Setting the Record Straight: a Look at SPLC’s Report on Nullify Now!

Nullify Now Southern Poverty Law Center blogger Ryan Lenz paid a visit to the recent Nullify Now! event in Jacksonville and wrote an interesting report on it over at the SPLC Hatewatch blog.

Apparently, attempting to control the sprawling Federal Corporation is considered by some such as the SPLC, to be racist

Apparently, attempting to control the sprawling Federal Corporation is considered by some such as the SPLC, to be racist, hateful, or both

A Twitter page profile describes Lenz as a “Writer and journalist.” Now if by “journalist” we mean one capable of stringing words together in a reasonably coherent fashion – yeah, OK.

But if it means journalist in the professional sense, as in one who seeks out the truth and attempts to report it in a fair and objective manner. Well…not so much.

“Whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers….a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy.” Thomas Jefferson

Journalists typically pride themselves on factual accuracy. It serves as the cornerstone of journalistic integrity. Even when writing opinion pieces, journalists seek accuracy and precision. It takes Lenz all of six words to make his first factual error, dubbing the event “Nullification Now!” Lenz can’t even get the name right.

And it goes downhill from there.

Let’s run down a few more errors in fact.

In the third paragraph, Lenz mentions John Bush and says he, “runs the Foundation for a Free Society in Austin, Texas.” Actually, Jason Rink runs the foundation, a fact Lenz should be aware of, since his cohort Robert Steinback reported it less than seven months ago in a Hatewatch post on Nullify Now! Austin.

In the next graph, our fearless reporter claims, “roughly 100 people attended the conference.” Actually, the total attendance was double that. I will cut him some slack on this one. Numbers generally cause journalists some difficulty.

Next, Lenz takes a stab at describing the mission of the Tenth Amendment Center. “Their central idea—that each state has the constitutional right to invalidate and disregard virtually any federal law – relies on a spurious interpretation of the Tenth Amendment, which reserves to the states and the people any power not explicitly given to the federal government, and flies in the face of more than two centuries of jurisprudence.”

Not quite. TAC asserts states have the power to nullify unconstitutional laws, not any old law that suits them.  And he apparently didn’t actually read the text of the Tenth Amendment before he wrote his story. The word “explicitly” doesn’t appear. The fact that he never bothers to explain what he means by a “spurious interpretation” saves me the trouble of trying to refute his nonsensical position.

He later doubles down on his twisted definition of nullification, writing “The idea is universally applicable to any idea that defines the federal government as evil—or any regulation that is disliked.” It’s difficult to fathom how he could have actually listened to any of the speakers talking about nullification at the event and come away with this idea. He either didn’t listen, or chose to purposely distort the message.

Then there is this little jewel. “State lawmakers have introduced, but not passed, numerous bills to nullify federal initiatives like gun regulations and the new health care reform act.” (emphasis added)

You can go to the TAC legislative tracking page and see that state lawmakers have, in fact, passed numerous pieces of nullification legislation over the last two years.

And in one of his more amusing misstatements, he describes the Ludwig von Mises Institute as “conservative.”

Finally, Lenz makes a big tadoo about the fact that we knew he was attending the event.

“On the eve of a Nullification Now! conference in Jacksonville, Fla., last week, the Tenth Amendment Center issued a warning: The Southern Poverty Law Center was sending someone to report that ‘those of us who want political decentralization as the Constitution requires [are] dangerous.’ Then, when the conference began, every speaker repeated the warning. Someone from the SPLC was there, they said.” (emphasis added)

Every speaker did not repeat the so-called “warning.” I spoke at the event. I didn’t say a word about the SPLC. In fact, I only heard two speakers mention the organization, and only one by name. That was Bush, when he intentionally called Lenz out. Incidentally, this was several speakers into the program…  Granted, I didn’t hear every minute of every presentation, but I can assure you, Lenz wasn’t nearly the focus he would like his readers to believe.

Then there was the merely amusing, such as Lenz’s attempt to paint folks advocating for the legalization of raw milk as “right wingers” and the specter of a man working for an organization called “Hatewatch” tacitly accepting the notion that using drones to execute American citizens counts as a good idea.

Lenz clearly came to Nullify Now! with an agenda – to paint the event as a gathering of extremists and racists. That is – after all – what Hatewatch does. And he wasn’t about to let facts get in his way. For all of his “reporting” on various speakers and vendors, he failed to mention my 35 minute speech, which included an emphatic denunciation of racism and a dramatic retelling of the story of a runaway slave’s escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad.

But that doesn’t fit the template, now does it?

The cowardly way Lenz went about gathering his information strikes me as the saddest part of this tale. Yes, we knew he was coming. We found out quite by accident when making routine follow-up calls to ticketholders. But despite the accidental tip-off that he was registered to attend, we didn’t actually know he was there until his journalistic brilliance hit the web. You see, he never even checked in at the registration table. And he never made any effort to talk with any of the speakers or organizers to get clarification (he clearly needed it), or heaven forbid, to engage in a standard journalistic practice – actually talking to the subjects of a story.  You know – getting their perspective. Asking questions. Actually reporting.

It wouldn’t have proven difficult. I was there the whole time, out in the open and available to talk . And there was no mistaking who I was. Lenz certainly saw me speak. I went right after Bush outed the SPLC “agent provocateur”.

Journalist indeed.

If anybody wonders about the credibility of the Southern Poverty Law Center, this piece should make it pretty clear just where that stands.

The second part of the Twitter profile reads, “Teller of truths and lies.”

I wonder if he can even tell the difference.

Note: The Twitter profile has since been changed.