of the SPLC; I encourage you
    to research it thoroughly during this exercise and to explain to your
    students that SPLC, which allegedly fights intolerance, is itself often
    intolerant. Thanks for your consideration of this issue. Barry”

    Does Barry want to be the top lawyer in Texas or the top landlord? I am confused.

    • texasaggie

      Never expect too much in the way of mastery of the English language from a Texan republican. While there may be some that are actually literate in the language, they are conspicuous by their absence.

  • gevalien

    Just means the SPLC is doing all the right things and calling groups out on their blatant racist and hate-filled ideologies and this is why I support the SPLC and always will do so.

  • texasaggie

    When dealing with our “village idiots,” to quote the great Molly Ivins, you never know whether they say the kinds of things that Smitherman said because they know what they’re talking about and really believe it, or whether they are incapable of logical thought. I have no idea of whether this guy (Smitherman) is a white supremacist at heart or whether he just is a bumbling fool who isn’t capable of actually going beyond the “cover of the book” and understanding what is written inside.

  • Kenny

    Texas wants a Nazi Attorney General. WTF has happened to Texas?

    • Lonny James

      No…There are lots of us who don’t want something like this thing to hold any kind of office.