SPLC on Men's Rights Activists: Plenty of Hatred Towards Women

David Pakman: It's a pleasure to welcome back to the program Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Souther Poverty Law Center, and editor-in-chief of their intelligence report.

Mark, we've been talking a lot lately about Men's Rights Activism, and, sort of concurrently, although they do distinguish themselves, the Anti-Feminist movement in the United States and Canada. And, back in the spring of 2012, the intelligence report from the SPLC put out sort of a statement about some groups within the Men's Rights Activism sphere that you guys are watching, but, correct me if I'm wrong, you did not designate them as hate groups.

Mark Potok: That's true. There was a lot of confusion at the time. Simply, we wrote an article that was very critical of many of the websites and the people behind them in the so-called man-o-sphere, these Men's Rights organization, but we did not list any of them as hate groups, and we haven't to this day.

Pakman: And, so, what I'd love to find out what the kind of threshold is to make it into a hate group according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but before we get to that sort of higher standard, first tell us a little bit about how would Men's Rights groups, broadly speaking, come to your attention. How does that happen?

Potok: Well, to be honest, I was fairly oblivious to this whole world until we got a tip about a couple of websites that we began to look at. And it very quickly became apparent that there was a whole world of these websites; uh, as I say, the so-called man-o-sphere. Uh, these were websites that purported to be part of the Men's Rights or Father's Rights movement, which has some legitimate beefs, I think. But when you went in and started to look at what was actually on the sites, it was just an incredible amount of misogyny, an incredible amount of defamation of women. Uh, you know, one of the themes that runs through all of those websites, or certainly the vast majority of them, is the idea that women routinely lie about rape: that they claim they were raped in order to destroy men, to get advantages over men, and so on.

Pakman: And when you look at these websites, what is the sort of standard that the SPLC has, more broadly, for determining what status might a particular website or movement have. What's the rubric, so to speak, that's used to ascertain that?

Potok: Well, we try very hard not to list simply websites as groups. Uh, for us, to list an organization as a hate group, we need to have some kind of evidence that they're doing things beyond simply having a website in which somebody or a few people you know, whine and moan, about this minority or that minority.

So, for instance, Stormfront.org, which is the largest white-supremacist forum in the world: it has almost 300,000 registered users, in addition to enormous numbers of visitors, we have never listed as a hate group because it really is a website, a web forum, and that's it.

Pakman: And, in the controversy that sorted of started after that Spring of 2012 intelligence report, where you listed a dozen or so of these websites, there was sort of a follow-up done in May of 2012, where you, the SPLC, came out and said, “Okay, let's be clear, we didn't say that Men's Rights Activists are inherently members of a hate movement. What our article sought to do was merely to point out some individual websites that we should be aware of; that may contain hateful rhetoric or the like.”

Now, when you made that distinction, was that distinction made simply to clarify, or was it the result of a sort of blow-back the SPLC received based on that initial intelligence report?

Potok: Oh, no, I mean, we didn't really have any significant blow-back and it wouldn't have concerned us in the least had we. I mean, you know, there was blow-back in the sense that there was a lot of ranting and raving on some of the websites about us in general; about me in particular. But, no, I mean, it was simply clarifying, [look], and we were, I think a little harder on the websites than the way you described. It wasn't just the sort of bear watching, I mean, the websites are filled with incredible vitriol.

Just to give an example to our listeners, Paul Elam, a guy who runs A Voice for Men, and is considered in many ways the leader of this kind of anti-woman movement, for long time had a website called registerher.com, and registerher.com was a file site, which put up pictures, sometimes personal information, names, and so on, of course, of various enemies of the Men's Rights Movement. Some of those people are feminists, some of those people are women on the order of Lorena Bobbit; uh, okay, I guess she wasn't very friendly to men. But an enormous number are simply women who, in some way, identify as feminist, in some way, have offended the men in the Men's Rights Movement. In other words, women who are guilty of no crime. You know, you have this website that says “these women should be prosecuted, they should be in jail,” and so on. And, you know, there's a huge amount of harassment, internet harassment of women, who do come out in these ways, who do say something public about feminism, or sexism, or misogyny.

Pakman: Has there been, or have you seen, at the SPLC, any sort of correlation in the rise of the more extreme Men's Rights Activist movements, that seems to go along with the rise of some other movement that is also of concern to you? And, I don't even want to give examples, I don't want to be accused of linking any particular movements, but I guess the broad question is: what else have you seen a change in, or rise in, with regard to concerning movements, that may correlate, or, in some way, be connected to, the rise in the Men's Rights Activism movement?

Potok: I'm not sure we see a real correlation, you know, for instance, to far-right Christian groups, or anything like that. I would say that if there's a correlation to what's going on in the man-o-sphere, the web world of these Men's Rights groups, it is to, [quote, unquote] “mainstream politicians”, generally in the Republican party, right. The people who talk about legitimate rape, as opposed to real rape, whatever that is. The Rush Limbaughs of the world who go after the Sandra Flukes for being sluts, and whores, and all the rest of it, and suggesting that Sandra Fluke should, you know, post videos of her having sex with her boyfriends if she's going to have health care pay for her contraception. So, there's, you know, I think it's fairly obvious that we've heard some fairly amazing things from politicians over the last several years, and, in particular, in the last mid-term elections.

Pakman: And that's interesting because, ancecdotally, whenever issues of Feminism, or gender, or Men's Rights activism sort of come up on our program, we get, anecdotally, messages from so-called Progressives, who say, that while they are Progressive, they still sympathize, or consider themselves to be Men's Rights Activists on some level. If we look broadly, though, are you finding more of an association between the American right and Men's Rights Activist groups?

Potok: Yes, I think that's true. Let me say up front that I think there are absolutely some legitimate beefs that men have. There's no doubt that family courts, for a very long time in this country, have favored women in the sense that it's assumed, that in a break-up, in a divorce, that the woman, the kind of home-maker, I guess, is going to wind up with the children, or with primary custody of the children. Of course that's changing over the years, but it is true that men have sometimes been treated very, very poorly in family courts.

Now, that said, I would say that legitimate complaints are very much the minority of what you see on these websites. Most of it is just untrammeled hatred directed at women, and, sometimes, it gets into a world that is really unbelievable. I wrote a story very recently about a particular subreddit, so, one of these forums on the internet, called “Philosophy of Rape.” This is run by a guy who's anonymous, of course, he's hiding behind the internet. Who, uh, his website is all about promoting the “corrective” [quote, unquote], rape of sluts, harlots, harpies, and virtually every other woman, uh, in the world; he makes a bizarre exception for nuns. Uh, but, you know, this guy actually does give advice on how to rape, and [he says?] the purpose of this website is how to rape women, improve society, and get away with it. And he actually does make certain suggestions, the one I remember particularly is a good day to carry out a rape is Thanksgiving, because the police will not be surprised by men running around in masks.

Pakman: And, Mark, has there been anything you've been able to identify, and if this is just your personal speculations or understandings, that's okay, as long as, you know, you tell us that this is just kind of what you're thinking. Is there anything going on, societally, over the last ten years, that you think is stimulating this type of activism? Or do you think that there's been, more or less, the same underlying level of these ideas in society, but the internet is sort of providing a forum for individuals to come together?

Potok: Well, this is only my opinion, I don't have any real data to back it up, but I'd say a couple of things. Uh, you know, this obviously is related, in some grand way, to the changing roles of men and women in society. But, of course, the feminist movement, I mean, you know, it was 100 years ago when women got the right to vote. The feminist movement was biggest, I think, in the 70s and 80s, and, I suppose, into the 90s. So, in one way we might think, well, this is all, you know, we ought to be past all of this.

Uh, but let me say, first of all, that the real violence directed against women began, in a sense, in 1989, at an engineering school in Montreal, where a particular guy, Marc Lepine , murdered, if I remember, sixteen women: lined them up in a classroom and murdered them because they were engineers, they were the first engineering class at that University that had accepted women. And Lepine wrote explicity about how feminists have destroyed my life, and now I'm going to destroy their lives. Since then, we've seen a series of massacres, mass murders, directed at women.

The latest, of course, was last May in Santa Barbara, California, when a young guy named Elliot Rodger went on a rampage and murdered six people before killing himself. And this was all because, as he said, he was still a virgin at 22, he felt that beautiful blonde women owed him sex, and so on, and so on, and so on; he left a manifesto, a video manifesto.

So, what I'm saying is, yes, there has been this underlying, really, rage-filled reaction towards women for a good thirty years or so, now. At the same time, I do think it's come to the fore, I don't know if it's worse now, but it's come more to the fore, because, I think we're in a time of huge social change in many ways: the country is becoming rapidly less white, things like same-sex marriage have advanced at, really, a kind of dizzying pace, I think, no matter where you are politically. I mean, ten years ago, attitudes about same-sex marriage were wildly different than they are today, when an easy majority of Americans think there's no problem with that.

So I just think there are a lot of demographic, and cultural, and sociological changes happening, and there are people out there, you know, who are angry. This is not the country their forefathers built, the country they grew up in, and so on. And I think there's something to the point that you made, too, which is that, obviously, the internet makes it much easier to see these people. You might not know their actual names, but you see all this rage out there, it's brought them together, and people like Paul Elam have created a, more or less, organized movement, if an internet-based movement, and so that has increasingly attracted people who might not have been posting or talking about this stuff openly.

Pakman: We'll continue following it, we know the SPLC will. We've been speaking with Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Mark, thank you as always for being on.

Potok: A real pleasure, David, thanks for having me.

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