Southern Poverty Law Center Pushes Twisted Definition of ‘Hate’
by Matthew Vadum
Posted Dec 11, 2006
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has one key message: The nation is boiling
over with hatred and intolerance. Decades after the civil rights movement forever
changed America and despite the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting
Rights Act and the imposition of affirmative action, American race relations are
always worse today than in the days of Jim Crow, according to SPLC.
“Hate in America is a dreadful, daily constant. The dragging death of
a black man in Jasper, Tex.; the crucifixion of a gay man in Laramie, Wyo.;
and post-9/11 hate crimes against hundreds of Arab-Americans, Muslim Americans
and Sikhs are not ‘isolated incidents.’ They are eruptions of a
nation’s intolerance.” That’s the message posted at Tolerance.org,
a center website for its special project, “Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community
“Somewhere in America … EVERY HOUR someone commits a hate crime. EVERY
DAY at least eight blacks, four gays or lesbians, two Jews, two whites and one
Latino become hate crimes victims. EVERY WEEK a cross is burned,” according
to the guide [emphasis in original]. If the center’s math is correct,
8,760 “hate crimes” are committed in the U.S. every year and 52
crosses are burned. But that’s not exactly a tidal wave of bigotry in
an ethnically diverse nation of 300 million people.
The SPLC understands the importance of language. It fights what it labels “hate,”
“intolerance” and “discrimination,” but it defines those
terms very differently than most Americans would. To the center, you practice
“hate” whenever you fail to genuflect with politically correct reverence
before every human difference.
In the SPLC’s world, armies of the night are forever on the march. Cross-burnings,
lynchings and rampant racial discrimination are omnipresent. Those who question
the SPLC’s approach to race are blacklisted as contemptible bigots.
The center lumps all sorts of groups on America’s political right together,
labeling them enemies of the Republic. Conservative, libertarian, anti-tax,
immigration reductionist and other groups are all viewed as legitimate targets
SPLC has an enormous endowment of more than $152 million, according to its
2005 annual report. Its IRS Form 990 for the fiscal year ended Oct. 31, 2005,
shows that the center took in gross receipts of $49.8 million that year, $29.7
million of which consisted of contributions and grants.
According to its balance sheet, by Oct. 31, 2005, its total assets had ballooned
from $173.2 million at the beginning of the fiscal year, to $189.4 million by
year’s end. SPLC’s endowment is so large that it reported endowment
income of nearly $3.5 million, including interest income of $728,356.
Although SPLC bills itself as a civil rights law firm, it devotes only a fraction
of its resources to actual legal work. Of the $28.9 million in expenses it declared
for the year ended Oct. 31, 2005, only $4.5 million went to “providing
legal services for victims of civil rights injustice and hate crimes,”
and $837,907 for “specific assistance to individuals” in the form
of “litigation services,” according to its Form 990. Roughly half
of its expenditures, $14.7 million, were devoted to “educating the general
public, public officials, teachers, students and law enforcement agencies and
officers with respect to issues of hate and intolerance and promoting tolerance
of differences through the schools.”
In the same period, SPLC paid attorney Morris Dees $297,559 in salary and
pension-plan contributions. On the list of nonprofit “employees who earned
more than their organization’s chief executive,” (part of the Chronicle
of Philanthropy’s annual survey of top nonprofit executive salaries, published
September 28), Dees ranked 48th in the nation. SPLC President Richard Cohen
took home $274,838, but center co-founder Joseph L. Levin received only $171,904
for his efforts as general counsel.
Bond’s Smear Tactics
SPLC is based in Montgomery, Ala., site of the famous bus boycott that gave
birth to the civil rights movement and made a national icon of Rosa Parks, the
woman who courageously refused to move to the back of the bus. The center’s
fortress-style headquarters seems intended to shield employees from the hordes
of neo-Nazis, skinheads and militia groups the center wants people to believe
wish to do it harm.
The co-founders of SPLC were Julian Bond and Morris Dees. Bond is the founding
president. Since 1998, he has been chairman of the NAACP but remains active
with the center and currently serves on its board of directors. A highly visible
public figure, he is well acquainted with its smear tactics, having compared
conservatives and the Bush Administration to Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban
Bond has smeared black conservatives with relish, deriding them for joining
what he calls “a right-wing conspiracy” aimed at eliminating affirmative
action, abridging voting rights and reforming public education. In 2002, he
told an NAACP convention that black conservatives were participants in “an
interlocking network of funders, groups and activists…. They are the money,
the motivation and the movement behind vouchers, the legal assault on affirmative
action and other remedies for discrimination, attempts to reapportion us out
of office and attacks on equity everywhere.” These conservatives are “black
hustlers and hucksters … [who], like ventriloquists’ dummies, speak
in their puppet master’s voice,” he said. Bond called anti-racial
quota campaigner Ward Connerly a “fraud” and a “con man.”
In February of this year, at Fayetteville State University in Arkansas, Bond
warned that Republicans’ “idea of equal rights is the American flag
and the Confederate swastika flying side by side,” the Fayetteville Observer
reported. When his comments provoked a firestorm of criticism, Bond lied, denying
he likened the GOP to the Nazi Party. He accused “right-wing blogs”
of mischaracterizing his statement: “I didn’t say these things I’m
alleged to have said. There is no one in the audience who can say I said them.”
How wrong he was: The Observer posted a 45-minute recording of Bond’s
speech online. In the same speech, Bond implied that Colin Powell and Condoleezza
Rice were token black appointees in the Bush Administration, which was using
them as “human shields against any criticism of their record on civil
For Bond, America is hopelessly racist. “Everywhere we see clear racial
fault lines, which divide American society as much now as at any time in our
past,” he said in 1999. One might expect Americans to push someone with
Bond’s views to the margins of public life, alongside such racial provocateurs
as Al Sharpton, yet Bond is an in-demand public speaker. He holds 23 honorary
degrees and is now distinguished professor at American University and professor
of history at the University of Virginia.
But Bond is strictly B-list compared to Morris Dees.
Dees is admired by left-wing and not-so-left-wing lawyers from coast to coast.
A prestigious legal award has been named after him, and on November 16, the
high-powered law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP &
Affiliates and the University of Alabama School of Law awarded the first annual
“Morris Dees Justice Award” to U.S. District Judge William Wayne
Justice of the Eastern District of Texas. The award will be given annually to
“a lawyer who has devoted his or her career to serving the public interest
and pursuing justice and whose work has brought about positive change in the
community, state or nation.” One of the rulings for which Judge Justice
is honored would puzzle many strict constructionist legal scholars and limited-government
supporters. Justice’s ruling in a 1982 case, Plyler v. Doe, opened the
doors for children of illegal aliens to attend public schools through grade
12 at public expense.
Dees is a consummate salesman and a champion fundraiser. “I learned everything
I know about hustling from the Baptist Church. Spending Sundays sitting on those
hard benches, listening to the preacher pitch salvation … why it was like
getting a Ph.D. in selling,” he said. Dees was finance director for Democrat
George McGovern’s failed 1972 presidential bid and for other Democratic
candidates. He raised more than $24 million from 600,000 small donors, marking
the first time a presidential campaign was financed with small gifts by mail,
according to Dees’s official biography on SPLC’s website.
Years before co-founding the SPLC, Dees launched a successful direct-mail sales
company specializing in book publishing. However, he experienced an epiphany
in 1967 and decided to take his life in a new direction and “speak out
for my black friends who were still ‘disenfranchised’ even after
the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” Dees wrote in his autobiographical A Season
for Justice. “Little had changed in the South. Whites held the power and
had no intention of voluntarily sharing it.”
Dees’s former legal associate, Millard Farmer, describes the crusading
lawyer as “the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of the civil rights movement,”
adding, “though I don’t mean to malign Jim and Tammy Faye.”
Former associates say Dees is obsessed with making money.
Criticism and Scandal
The media generally accord Dees roughly the same level of respect as the late
Mother Teresa. He has been the subject of a made-for-television movie, along
with countless articles, and worshipful magazine profiles. Yet a rare, scathing
portrait of Dees titled “The Church of Morris Dees” by left-wing
author Ken Silverstein appeared in the November 2000 Harper’s magazine.
Under the leadership of Dees, SPLC “spends most of its time—and
money—on a relentless fundraising campaign, peddling memberships in the
church of tolerance with all the zeal of a circuit rider passing the collection
plate,” wrote Silverstein.
The SPLC took another hit in 2001 when JoAnn Wypijewski wrote in the leftist
Nation magazine that the center was preoccupied with making money. “In
1999, it spent $2.4 million on litigation and $5.7 million on fundraising, meanwhile
taking in more than $44 million—$27 million from fundraising, the rest
from investments,” she wrote.
Wypijewski also criticized the center’s work on hate groups. “No
one has been more assiduous in inflating the profile of [hate] groups than the
center’s millionaire huckster, Morris Dees, who, in 1999, began a begging
letter, ‘Dear Friend, The danger presented by the Klan is greater now
than at any time in the past 10 years,’” she wrote. Of course, the
Ku Klux Klan is a genuine hate group. It had about four million members 80 years
ago when it held sway over several state legislatures. Today, however, it has
withered away to maybe 3,000 members.
The SPLC seems to have steered clear of scandal in recent years, but it received
plenty of bad press in the mid-1990s. In 1994, the Montgomery Advertiser published
a series of investigative articles alleging improprieties, including financial
mismanagement and institutionalized racism. Black former employees of the center
complained that white supervisors ran it “like a plantation.” The
series was a nominated finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 1995, but Dees orchestrated
a lobbying campaign to stop publication and prevent it from being considered
by the Pulitzer board.
Jim Tharpe, then managing editor of the Advertiser, described his SPLC-related
adventures at a Nieman Foundation for Journalism panel discussion held at Harvard
University in May 1999. According to Tharpe, SPLC deployed what is typically
considered a corporate public relations weapon to prevent the investigation.
It threatened what has come in recent years to be known as a strategic lawsuit
against public participation, or SLAPP action. Such suits are calculated to
intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense
unless they withdraw their criticism.
“These guys threatened us with a lawsuit from the moment we asked to
look at their financial records,” Tharpe said, according to a transcript
of the talk provided on the Nieman Foundation’s website.
Reporters found the center had accumulated a huge surplus. “It was $50-something
million at that time; it’s now approaching $100 million, but they’ve
never spent more than 31% of the money they were bringing in on programs, and
sometimes they spent as little as 18%. Most nonprofits spend about 75% on programs,”
Tharpe said. SPLC donors had no idea how financially secure the center was,
he said. “The charity watchdog groups, the few that are in existence,
had consistently criticized the center, even though nobody had reported that.”
Reporters also uncovered that what is arguably the nation’s wealthiest
civil rights group—which contends that racism pervades all of American
society—had no blacks in top management positions. “Twelve out of
the 13 black current and former employees we contacted cited racism at the center,
which was a shocker to me. As of 1995, the center had hired only two black attorneys
in its entire history,” Tharpe said.
Tharpe’s team also uncovered what he called “questionable fundraising
tactics.” The SPLC handled the case of Michael Donald, a young black man
who was brutally murdered in Mobile by Klansmen in 1981. After the perpetrators
were convicted, the center filed suit against the KKK organization to which
they belonged and secured a $7-million judgment, Tharpe explained.
“The problem was the people who killed this kid didn’t have any
money. What they really got out of it was a $51,000 building that went to the
mother of Michael Donald. What the center got and what we reported was they
raised $9 million in two years using the Donald case, including a mailing with
the body of Michael Donald as part of it. The top center officials, I think
the top three, got $350,000 in salaries during that time, and Morris got a movie
out of it, a TV movie of the week.”
Defining ‘Hate Group’
The SPLC frequently smears groups it disagrees with as “racist.”
Although the SPLC’s list of hate groups includes groups that are based
on racial hatred such as the Ku Klux Klan and the black separatist groups New
Black Panther Party and Nation of Islam, which is headed by anti-Semite Louis
Farrakhan, it lists other groups whose claim to the dishonor is more dubious.
The SPLC accuses the American Enterprise Institute, an influential conservative
think tank, of links to racism, in part because it has employed a well-known
conservative intellectual, writer Dinesh D’Souza, as its John M. Olin
Fellow. AEI is part of “an array of right-wing foundations and think tanks
[that] support efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respectable,”
noted the summer 2003 issue of Intelligence Report, a center magazine. D’Souza
is a scholar “whose views are seen by many as bigoted or even racist,”
the article stated. But why attack D’Souza, a dark-skinned immigrant to
the U.S. from India? Could it be because the acclaimed author has made powerful
attacks on the kind of racial alarmism that is the SPLC’s bread and butter?
In The End of Racism (1995), D’Souza argued that “virtually all
contemporary liberal assumptions about the origin of racism, its historical
significance, its contemporary effects, and what to do about it are wrong.”
D’Souza also pilloried opportunistic race-baiters. “It is the civil
rights industry that now has a vested interest in the persistence of the ghetto,
because the miseries of poor blacks are the best advertisement for continuing
programs of racial preference and set-asides,” D’Souza wrote.
And then there are all those Nazis. According to a recent edition of Intelligence
Report, admirers of the Third Reich have infiltrated the U.S. armed services:
“Neo-Nazis ‘stretch across all branches of service, they are linking
up across the branches once they’re inside, and they are hard-core,’
Department of Defense gang detective Scott Barfield told the Intelligence Report.
‘We’ve got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad,’ he added. ‘That’s
Accompanying the article, “A Few Bad Men,” by David Holthouse,
is a painting of a row of helmeted U.S. soldiers in uniform with their arms
raised in a Nazi salute. Since America is deeply racist, according to the SPLC,
it only follows that its military must be racist as well.
A September smear of a politician who takes a hard line on immigration illustrates
the SPLC’s standard operating procedure for dealing with those hostile
to its open-borders agenda.
After Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, a Republican who favors tougher immigration
policies, addressed a Columbia, S.C., event that its organizer noted was open
to all, the SPLC falsely characterized the event as being sponsored by the League
of the South. The center considers that obscure group to be a “neo-Confederate,”
“white nationalist” hate group.
Following Tancredo’s speech, a self-serving report titled “Congressman
addresses hate group,” appeared on the SPLC’s website, creating
the impression that the event was an official League of the South event. But
a Denver Post report from September 13 quoted Garland McCoy, head of an activist
group called Americans Have Had Enough, saying his group hosted the event, which
he said anyone was free to attend.
The SPLC report also marveled at how Tancredo could give a speech “from
behind a podium draped in a Confederate battle flag,” and with a portrait
of Robert E. Lee in plain sight. However, Tancredo delivered his speech at the
South Carolina State Museum, which has a permanent Confederate Army exhibit.
Is it surprising that Confederate paraphernalia was present?
The center has also gone after the Minuteman Project, which seeks to monitor
illegal border crossings into the U.S. from Mexico. The Minuteman group has
a broad base of support among conservatives and throughout the nation as a whole,
but was labeled racist last year by the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. It
may take some intellectual toughness to insist that the nation has the right
to decide who may or may not cross its borders, but surely it’s not hate.
But Morris Dees doesn’t see it that way. He sees all opposition to immigration
as a symptom of hate. When, in 2004, a slate of anti-immigration candidates
sought election to the Sierra Club, a prominent environmentalist group, Dees
offered himself as an alternative candidate, urging his fellow club members
to “vote against the greening of hate.” The club had long been on
record as favoring a stable U.S. population in order to reduce alleged strains
on the environment. According to Dees’s twisted reasoning, doesn’t
this mean the club was already a bastion of hate?
A disinterested observer might conclude that Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty
Law Center are irrelevant activists left over from the 1960s, hangers-on to
memories of past civil rights campaigns. They trudge on, enamored of their own
Richard Samp, chief counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, told Organization
Trends that he finds it difficult to take anything the SPLC does nowadays seriously.
“There are so many of these [liberal groups] that they have to speak in
particularly shrill tones in order to distinguish themselves from the many other
groups out there,” Samp said. “I certainly disagree with their saying
America is racist. I don’t think they really believe that,” he said.
SPLC’s hyping of racism in America is “simply fundraising puffery,”
Yet it may be too easy to dismiss SPLC. It has mastered the art of inflaming
racial passions, and in doing so, it undermines Americans’ confidence
in the nation’s racial progress. SPLC’s activism may be too profitable
an enterprise for it to give up, but it can have a corrosive effect on our politics.
Jim Sleeper, author of Liberal Racism, wrote that “there is a race industry
that has a moral and financial stake in ginning up these racial bogeymen.”
Sleeper told columnist Deroy Murdock that the race industry makes “a real
effort to play up the bad news and play down the good…. The ground is shifting
under our feet, and a lot of these people don’t want to let go.”
Copyright © 2006 HUMAN EVENTS
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