Schoolchildren all across America are taught they live in the Land of the Free and that freedom of speech is a bedrock right. This is patently untrue, especially if one falls into any of these unfortunate demographic categories: Christian, white, Southern, or male. God help you if, like me, you fall into all four.

Aside from checking all four unfortunate demographic boxes, I was also a police officer. In 2015, at a time of great national hostility toward cops, I fell afoul of another kind of police—the Thought Police. Because of my past association with the League of the South, they came after me in the form of what may be the most effective and heinous institution that engages in such enforcement: the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

This is the story of how a group that was explicitly anti-racist was demonized by its opponents and later radicalized by one of its leaders. The guilt-by-association got me fired from my job, blackballed from my vocation, and scandalized in local, state, and national media.

While a student at the University of Alabama in 1995, I joined the League of the South, then in its infancy. The League argued that the Southern U.S. should be able to peaceably separate from Washington and be better off economically, culturally, politically, and spiritually. I met many pastors and intellectuals, some associated with Chronicles, for whom the League was an experiment in American liberty, freedom of speech, and freedom of association. A Christian organization, its core belief statement disavowed any spirit of malice toward others based on race or ethnicity. It was an organization I was proud to be a part of as I began my police career in 1997, in my hometown of Anniston, Alabama.

In the spring of 2009, I was a case investigator at the Anniston Police Department, and I opened a local chapter of the League. Our local newspaper, The Anniston Star, ran a story the day before and the day after our inaugural meeting.

Anniston is a city that is fashionably referred to as “majority-minority,” meaning that blacks make up the majority of citizens inside the limits of a city located in an otherwise white-majority county. For decades, there has been a coterie of race hustlers who thrive on constant racial friction in Anniston as a means of accomplishing their goals and enhancing their power. These are small-town Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons. They are quick with press conferences, marches, and loud bellowing whenever something displeases them. And a local Southern nationalist organization in their city certainly displeased them. The fact that it was led by a city police officer induced fainting spells, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

In came the complaints and demands for my head on a platter. Often cited was the designation of the League by the SPLC on its long list of conservative “hate groups.” In response to the complaints, the department commenced an internal investigation. I was interviewed, the League was researched, and lawyers and outside police agencies were consulted.

The result: The city determined I had broken no laws, violated no policies, that the League was not a criminal or violent entity, and that I was within my constitutional rights of freedom of religion and speech. I was cleared of wrongdoing. The police chief and interim city manager at the time, John Dryden, wrote in conclusion: 

From past experience with the Southern Poverty Law Center, this group can label anyone anything. Their last label of this organization was in the year 2000. This investigation has revealed no violations of any kind that action could be taken on.

Vindicated, my police career continued unscathed. I was given numerous extra responsibilities, such as sex-offender tracking and registration and oversight of the field training program for new officers. I was promoted to sergeant in 2010 and then to lieutenant in 2013. All my evaluations were positive, with no suspensions.

Meanwhile, I continued with the League and spoke at its national conference in 2013. But in 2014, the League’s president, Michael Hill, began shifting the League to a combative white nationalist stance, and members who disagreed began leaving. Discouraged by where the League was headed, I stopped paying dues and by 2015 my status was inactive.

The SPLC has been around a long time, but in 2015 they were perhaps at the zenith of their power. They used tactics of intimidation and character assassination to silence Christians and conservatives. Those in their crosshairs have largely withered under the pressure.

My career as a public servant was very fulfilling and was going very well. I was on the department’s command staff and in the 19th year of what I hoped would be a 40-year career when the new chief walked into my office on May 28, 2015 and closed the door.

The esteemed hate regulators of the SPLC had contacted him and attempted to smear me as a racist because of my membership in the League.

Twenty days passed and nothing happened. Then just before noon on June 17, I was contacted via email by a writer for The Anniston Star asking for comment on an article just published by the SPLC on their “Hatewatch” blog. I phoned the chief to give him a heads up. He said he already knew about it. The rapidity of the storm that followed was remarkable. 

It was a masterly hatchet job by the SPLC, malicious to the extreme and with no regard for the truth. An embedded video showed me speaking, followed by completely unrelated images of a Freedom Riders bus being burned in Anniston in 1961. The implications were clear.

About three hours later, the chief called me into his office. The city manager, a man new to the job whom I had never met, felt the heat and placed me on administrative leave. The chief said agitated people were appearing at the department and city hall.  He said I could expect to be on leave “at least a month” while this played out.

I went home to my wife and three young children. The distress on my wife’s face was like I had never seen. She asked me what I was going to do. It was a Wednesday evening and I had a Bible study to lead at my local church. “I’m going to church like I usually do,” I told her. 

At about the time I was wrapping up a study on 1 Samuel and speaking with fellow church members in the lobby, a 21-year-old man named Dylann Roof walked into a black church in Charleston, S.C., and opened fire. Eight were killed and others wounded. The next day there were only two stories on the news: a racist shooter who murdered eight people in Charleston and a racist white cop who had been “outed” by the SPLC in Anniston.

Less than 48 hours after being placed on leave, I was fired. I found out by hearing the city manager announce it at a press conference attended by the police chief and the city council.

I fought it. I appealed the decision to the city’s civil service board. One of the three board members was a veteran member of the local race-baiters. Of the three days of testimony at my appeal trial, he missed the entire first day, over half of the second day, a majority of the witnesses testifying positively to my character, and the entirety of my direct testimony. He was the only one of the three board members who decided my fate who never asked a question of a witness. When he was actually present, he was often asleep. Yet, after the close of the final day, he quickly cast his vote against me.

Since then, I have been unable to obtain a job of any kind in the criminal justice field due to the damage done by the character assassination carried out by the SPLC. Not just my job, but my vocation was taken from me. It was two years before I found someone willing to hire me for anything in my home county. The stigma that surrounds me is akin to being labeled a child molester.

As for the League, I’ve had no involvement with it since 2014, when its clear change in goals, strategy, and personnel in high positions led to a breach. By August 2017, its decision to throw in with the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, made it clear to me how far it had strayed from the principles of the organization with which I had been involved for so many years.

The change in the League tarnished the reputations of those who had been associated with it, even those of us who disavowed white nationalism. And the national landscape in 2015, on the heels of the riots in Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere, made it a great time to target white cops. Finally, the SPLC’s involvement and the pressure it brought was a decisive factor in my firing. I was another notch in the belts of the lefties who occupy the SPLC’s “Poverty Palace” headquarters in Montgomery.

The internal affairs lieutenant who conducted the 2015 investigation incidentally had attended the inaugural meeting of my League chapter in Anniston six years earlier. He said during my taped interview, “The city is reacting to the public reaction—that’s why this is happening.” He affirmed that position on the stand at my trial. He also admitted that he did not begin an investigation until the “late afternoon” of June 17 because only then, after the SPLC had published its hit piece on me, was he directed to do so. This was in spite of the fact that he, the chief, my captain, and city hall had known for 20 days about the allegations of the SPLC and the League speech I had made two years prior. The conclusion is plain that, had the SPLC not come after me, I would not even have been investigated again, let alone fired.

If the authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, had acted based on the “public reaction,” Officer Darren Wilson would have been indicted for murder. But, because a grand jury weighed the evidence and concluded his shooting of Michael Brown was not criminal, he was not. That is what due process and justice should look like. 

People should be fired only when they actually do something wrong, not because the SPLC and those on the left want to punish and silence their political opponents.