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Charity website cites threats in removing hate group labels

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A website that maintains a massive database of information about U.S. charities said Friday that it will remove warning labels flagging dozens of nonprofits as hate groups after threats directed at its staff.

GuideStar said in a statement that its decision to remove the labels was driven by its “commitment to objectivity” and concerns for its staff’s “wellbeing.”

“Dismayingly, a significant amount of the feedback we’ve received in recent days has shifted from constructive criticism to harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership,” the statement said.

The self-described “neutral” repository for data on charities recently flagged 46 nonprofits for being labeled as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. A banner prominently featured atop each group’s GuideStar profile includes the law center’s logo and a link to its website.

Several leaders of flagged groups demanded the removal of the banners from GuideStar, which calls itself the world’s largest source of information on nonprofits.

The list of flagged groups includes a modestly funded nonprofit operated by white nationalist Richard Spencer, who popularized the term “alt-right” to describe a fringe movement blending racist, anti-Semitic and anti-immigration views.

But it also includes more mainstream, big-budget organizations, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the Family Research Council and the American Family Association.

In a letter Wednesday addressed to GuideStar President and CEO Jacob Harold, leaders of the Family Research Council, The Heritage Foundation and other conservative allies criticized the website’s use of the labels. Their letter also accused the Alabama-based law center of using its list of hate groups as a “political weapon targeting people it deems to be its political enemies.”

“It is not a governmental organization using a rigorous criteria to create its lists, and it is not a scientifically oriented organization. The SPLC is merely another ‘progressive’ political organization,” the letter said.

Harold told The Associated Press earlier this month that GuideStar relied on the law center’s list and didn’t conduct its own analysis of whether a nonprofit deserves to be labeled a hate group. However, Harold also said the site was re-evaluating its “design choice” to feature the warning label atop each group’s profile page.

“It conveys a degree of certainty that doesn’t reflect our own certainty,” he said.

The warning labels say GuideStar believes the law center’s analysis of hate groups is “strong enough to share” despite disagreement over some of its choices.

“We leave it to you to come to your own conclusions,” it states.

GuideStar’s statement said it will remove the labels next week but will make the information available to users who request it.

“We acknowledge there is a deep, nuanced conversation to be had with Americans of all political, cultural, and religious backgrounds regarding how we address — and identify — hate groups,” it said.

In a statement Friday, the law center said it respects GuideStar’s decision to change how it makes the information available to users.

“At a time when hate groups increasingly present a mainstream veneer, the public deserves such information,” it added.

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