Dear Mr. Clooney:

If media reports are true, you are one of the donors who have made major gifts to the Southern Poverty Law Center, gifts that have allowed it to swell its treasury to a record $477 million in total assets.

I am writing not to ask you to rescind or disavow that contribution, but rather to use your influence to persuade the SPLC to amend its embittering and unproductive campaigns to label any political or social issue opponent as a hate group. This tactic is injurious both to the reputations of some outstanding people and to the flourishing of the common good. It is also a betrayal of the honorable history of the SPLC’s founding in opposition to the denial of civil rights to African Americans.

Let me explain. You and I have, I am sure, no difference of opinion about the truly odious groups condemned by the SPLC. Anyone who holds the beliefs, much less wields the symbols and tactics, of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists merits the utter contempt of the American people. Whatever their numbers, these groups contradict the core meaning of our national project, the tenets of any decent religion, and the bounds of political discourse. They represent evil, and we must reject them with every fiber of our hearts and wills.

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I have additional reasons to reject the philosophy of white supremacism, given my lifelong commitment to the sanctity of each and every human life, irrespective of creed, color, age, or condition of dependence. In the early 1990s, I coauthored a social history of the Planned Parenthood movement. It is an unfortunate fact that Margaret Sanger was a self-avowed negative eugenicist. During the course of her varied political career, she published the work of white supremacists like Lothrop Stoddard in her journal Birth Control Review. The masthead of the Review bore the legend “Birth Control: To create a race of thoroughbreds.” Stoddard’s ideas led to forced sterilization laws in the United States and provided a model for Germany’s eugenic sterilization courts in the 1930s.

Unsurprisingly, white supremacists have tended to favor selective promotion of abortion for races and persons they regard as inferior, and many of their political heirs today maintain that philosophy. Insistence on the civil right to life is fully consistent with insistence on the fundamental civil rights with which each of us, as America’s founders recognized, is endowed by our Creator. No truly pro-life American can be a white supremacist.

You have spoken movingly of the values you imbibed from your early life in Kentucky. I too was born in Kentucky and was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I attended St. Xavier High School there. Values were the daily bread of my education, my family life, my church, and my friendships. We were keenly aware that our city had been a transit point for the Underground Railroad. We grew up hearing the names of area pastors like the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King’s during the civil rights marches. We supported civil rights for black Americans. I wrote articles for my high school magazine, The Prep, calling for changes of heart about racial bigotry and for increased enrollment of black students in our then nearly all-white high school.

Later in life, after college, I began to devote myself to protecting the right to life of the unborn and to pro-family public policy. I believed then, as I do now, that society does best when it honors the family unit and does whatever is in its legitimate power to help families stay together and raise their children to adulthood. The data on this subject are overwhelming. They are the lived experience of many generations. Holding all other factors constant, the advantages enjoyed by children raised in two-parent households—in terms of avoiding poverty, committing fewer crimes, achieving academic success, and maintaining their own future households, among other outcomes—are just enormous. Social analysts across the spectrum of political opinion agree and refer to this benefit of intact families as the “success sequence.” Finishing high school, working full-time, and deferring having a first child until one has reached age twenty-one and gotten married is a near-certain route out of poverty.

During the mid-1970s, when I was involved in pro-life and pro-family work, I had the honor on several occasions to meet your father, a reporter and broadcast host at WKRC in Cincinnati. He was a true gentleman. He was always genial and fair to small organizations like ours that were active on social questions. We were all, frankly, a little star-struck by him, as our parents had grown up with vinyl LPs of Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, the Mills Brothers, and many others who represented the unique style and sophistication of that era.

To cut a long story short, what you said recently about your years selling insurance, going door to door, and trying to make your way in the Midwest resonated with me. I was a news carrier for the Cincinnati Post, a stringer for another Cincinnati daily covering high school sports, a part-time worker for a trucking company in Sharonville, and a lifeguard with a Water Safety Instructor certificate. I too made my way in fits and starts, and along the way I met people of all backgrounds whom I’ll always treasure knowing.

But values questions remained at the core for me. I have now spent decades advancing policies to protect the innocent unborn, to protect the right of parents to know about and to guide what values and medical procedures are being promoted to their children, to garner economic relief for hard-pressed families, and yes, over the past decade, to preserve the legal status of marriage as a civil institution for one man and one woman. Certainly, each of these issues generates argument and disagreement, but for the life of me I cannot fathom, and completely reject, the idea that these values have anything to do with abhorrent racism and hatred.

On marriage, I hold the views of the major world religions. On the sanctity of human life, the views of Mother Teresa and Ronald Reagan. On religious liberty, the views embodied in our Constitution. On nonviolence, the views of Dr. King. To learn, almost a decade ago, that organizations with which I had worked had been designated as hate groups alongside skinheads and the Aryan Nation was profoundly disturbing. Repeatedly, I have seen references to the SPLC map, most recently on CNN, and felt the sting of its slander and libel against good people, our fellow Americans.

You see, Mr. Clooney, among my close friends is Leo Johnson, the hero who saved dozens of lives at Family Research Council in 2012. You should meet him someday. Do you know what impresses me most about the courage and character of this man? Not only did he block the attack of a man spurred by falsehoods and bent on murder, but when he finally wrested the gun from Mr. Corkins’s grip, Leo declined to repay in kind, though he might have been entitled to act in self-defense. He recognized the humanity of the attacker in front of him, and he refrained from violence. This is the accurate picture I know of Leo and the other people at FRC. They have deep convictions. They hate no one.

I guess I don’t expect you to fully accept this portrait of one SPLC target, but I do hope that you will consider it as part of your source information in these heated times. I also hope that you will take a closer look at a good number of the SPLC’s scattershot targets, including Alliance Defending Freedom, the Ruth Institute, Coral Ridge Ministries, and many more. The vituperation the SPLC levels at some public policy groups it disagrees with is part of the problem, not the solution.

You and I were born in a great state in a great Republic. We were raised in border states, so we have likely seen a thing or two about the good and the bad of American history, and we have been witnesses to great dramas. It should be to our credit that we can debate deep differences and emerge from these debates with mutual respect and a willingness to continue discussions in the interest of building a better nation.

Let me close by saying that more is at stake at this moment of history than partisan interests or causes. There is great ugliness on the national scene. God has given you the ability to speak to millions of people around the world and to capture their attention. As you express your views, and root them in your Midwestern upbringing and the hard work your career has embodied, please keep in mind that there are people just like you in all these respects who, because of different views on some questions, are being unfairly and even dangerously vilified.

I ask this of you as a fellow American in a spirit of earnest reconciliation.


Chuck Donovan
Charlotte Lozier Institute

Mr. Donovan’s title and organization are provided for identification only.