Read CRC president Scott Walter’s op-ed on the SPLC’s use of fake “hate group” labels here
(Full PDF here)
Summary: The Southern Poverty Law Center began with an admirable purpose but long ago transformed into a machine for raising money and launching left-wing political attacks. Lately it’s become more of a threat to free speech and civil debate than a defender of the weak or a foe of violent extremism. It has also taken in millions from the Picower Foundation, whose own funds came largely from founder Jeffry Picower’s “investing” in his old friend Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
On August 15, 2012, an angry gay rights activist named Floyd Corkins stormed the Family Research Council’s Washington, D.C. headquarters and began shooting. Corkins shot a brave security guard in the arm, but the guard still managed to wrestle him to the ground before he could kill or injure others.
Corkins was carrying 50 bullets and two loaded magazines for his 9-millimeter semi-automatic pistol; 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches; and the address of another potential target, the Traditional Values Coalition. Before initiating his shooting spree, Corkins reportedly said, “I don’t like your politics.”
Reacting to the shooting, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins stated: “Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations as hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy.”
Attorneys Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr. founded the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 1971. It bills itself as “a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society.” People familiar with the SPLC may describe it differently. (For a previous CRC profile of the Center, see “The Southern Poverty Law Center: A Twisted Definition of ‘Hate,’” Organization Trends, November 2006.)
Early on it made a name for itself fighting genuinely extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and breaking down barriers of discrimination in the South. But today it is primarily a leftist attack machine. It devotes most of its sizeable resources to a systematic smear campaign against respected organizations and opinion leaders whose legitimate policy differences put them to the right of the SPLC.
For example, prior to the shooting, the SPLC identified the Family Research Council as an “anti-gay” extremist group, lumped together with groups like the KKK, neo-Nazis, the Nation of Islam, and the New Black Panther Party.
Even liberal Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who describes the Family Research Council as “a mainstream conservative think tank,” thought the SPLC went too far:
I disagree with the Family Research Council’s views on gays and lesbians. But it’s absurd to put the group, as the law center does, in the same category as Aryan Nations, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Stormfront and the Westboro Baptist Church.
Following a speech at a New York college in 2009, a student asked former Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) about a quotation attributed to him in a textbook. It said, “illegal immigrants were ‘coming to kill you and kill me and our families.’” Taken aback, Tancredo subsequently called the publisher to learn where the fake quotation had come from. “The Southern Poverty Law Center,” was the reply.
This is a familiar pattern. In 2007, SPLC labeled the Federation for American Immigration Reform a “Hate Group” as part of an effort to smear opponents of open borders and illegal immigration. In this effort, SPLC had no qualms associating itself with the National Council of La Raza (in Spanish, “the Race”), one of whose subordinate groups, the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan, is notorious for the motto, For La Raza todo. Fuera de La Raza nada (“For The Race everything. Outside The Race, nothing”).
In a 2010 report detailing SPLC’s efforts, Jerry Kammer of the Center for Immigration Studies wrote:
Rather than engage in a debate, La Raza and its allies have waged a campaign to have the other side shunned by the press, civil society, and elected officials. It is an effort to destroy the reputations of its targets. It also seeks to intimidate and coerce others into silence. It undermines basic principles of civil society and democratic discussion.
SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok doesn’t mince words about illegal-immigration opponents: “Sometimes the press will describe us as monitoring hate crimes and so on … I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, to completely destroy them.…” (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnTz2ylJo_8&feature=relmfu.)
The SPLC has an improbably named program titled “Teaching Tolerance.” Perhaps Mr. Potok should take the course.
In the “Hate and Extremism” section of the SPLC website, the group lists 1,274 “Patriot Groups.” This category includes nonviolent conservative organizations like the Oath Keepers, the Constitution Party, Tea Party Patriots, the Tenth Amendment Center, and Joseph Farah’s WorldNetDaily.
In addition to fomenting hatred for groups with which it disagrees, the SPLC is the author of dangerous provocations. For example, in 1996 SPLC hyped a story that black churches were being torched at alarming rates in the South by white racists. As Michael Fumento wrote in the American Spectator at the time, this was soon proven to be false.
SPLC wildly exaggerates the number of groups genuinely associated with hate and violence as well. Laird Wilcox, an independent, non-conservative researcher found that of 800-plus “hate groups” over half them were either non-existent, existed in name only, or were inactive. (See http://www.thesocialcontract.com/artman2/publish/tsc_20_3/tsc_20_3_vinson.shtml.)
Wilcox has his own “extremist” lists. One is called “The Watchdogs … organizations who ‘monitor’ and combat the activities of their ideological opponents,” including many “organizations and individuals who have nothing to do with racism.” SPLC tops the list. (See http://www.lairdwilcox.com/tool/order00-01.html#Left.)
A Morally Bankrupt Organization Founded by a Morally Bankrupt Man
SPLC’s co-founder, Morris Dees, has been harshly criticized by former SPLC employees, a former business partner, and many liberal critics. They see him as little more than a rank opportunist and the SPLC’s chief purpose as raising money for SPLC coffers.
Though trained as a lawyer, Dees is best known for his fundraising ability. Raising $25 million for the George McGovern presidential campaign in 1972, his payment was the donor list, the gold mine that boosted SPLC’s funding. A position with Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1976 added another sterling list. It paid off.
With over $238 million in net assets, the SPLC is one of the wealthiest nonprofit organizations in the United States. Despite this massive endowment, the Center devotes almost 20 percent of its $34.5 million operating expenses – $6.5 million in 2011 – to fundraising. This includes $1 million for fundraising services and $5.5 million in fundraising staff salaries and administrative expenses.
Meanwhile, the group spent only $11 million on its supposed primary mission: “providing legal services to victims of civil rights injustices and hate crimes.” The Center spent an astounding $12.5 million maintaining, publishing, and promoting its “hate” list propaganda, including a program to “educate” children, according to its 2010 tax return.
SPLC received $36 million in contributions in 2011. Excess contributions and investment income allowed the Center to boost assets by $9.4 million. Its 2010 tax return shows the SPLC realized a net gain of $28.8 million, following a similar net gain in 2009 of almost $30 million—roughly equivalent to its entire operating budget! Why fundraise at all?
Each year the SPLC is able to add tens of millions of dollars to its endowment. Despite being a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, supposedly with nothing to hide, some of SPLC’s assets are squirreled away in untraceable Bermuda and Cayman Island accounts. Why?
SPLC’s leaders are among the highest paid in the nonprofit field. As Chief Trial Counsel, Morris Dees receives $343,676. Richard Cohen, the Center’s president, is paid $339,764.
SPLC boasts many high-dollar donors. The top 10 for recent years are: Picower Foundation ($3,813,112, 1999 – 2008); Cisco Systems Foundation ($1,620,000, 2001 – 2004); Grousbeck Family Foundation ($1,600,000, 2007 – 2011); Grove Foundation ( $875,000, 2001 – 2011); Rice Family Foundation ($535,000 , 1999 – 2010); Rockefeller Philanthropy ($510,000, 2008 – 2010); Unbound Philanthropy ($500,000, 2006 – 2010); Public Welfare Foundation ($500,000, 2008 – 2010); Vanguard Charitable Endowment ($469,120, 2006 – 2011); Rocking Moon Foundation ($350,000, 2006 – 2010); and the Jewish Community Fund ($347,274, 1999 – 2010).
Space constraints prevent inclusion of the many more foundations and small family funds that regularly contribute $10,000 to $25,000 per year. Do these donors realize they are merely contributing to a quarter-billion-dollar investment fund?
SPLC’s biggest benefactor, the Picower Foundation, made the most of its money from the Bernie Madoff scam. Founder Jeffry Picower, who was friends with Madoff for 30 years, profited by $5 billion from his “investments” with his friend, an amount larger than Madoff personally “earned.” Picower died in 2009, but as ProPublica.org reported December 27, 2010, federal prosecutors and the trustee charged with recovering money for Madoff’s victims took Picower’s estate to court. The estate agreed to a settlement of $7.2 billion to compensate victims of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Federal prosecutors apparently thought Picower, an accountant, should have questioned returns on investment that ranged up to 950 percent. The Picower Foundation has closed its doors, but will the SPLC refund any of its ill-gotten gains?
Dees’ first business partner was Millard Fuller, who later went on to found Habitat for Humanity. In an article in The Progressive, he described their relationship:
Morris and I, from the first day of our partnership, shared the overriding purpose of making a pile of money. We were not particular about how we did it; we just wanted to be independently rich. During the eight years we worked together, we never wavered in that resolve. (See http://www.secondclassjustice.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Egerton-Poverty-Palace-July-1988.pdf.)
Many of Dees’s most virulent critics are on the Left. Nation magazine’s Alexander Cockburn wrote a scathing article in 2009, “King of the Hate Business.” Recent Republican electoral losses, Cockburn wrote, were
horrible news for people who raise money and make money selling the notion there’s a right resurgence out there in the hinterland with massed legions of haters, ready to march down Main Street draped in Klan robes, a copy of “Mein Kampf” tucked under one arm and a Bible under the other. What is the arch-salesman of hate mongering, Mr. Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, going to do now? Ever since 1971, U.S. Postal Service mailbags have bulged with his fundraising letters, scaring dollars out of the pockets of trembling liberals aghast at his lurid depictions of hate-sodden America, in dire need of legal confrontation by the SPLC. (See https://www.thenation.com/article/king-hate-business/)
Harper’s published a similarly critical analysis of the SPLC titled, “The Church of Morris Dees”:
Today, the SPLC spends most of its time—and money—on a relentless fund-raising campaign, peddling memberships in the church of tolerance with all the zeal of a circuit rider passing the collection plate. “He’s the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of the civil rights movement,” renowned anti-death-penalty lawyer Millard Farmer (not Dees’s business partner, ed.) says of Dees, his former associate, “though I don’t mean to malign Jim and Tammy Faye.”
Harper’s also published a letter from Stephen Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, to the University of Alabama, declining an invitation to a “Morris Dees Justice Award” presentation. Bright called Dees “a con man and fraud,” and added:
The positive contributions Dees has made to justice—most undertaken based upon calculations as to their publicity and fundraising potential—are far overshadowed by what Harper’s described as his “flagrantly misleading” solicitations for money. He has raised millions upon millions of dollars with various schemes, never mentioning that he does not need the money because he has $175 million and two “poverty palace” buildings in Montgomery. He has taken advantage of naive, well-meaning people—some of moderate or low incomes—who believe his pitches and give to his $175-million operation. He has spent most of what they have sent him to raise still more millions, pay high salaries, and promote himself. (See http://www.thesocialcontract.com/answering_our_critics/art2000nov.html.)
The Fairfax (Virginia) Journal counseled federal employees to forego contributions to the SPLC in the Combined Federal Campaign:
… give your hard-earned dollars to a real charity, not a bunch of slick, parasitic hucksters who live high on the hog by raising money on behalf of needy people who never see a dime of it. (MDJonline.com, Sept. 30, 2011.)
SPLC’s first president was Julian Bond, a socialist who has supported and participated in socialist, communist, and other radical leftist organizations and activities his entire life. As a rising star in the Left he received the early endorsement and support of the Communist Party USA, and he assisted, endorsed, and campaigned for radical causes and politicians, according to DiscoverTheNetworks.org.
In the 1960s Bond was elected to the Georgia legislature three times, but each time the legislature refused to seat him because of his agitation against the Vietnam War. Bond called on the communist lawyer Leonard Boudin to represent him. Boudin’s other clients included the government of Fidel Castro, Soviet agent of influence Paul Robeson, and Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg. Boudin’s daughter, Kathie, was a Weather Underground terrorist, who served 25 years for her participation in the 1981 Brinks robbery that left two policemen and one Brinks guard dead.
Along with radical activists such as Ella Baker, Bond co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. SNCC was later led by black separatists Stokeley Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, who openly advocated guerrilla warfare in U.S. cities. In 1967 Bond served as co-chair of the National Conference for New Politics (NCNP), described by the late Sen. James Eastland as a group “working hand-in-glove with the Communist Party” to foment “revolution in the United States.”
Bond’s most significant contact as co-chair of the NCNP was fellow NCNP member Herbert Marcuse. A Marxist who fled Nazi Germany in 1933, Marcuse ultimately took up residence in a number of American universities, including Columbia, Harvard, Brandeis, and the University of California, San Diego, where he mentored the black communist, Angela Davis. Bond and Marcuse helped found the radical journal In These Times.
Bond visited Castro’s Cuba in 1959 and was “enchanted by the revolution.” Following a repeat visit in 2006 he said that it “simply reinforced my admiration for the Cuban people and the society they are building.” (See http://www.medicc.org/cubahealthreports/chr-article.php?&a=1027.) Bond remains on SPLC’s board to this day.
SPLC’s board of directors also includes James Rucker, who co-founded Color of Change in 2005 with self-described communist Van Jones. Before that, Rucker was grassroots organizing director at the Soros-funded activist group MoveOn.
Another board member, Patricia Clark, spent time as National Criminal Justice Representative of the American Friends Service Committee. This nominally Quaker organization was created by socialist Quakers in 1917 and began colluding with Communists in the 1920s, when it worked with Soviet agents Jessica Smith, Harold Ware, and John Abt. (See http://keywiki.org/index.php/American_Friends_Service_Committee.)
Gabrielle Lyon, an SPLC research fellow, has spoken glowingly of domestic terrorist Bill Ayers. Ayers is famous for his Weather Underground years and has yet to be tried, along with his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, for the murder of San Francisco police Sgt. Brian McDonnell in 1970. Larry Grathwohl, the only FBI informant to ever successfully penetrate the Weathermen, has testified under oath that Ayers told him of their complicity in the bombing that killed McDonnell. This case is still open. (See http://www.usasurvival.org/docs/Grathwohl_names_Dohrn.pdf.)
More recently, an editorial written by SPLC’s Mark Potok was published in the Communist Party USA newspaper, People’s World. Potok claimed the editorial was free for publication anywhere, and he didn’t control where it appeared. When the Daily Caller news website asked Potok last year if he objected to the Communist Party newspaper printing his piece, he refused comment. Potok did say, however, that the SPLC uses an organization called OtherWords to place SPLC’s op-eds in other journals. OtherWords is a nonprofit editorial service of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), one of the most influential far-left organizations in the United States. (IPS was profiled in the February 2011 Foundation Watch.)
King of Sophistry
Radical leftists are extremely adept at the use of language and propaganda. They have to be. An ideology that has brought more hardship, misery, and death over the last century than all the wars of history combined always needs image makeovers. The Soviet Union’s first leader, Vladimir Lenin, explained, “We can and must write in a language which sows among the masses hate, revulsion, and scorn toward those who disagree with us.”
The entire leftist movement has adopted this technique. Thus, any person who opposes illegal immigration becomes a “xenophobe.” Any person who cites the devastating adverse impacts of “anti-poverty” programs is “selfish” or worse. Any person who opposes affirmative action is a “racist.” Anyone who opposes ever-increasing taxes must be “greedy.”
Straw man arguments, misinformation, and other forms of sophistry, coupled with vitriolic smears of opponents can easily intimidate average citizens, who haven’t the time or inclination to look deeper and are naturally anxious about being tarred with the same brush. With sufficient media promotion, this fraudulent narrative becomes accepted as the “truth,” even chic. Most people want to be seen as siding with the “good guys.”
Critics are isolated and polarized, and despite the Left’s phony characterization of a deep-pocketed Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, the Left’s critics are usually independent voices of little or no means, not necessarily even conservative, with scant resources to defend themselves against defamation campaigns and frivolous lawsuits, which are favored tactics of the well-heeled SPLC and other leftist groups. Far-left agitator Neal Rauhauser even admitted as much when he advocated for a policy of “lawfare” against political opponents:
We’re dealing with people who have likely had no interaction with the court system beyond a traffic ticket; the potential for a pro se litigant to force them into expensive, long distance, lengthy, discovery laden litigation doesn’t seem to cross their minds. The reality of travel, or frightful expenses, or summary judgments needs to be made real. We probably need to make a very visible example of at least one of them before the rest understand. (See http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/middle-class-guy/2012/jun/28/who-neal-rauhauser/.)
Cultural Marxism and Hate Crimes
This kind of sophistry also has roots in the teachings of Julian Bond’s friend and leftist icon Herbert Marcuse. He was an influential member of the Marxist Institute for Social Research that was founded in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1923 and modeled after Moscow’s Marx-Engels Institute. It came to be known simply as “the Frankfurt School.” Marcuse and other scholars affiliated with the Institute reestablished it in the U.S. following their exodus from Germany, and developed philosophical studies specifically dedicated to subverting American culture.
Marcuse was often called the Father of the New Left, and he helped pioneer the ideas of political correctness and hate crimes. In a 1965 tract called “Repressive Tolerance,” Marcuse declared:
This essay examines the idea of tolerance in our advanced industrial society. The conclusion reached is that the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed….
As he explained, the way to fix the “repressive tolerance” that Americans suffer because of the First Amendment is to suppress all voices except those from the Left:
Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.… Not ‘equal’ but more representation of the Left would be equalization of the prevailing inequality.
Today you can see this tactic in operation every day when left-wing professors, journalists, and politicians ridicule, misrepresent, ignore, or threaten anyone they disagree with. The Southern Poverty Law Center assists in this effort.
Even more ominously, but in line with Marcuse’s call to arms, the SPLC is a consultant to both the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, and the latter has labeled conservatives potential “domestic terrorists.” The SPLC has not been identifying enemies of America. It has been identifying enemies of the Left.
Some of the people and groups on the SPLC’s hate lists genuinely do express hatred and bigotry, like Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, the New Black Panther Party, the KKK, Nazi parties, and the like. But mixed in are many well known, widely respected individuals and groups who have taken principled positions on matters of national importance. Their only sin is their outspoken opposition to the Left’s radical designs.
By cataloging the statements and writings of individuals and groups with whom they disagree, the SPLC is also creating a paper trail to use if and when hate crimes laws are strengthened sufficiently to provide pretexts for lawsuits or other legal action. This is a not-so-subtle threat. That sort of attack has begun to happen in Canada, Britain, and Sweden.
The SPLC’s interaction with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI carries another threat. By deliberately mischaracterizing conservatives and tea partiers as “extremists,” the SPLC implies they have a potential for violence and thus offers a justification for the government to keep tabs on these potential “domestic terrorists.”
The Left, on the other hand, has a firmly established record of militancy, violence, and treasonous, unscrupulous and disgusting anti-social behavior. Occupy Wall Street, for example, is an anti-social, violent movement of the extreme Left. The Black Bloc is a violent organization of the extreme Left, and the FBI recently conducted raids on suspected Black Bloc members.
Why have we heard nothing about it from the SPLC? Are these genuine domestic terrorists on the group’s “Hate Map”? No, nor is Adbusters, an “anti-consumerist” magazine that hatched Occupy Wall Street and that has expressed support for the Black Bloc. (For more on the organization behind the magazine, the Adbusters Media Foundation, see the profile in Foundation Watch, January 2012.)
What about the blatantly terrorist Jumaat al-Fuqra and its 35 U.S.-based terrorist training camps? Crickets from the SPLC. (See http://www.jihadwatch.org/2012/01/35-jamaat-al-fuqra-terror-training-camps-still-operating-in-the-us.html.) The same is true for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Why are none of these groups listed in the SPLC’s “Intelligence” files? What about the Communist Party? What about union thugs like AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, implicated in murder, or United Steelworkers’ president Leo Gerard, who exhorted Occupy Wall Street to “more militancy?” All prone to violence, and they proudly say so!
Despite a mountainous record of violence from left-wing individuals and groups, there have never been any left-wing groups identified on the SPLC’s “hate groups” list.
Come to think of it, why isn’t the SPLC listed?
After a bombing attempt on May Day this year by five Occupy Cleveland activists was thwarted, a reporter for National Review asked the SPLC if it planned to put Occupy Wall Street on its “hate group” list? SPLC’s stunning answer: “We’re not really set up to cover the extreme Left.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a wealthy, well-connected, organized attack machine of the extreme political Left. It shares strategies, goals, and tactics with other similar organizations and colludes with them in campaigns of defamation, disinformation and legal threats to silence and/or criminalize political opponents.
The SPLC has unjustifiably secured itself a position of influence within our government and society. Its very presence threatens our freedoms and First Amendment rights. It abuses our system of justice, while hiding behind a Constitution for which it has little respect.
James Simpson is an economist, businessman, and freelance writer. His writings have been published in Accuracy in Media, American Thinker, Big Government, Washington Times, WorldNetDaily, FrontPage Magazine, and elsewhere.