Glen Allen is a Baltimore attorney who lost his job working for the City in August 2016 thanks to actions taken by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Because Allen once allegedly supported William Pierce’s National Alliance (NA), SPLC officials Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok allegedly pressured the city leaders to fire Allen, which they did. Allen responded by filing suit in December 2018 in the district court for the District of Maryland, demanding millions in damages and claiming that the SPLC’s tax-exempt status should be revoked for its alleged violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. In 2015, the SPLC had allegedly acquired stolen documents which Beirich then used to author an article about the National Alliance—an article which explicitly mentions Glen Allen. The SPLC later smeared Allen as a “neo-Nazi,” a term I have described in the past as an anti-white racial slur. That Allen has disavowed the National Alliance seems not to matter to the SPLC. Here is a link to Allen’s complaint and his website, Breathing Space for Dissent.
Allen’s case was dismissed by Judge Catherine Blake in early 2020. Allen appealed, and on July 12th of this year, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Allen’s appeal and affirmed Judge Blake’s dismissal. Here is the PDF of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision, and here is Allen’s petition for en banc review, which was filed on Monday, July 26th.
Mr. Allen has graciously agreed to answer a few questions regarding his ongoing suit against the SPLC.
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1. Please state in general terms what you think this setback means for the United States, and more specifically for our constitutional freedoms and the ability of elite institutions like the SPLC to bypass them on behalf of their political agendas.
Although the SPLC’s attack caused me significant vocational, reputational, and emotional injury, I did at one point give thought to merely binding up my wounds and moving on. But I was aware that the loathsome SPLC had perpetrated similar attacks on many others who had no access to legal redress. Since I am an attorney myself, I felt duty-bound to fight back as best I could.
Investigating, researching the law, finding co-counsel (extraordinarily difficult!), fundraising, preparing the complaint, responding to the SPLC’s motion to dismiss, preparing the appellate briefs, arguing the appeal—all these have been arduous and expensive, but I do not regret doing them. They have, however, resulted in a defeat.
2. What is the impact of this defeat?
From a narrow, technical legal perspective, the impact is not great. The Fourth Circuit panel instructed that their opinion should be classified as “unpublished,” which means they intend it to have no precedential value. It is obvious to me they did this because the opinion is so manifestly result-oriented, political, and poorly reasoned that they wanted to bury it as a “one off” as furtively as possible, especially since my case raises important questions regarding a 501c3 nonprofit’s unlawful and defamatory conduct.
But from a wider perspective, the decision unfortunately will confirm the SPLC in its belief that it operates under a kind of quasi-immunity from the rule of law and that it can continue its battle plan of infusing its agenda of massive surveillance, intimidation, and hypocrisy into what is left of traditional American values. My hope was to make it at least more restrained and cautious about pursuing that aggressive agenda, an agenda characteristic of the old East European Communist regimes. I regret I failed in that endeavor.
3. Tell us about the Free Expression Foundation and how this may be an important resource for dissidents now and in the future.
The Free Expression Foundation, Inc. (FEF) is a 501c3 nonprofit created in 2018 whose mission is to provide legal, moral, and financial support for persons who have suffered harm as a result of their exercise or attempted exercise of their rights of free speech and freedom of assembly. Unlike organizations such as the ACLU, which has explicitly stated it will no longer defend the First Amendment rights of White Nationalists or others on the Dissident Right, FEF aspires to protect uninhibited, robust, and wide open debate on public issues for persons all across the political spectrum. As a practical matter, however, it is the Dissident Right whose rights of free expression and freedom of assembly are most under attack today. I have done considerable work for the FEF, especially in helping challenge the constitutionality of the Anti-Riot Act under which the Charlottesville Rise Above Movement defendants have been convicted, and will continue to do so.
4. Exactly how guilty is the SPLC in its defamation of you? In your opinion, how did it break the law, and how could it break the law again in the future?
I alleged nine claims in my complaint. Most of them—but not my defamation claim—were based on my factual allegations that the SPLC improperly—probably by bribery—induced an employee of the National Alliance, in breach of his confidentiality agreement and fiduciary obligations, to provide confidential information to the SPLC that was used to dox and get me fired from my law position at the City of Baltimore. Based on these allegations, I asserted and was fully prepared to establish that the SPLC had violated its ethical obligations as a purported law firm, its obligations as a 501c3 nonprofit, and several Alabama criminal statutes prohibiting breach of a fiduciary and obtaining stolen property.
My defamation claim was based on different factual allegations, namely that about a year after I was doxxed, the SPLC put my photo on one of its “hate maps” with the heading “Exposing Racists Who Infiltrate Public Institutions” and a paragraph implying—falsely and ludicrously—that I had infiltrated the Baltimore City government with “neo-Nazi” ideas. The reality, as I stated in my complaint, was that I was quietly, competently, and ethically performing my duties as an attorney for the City of Baltimore.
I was fully prepared to establish my claims legally and factually, and believe I could have done so if my complaint had not been dismissed, without leave to amend, before I was even able to take discovery of the SPLC.
5. Explain in what ways you believe the opinion of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is flawed.
The Fourth Circuit’s opinion was fundamentally unsound on two levels.
First, it sidestepped the important legal issues my case raises by its superficial treatment of my arguments and by designating its opinion as unpublished.
Second, insofar as it addressed the merits of my arguments at all, it flagrantly misapplied the controlling precedents. At the root of its specious reasoning was its distortion of the controlling pleading standard for a motion to dismiss, known as the Twombley standard. Under this standard, a court is allowed to dismiss a complaint only if the claims are so implausible no rational person would credit them. The trial court held that my assertion that the SPLC had bribed or otherwise improperly influenced the NA employee was not plausible under this Twombley standard, even though I alleged abundant factual circumstances supporting my assertion. But there was nothing at all implausible about my allegations, unless one assumes, as the court seems—improperly—to have done, that the SPLC is a bastion of untainted and incorruptible integrity. Could any fair-minded person honestly assert that if the politics had been reversed—if the SPLC were accusing a conservative organization of improperly influencing one of the SPLC’s employees and thereby obtaining confidential information—that the court would have ruled such an allegation implausible? It would never have happened.
Having ruled that my allegations of the SPLC’s wrongful and illegal acts were implausible, the court was then able to dismiss all my several claims, including my Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) claims, that were predicated on these acts, and to find its way around the Bartnicki case, in which the Supreme Court held that a media organization has no First Amendment right to obtain information by means of unlawful acts.
With regard to my defamation claim, the analysis is different. To understand the court’s rationale, it is necessary to understand that the Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment does not protect hyperbole—i.e., extravagant exaggerations employed for rhetorical effect; e.g., “the company’s management are a bunch of clown and morons”—or pure expressions of opinion not capable of being proved true or false. To dispose of my defamation claim, the court held that the SPLC’s statement that I had “infiltrated” the Baltimore City government with “neo-Nazi” ideas was mere hyperbole. But, as I argued in my briefs, in the context of the hate map the SPLC’s statement was quite particular and concrete and not manifestly extravagant exaggeration, especially since the SPLC claimed on the hate map itself that all its statements were factual and accurate. Essentially, the SPLC accused me of ethical violations, i.e., that as a lawyer I was allowing my ideology to corrupt my duties to my clients, a completely false allegation. The court’s hyperbole rationale was yet another instance of the court skewing the relevant case law with a view to disposing of my claims.
6. Do you think the SPLC targeted you, at least in part, for racial reasons?
I don’t think for racial reasons, but who knows? My view is that it targeted me for its in terrorem effect—to intimidate any lawyers from having Dissident Right opinions—and because it was a great fundraising tactic.
7. Were you surprised by the ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to deny your appeal? If so, why were you confident? If not, at what point did you start to believe that your appeal would be denied?
I was never confident but always hopeful.
8. Do you think there could have been a positive result had you done something differently? Or, is it more likely that nothing you could have done differently would have changed the outcome?
I can second-guess myself on some of my arguments or the way I wrote my complaint, but candidly I don’t think any of these things would have changed the result.
9. How did money and fundraising play into your efforts? Do you think you would have had a better chance of success if you had been able to raise more money? Or was the funding differential between you and the SPLC so vast that it wouldn’t have mattered?
I am grateful for the financial support I received. It was not huge but I am thankful for every dollar. Even if it were much more, I’m not sure this would have made a difference, as I did most of the legal work (counting drafting the complaint) myself.
I will say more generally, though, that financial support is extremely important in these legal battles.
10. Why do you think Maajid Nawaz was able to succeed against the SPLC where you could not?
I was always amazed the SPLC attacked Maajid Nawaz in the first place. He is a Muslim who is trying to reform his own religion to be more liberal and tolerant. Then the likes of Heidi Beirich attacks him for being anti-Muslim? This shows how out-of-control Beirich was, and was probably a factor in why she is no longer with the SPLC.
So Nawaz could be presented as someone in line with the modern liberal ethos in a way someone linked to the National Alliance never could be.
11. Footnote 2 on page 8 of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision reads, “On appeal, Allen clarifies that his defamation claim does not depend on the SPLC’s description of Allen in the Hate Map as a ‘neo-Nazi’ or a ‘racist.’ Allen also does not base his defamation claim on the Article. Accordingly, we focus our analysis on the SPLC’s use of the word ‘infiltrate’ in the Hate Map.”
Does this accurately describe your appeal? If so, how would falsely calling someone a racist or neo-Nazi in today’s society not be considered defamation? Did your defamation claim really boil down to the SPLC’s use of the term “infiltrate”?
See the answer to [the fourth question] above. Unfortunately, in today’s legal climate it is extremely unlikely a person could win a defamation claim for being called a “neo-Nazi.” The defendant would invoke the hyperbole or opinion defense and almost certainly prevail. A plaintiff might have better prospects, in some jurisdictions and in some contexts, with a defamation claim for being called a “racist,” but even here there is a strong likelihood the claim would be dismissed.
12. On page 13 of the of the decision, it alleges that you were associated with the NA “while representing the City.” I was under the impression that your association with the NA was finished by the time you started working for the city. What basis does the Court have to claim you were involved with the NA during this time?
The court got this wrong—another sign of how cursory and tendentious its opinion was. The opinion mixed up my long-past association with the NA and my participation in the American Eagle Party in 2016.
Thank you, Mr. Allen!
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If anyone is interested in supporting Glen Allen and his continuing efforts to protect our freedoms, visit and donate on his website Breathing Space for Dissent or donate to the Free Expression Foundation.
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 Editor’s Note: In 2018, The SPLC agreed to pay $3.375 million to the Quilliam Foundation and its founder Maajid Nawaz for wrongly placing them on a 2016 list of “anti-Muslim extremists.” Nawaz, a former Islamic extremist turned moderate, has been critical of Islamic extremism and was smeared by the SPLC as Islamophobic.