Far-right commentator and Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes is suing the Southern Poverty Law Center for unspecified damages, claiming that the civil rights organization destroyed his reputation and cost him business opportunities by designating his pro-Trump men’s club as a hate group. Filed on February 4th in Alabama, the lawsuit accuses the SPLC of publishing “false, damaging and defamatory statements” about McInnes, taking “concerted, obsessive and malicious actions” to “deplatform” him from Facebook, Twitter and PayPal, and engaging in “tortious interference with his economic opportunities … [and] contractual relationships.”
McInnes, 48, was born in England and raised in Canada, but moved to the United States as an adult and first made a name for himself in 1994 as one of the founders of Vice magazine. He left the company in 2008, and launched several other new-media ventures which reflected his increasingly overt chauvinism and incendiary ideals. During the 2016 election, he became one of the most recognizable and vocal representatives of the American far-right as the leader of the Proud Boys, a men’s only club for self-described “Western chauvinists.”
Founded in 1971 as a nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights, the SPLC has developed a reputation for being an authority on extremist hate groups, monitoring and exposing their activities to the public, media and law enforcement. In early 2018, the SPLC designated the Proud Boys and their “tactical defense arm,” the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, as “general hate groups,” but the list of individuals and organizations they monitor goes beyond alt-right white nationalism; they include the American College of Pediatricians (for opposing gay adoption and linking homosexuality to pedophilia), the Nuwaubian Nation of Moors (for espousing black supremacist ideas and alien conspiracy theories), and the anti-immigrant group VDARE.
In addition to detailing McInnes’ lengthy history of making racist, Islamaphobic, sexist, homophobic and otherwise offensive statements, the SPLC says the Proud Boys are “known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric,” “regularly spout white nationalist memes” and “maintain affiliations with known extremists.” They’ve documented numerous violent incidents involving the group’s members, and argued that “violence is firmly entrenched in Proud Boy dogma” and “their primary tool for silencing their political foes.”
“Violence doesn’t feel good, justified violence feels great and fighting solves everything,” McInnes said during a speech at New York University in February 2017, following a violent clash between the Proud Boys and anti-fascist protestors. ”I want violence. I want punching in the face.”
Now, McInnes wants money and an apology. He’s seeking undisclosed damages, as well as a court order requiring the SPLC “to issue a public retraction, apology and appropriate corrective advertising because of its actions.” Calling himself an “avowed and vocal opponent of discrimination … extremism, nationalism and white supremacy,” McInnes claims that SPLC’s “false and misleading” portrayal has made him “unable to retain or be considered for gainful employment in his line of work.” He accuses the organization of exaggerating the proliferation of extremist hate groups because “scaremongering” is a “very effective way to make money.”
“The SPLC has gone from a noble institution genuinely dedicated to eradicating hate to a hate group in and of itself that pretends this country is frothing with bigots desperate to foment World War III,” McInnes said in a statement posted on Alex Jones’ InfoWars website. “They are using this incredible wealth to wield power over the innocent and destroy careers and businesses in their insatiable need to generate more bigots — because in the world of SPLC fundraising, mo hate is mo money.”
The lawsuit further alleges that McInnes — who left the Proud Boys in November — and his family have been subject to “physical and aggressive confrontations and other forms of harassment”; just last month, the Huffington Post reported, McInnes complained that his neighbors in Larchmont, NY, posted signs reading “Hate has no home here,” which he called a form of “aggression” towards his family.
In a statement to Rolling Stone, the SPLC defended their position. “To paraphrase FDR, judge us by the enemies we’ve made,” it read. “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. His case is meritless.”