(The Daily Signal) — The FBI appears, at least briefly, to have joined the Southern Poverty Law Center’s attempt to demonize Roman Catholics who follow the church’s teachings on marriage and who celebrate the Latin Mass, in a move one traditional Catholic leader calls both embarrassing and foreboding.
Michael J. Matt, editor of The Remnant newspaper and producer of Remnant TV in Forest Lake, Minnesota, said he was surprised to see his organization on a leaked FBI memo in February, alongside other groups he described as “defunct.”
The memo demonstrated the “FBI phoning it in,” he told The Daily Signal in a phone interview Friday. He said the list of “radical-traditional Catholic hate groups” in the FBI memo reminded him of the SPLC’s list tracing back to 2007, when Heidi Beirich, then head of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, and Rhonda Brownstein, then an SPLC lawyer, discovered his newspaper.
“They took Heidi Beirich and Rhonda Brownstein’s word for it, from 2007?!” he asked, incredulous.
“There has been an explosion of traditional Catholic groups since Pope Benedict XVI brought back the Latin Mass. None of the new groups who are in positions of real influence are targeted in the memo,” Matt explained.
As I wrote in my book “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the SPLC has branded mainstream conservative and Christian nonprofits “hate groups,” placing them on a map with chapters of the Ku Klux Klan. Former employees have condemned the “hate” labeling as a “highly profitable scam” tracing back to the co-founder’s talents as a fundraiser. In 2019, the SPLC fired that co-founder amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal, the full truth of which has yet to be revealed.
The FBI’s Richmond, Virginia, office cited the SPLC in a January memo, which the national FBI office publicly rescinded in February. That memo listed nine organizations, most of which the SPLC first added to the list of “hate groups” in 2007. The SPLC suggested that those organizations espouse and support antisemitism, and it has kept most of them on the list and the “hate map” for nearly two decades.
Matt went through the list and told The Daily Signal that many of the organizations are defunct. He said the SPLC attacked the groups in the memo due to their founders, most of whom are now deceased.
Robert Sungenis, founder of Catholic Apologetics International, told Matt that “the organization is done now.”
“Christ or Chaos, I think, is completely defunct,” Matt added, noting that it only ever amounted to two people. E. Michael Jones, who runs Culture Wars, “is not a Latin Mass Catholic at all and regularly attacks The Remnant.”
As for Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Town of Richmond, New Hampshire, it is a convent full of nuns.
“They just sat up there and said their prayers,” Matt told The Daily Signal. The SPLC targeted them because they followed the now deceased Father Leonard Feeney, who “was very serious about the doctrine that outside the church there is no salvation. They were serious about converting Jews.”
The only traditional Catholic groups on the list that remain “fairly active” are Tradition in Action, Catholic Family News, and The Remnant, he said.
Much of the attack comes down to a mistaken view of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Matt argued. “The SPLC are huge defenders of the Second Vatican Council, saying the Catholic Church was antisemitic, full of hate,” he said. “So, anybody who likes the old Latin Mass, that’s just code for hate, especially antisemitism. That’s the broad brush that they paint traditional Catholics with.”
Matt said the SPLC brands Catholics “extremists” if they “still accept traditional church teaching on faith and morals,” describing Vatican II as an “updating of the church’s moral teachings, even though the teachings of the church haven’t actually changed at all. If you look at a Catholic catechism now, it’s as opposed to gay marriage as it ever was. But they’re trying to say there’s this huge awakening or coming of age in the church, and traditionalists are dangerous because they still accept the pre-Vatican II teachings.” (The SPLC brands many conservative organizations “anti-LGBT hate groups,” due in part to their stances on traditional marriage.)
The SPLC has repeatedly attacked the Society of Saint Pius X, a traditional international priestly society that comprises almost 700 priests and supports the Latin Mass, accusing it of supporting antisemitism.
“The SSPX has priests from many races and ethnicities among their ranks, and welcomes anyone of any race or ethnicity to the treasures of the Catholic Church maintained in their chapels,” James Vogel, the SSPX director of communications, told The Daily Signal in a statement Friday. “Any claims of the SSPX espousing racial or ethnic hatred, by any group, are so clearly refuted by this reality that any further commentary seems absurd.”
“The SSPX also continues to reject antisemitism as anti-Catholic, as we say in no unclear terms,” Vogel added, citing the society’s statement on antisemitism.
“The Catholic Church teaches its members to pray that the Jewish people will recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah and convert to the Catholic faith for their salvation,” the statement reads. “This perennial teaching of the church is motivated by supernatural charity, not hatred. The Catholic Church desires the happiness of all people, both in this life and the next.”
The Society of St. Pius X had a notable break with the Vatican in 1988, when its leader, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, consecrated four bishops without the approval of Pope John Paul II. Lefebvre was subsequently excommunicated. The SSPX remains unreconciled to the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Raymond Burke, archbishop emeritus of St. Louis, told podcast host Matt Fradd that “at the present moment they [Society of St. Pius X] are not part of the one Roman Catholic Church throughout the world.”
Similarly, Matt noted that it would be spiritually destructive for him to espouse hate.
“To hate anyone or to encourage anyone to hate would be a mortal sin. It damns your soul,” he said. He fondly recalled sitting down for an interview with a journalist at the Minneapolis newspaper City Pages back in 2015. He said the journalist, who was in a same-sex marriage, enjoyed his company and later called him up to talk about religion. The May 2015 article notes that of the eight “hate groups” the SPLC found in Minnesota, most appear defunct.
“The SPLC never cleans up,” Matt said.
Despite the many hits to its credibility, the SPLC still carries a great deal of weight. Many prominent Democrats cited the SPLC’s 50th anniversary in 2021, and President Joe Biden has nominated an SPLC attorney to a federal judgeship. Amazon used the SPLC “hate map” to screen applicants for its charity donation platform for years, and Apple CEO Tim Cook donated $1 million to the SPLC in 2017. The center has an endowment of more than $700 million and offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands.
In 2012, a gunman used the “hate map” to target the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., planning to shoot everyone in the building. He pleaded guilty to terrorism charges and is serving a 25-year prison sentence.
Matt recalled getting “spooked” when the SPLC first put him on the “hate map.”
“Our deal is the Latin Mass, and all of a sudden, we’re accused of hate and violence,” he said. “My wife was freaking out. We put security systems in our house. It is serious what they do to people.”
He described the FBI’s short-lived decision to cite the SPLC as foreboding.
“I have this suspicion that the SPLC was just laying the groundwork so that when the government gets far enough to the Left, they can start using these resources like the hate map to silence people,” he said.
At least one state government has done something similar. In 2019, Michigan Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel announced a “hate crimes unit,” referencing the SPLC’s “hate group” accusation. The Judeo-Christian law firm American Freedom Law Center responded with a lawsuit, which has been in limbo for years.
Neither the SPLC nor the FBI responded to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment by publication.