“Our Aim in Life Is … to Completely Destroy Them”
The Southern Poverty Law Center's latest assault on liberty.
By John Perazzo
August 26, 2018
Describing itself as a “nonprofit civil rights organization,” the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is one of the central players in the Left's relentless totalitarian war against freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and civil liberties. In its latest frontal assault against these values, a few days ago SPLC successfully pressured MasterCard and Visa to stop processing all donations to the David Horowitz Freedom Center (DHFC), on grounds that the latter is supposedly a “hate group.” This was on top of previous SPLC efforts to get organizations like Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter to ban DHFC from their respective platforms. Though MasterCard and Visa have now reversed their decision and have reinstated the DHFC's fundraising status, SPLC's effort to stamp out every last trace of intellectual liberty will continue. It's a strategy that is wholly consistent with what SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok once candidly affirmed about how his organization deals with its ideological adversaries:
“Our aim in life is to destroy these groups, to completely destroy them.”
SPLC's stated mission of “fighting hate and bigotry” while “seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society,” is rooted in the premise that the United States is perpetually “seething” with “racial violence” and “intolerance against those who are different” — i.e., members of minority groups like blacks, Hispanics, homosexuals, and Arabs/Muslims. To combat this purported epidemic of malevolence and white supremacism, SPLC dedicates itself to “tracking and exposing” the activities of “hate groups” and “extremist groups” from coast to coast.
But in drawing up its blacklist, SPLC does not indict only organizations whose platforms can accurately be described as the hateful endorsement of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, or sexuality. Rather, the list also includes many groups that are thoughtful, articulate conveyors of mainstream conservative values and principles, and that explicitly, unambiguously condemn the maltreatment of anyone, for any reason.
The inclusion of legitimate conservative organizations in SPLC's list of “hate groups” constitutes an egregious libel rooted in the Center's remarkable intolerance for ideas with which it does not agree. The aforementioned Mark Potok unwittingly acknowledged this himself when he stated that the SPLC blacklists have “nothing to do with criminality or violence or any kind of guess we’re making about ‘this group could be dangerous.’ It’s strictly ideological.” By conflating actual hate groups on the one hand, with respectable conservative organizations on the other — and thereby giving the impression that conservative values are somehow inherently hateful, racist, or otherwise repugnant — SPLC seeks to shut down debate, shut down free speech, and delegitimize all conservatives as odious monsters whose viewpoints do not even merit access to a public forum.
Even a cursory look at SPLC's history sheds considerable light on the spirit of totalitarian intolerance that has animated the organization since its inception in 1971. Its principal founder was the attorney Morris Dees, a hardcore leftist who has long viewed the United States as an irredeemably racist nation. SPLC's first president, meanwhile, was the late civil-rights activist Julian Bond — a man who was “enchanted by the revolution” of the monstrous Fidel Castro, and who once smeared black conservatives as “black hustlers and hucksters ... [who], like ventriloquists’ dummies, speak in their puppet master’s voice.”
Inflating the Numbers on “Hate”
SPLC defines “hate groups” as those that “have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics” — i.e., nationality, ethnicity, race, physical appearance, or sexual orientation. At this time, SPLC identifies 954 active “hate groups” in the United States.
The manner in which SPLC counts these offenders has evolved considerably over the years. In 1997, for instance, the Center's hate-group tally received a substantial boost from a newly instituted procedure which conveyed the impression that “hate” in America was rising at an unprecedented rate. That year, SPLC's “Intelligence Project” began counting all known chapters or branches of “hate” organizations as separate entities, whereas it had previously tallied them collectively as a single entity. Thus, in 1998 the Council of Conservative Citizens (and its 33 chapters) accounted for more than half of the SPLC hate-group list’s growth over the previous year. Similarly, in 2000, more than 60% of the alleged increase in the nationwide hate-group tally was due to the first-time inclusion of the League of the South and each of its 90-plus chapters. By 2009, just 4 autonomous organizations and their many branches accounted for fully 229 separate “hate groups” — approximately one-fourth of all the entries in SPLC’s catalog.
JoAnn Wypijewski, who writes for the far-left Nation magazine, once observed: “No one has been more assiduous in inflating the profile of [hate] groups than [SPLC's] millionaire huckster, Morris Dees,” who “would have his donors believe” that cadres of “militia nuts” are “lurking around every corner.”
In a similar vein, the late left-wing journalist Alexander Cockburn wrote in 2007: “I’ve long regarded Morris Dees and his Southern Poverty Law Center as collectively one of the greatest frauds in American life.” In 2009 Cockburn called Dees the “arch-salesman of hate-mongering,” a man who profited by “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.” “Ever since 1971,” added Cockburn, “U.S. Postal Service mailbags have bulged with [Dees's] fundraising letters, scaring dollars out of the pockets of trembling liberals aghast at his lurid depictions of hate-sodden America.”
To foment such fear, SPLC has shown itself to be quite capable of promoting a host of egregious falsehoods. For example, in the mid-1990s — by which time most Americans understood that the Ku Klux Klan had degenerated into a virtual non-entity with no public support beyond that of a relative handful of pathetic miscreants — SPLC warned of an imminent, rising white menace. To fulfill that prophecy, the Center helped lead an elaborate and highly publicized campaign denouncing an alleged epidemic of racially motivated arsons that had been targeting black churches across the South. When it was eventually learned that the entire “crisis” had in fact been concocted out of whole cloth, SPLC never stopped pressing its “White Racist America” narrative. As former SPLC lawyer Gloria Browne once explained, SPLC's programs are calculated to cash in on “black pain and white guilt.”
Contrary to SPLC's persistent claims about the ubiquity of “hate groups” and their nefarious activities, the City Journal noted in July 2017 that “hate crimes,” as defined and reported by the FBI, “have declined over the past decade to fewer than 6,000 incidents a year, a modest number in a country with 326 million people.” Moreover, the Journal pointed out that “the principal threats of radical extremism in the United States today are jihadist attacks (radical Islam), militant anti-police rioters (such as Black Lives Matter), and masked Antifa … mobs shutting down free speech on college campuses and violently protesting the election of President Donald J. Trump, while the greatest perpetrators of violence in America are criminal street gangs — including the deadly MS-13 — that have turned some of our inner cities into war zones.”
Falsely Smearing Conservatives as “Haters”
Regardless of how dramatically SPLC overstates their numbers, white racists like neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and skinheads indisputably deserve the “hate group” label. But SPLC deceitfully extends that designation also to conservative and libertarian organizations that harbor no ill will against any demographic group, and that are “guilty” of nothing more than holding political positions contrary to those of SPLC. As syndicated columnist Don Feder writes: “What makes the Southern Poverty Law Center particularly odious is its habit of taking legitimate conservatives and jumbling them with genuine hate groups (the Klan, Aryan Nation, skinheads, etc.), to make it appear that there’s a logical relationship between, say, opposing affirmative action and lynching, or demands for an end to government services for illegal aliens and attacks on dark-skinned immigrants.”
The City Journal puts it this way: “In the popular perception, 'hate group' is a label that appropriately describes the KKK, neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, and similar groups — and the SPLC does in fact label them as such — but the SPLC misleadingly lumps these odious groups together with mainstream organizations with which it disagrees, solely because of their views regarding, among other issues, LGBT rights, immigration policy, and opposition to Sharia Law.”
Yet another City Journal piece makes the case even more powerfully:
“[R]easoned discourse requires that disagreement be expressed through facts and argument, not pejorative name-calling, innuendo, and guilt by association. The SPLC deliberately blurs the distinction between true hate groups, peaceful activists, and reputable organizations with which it disagrees.... What many of the individuals and groups condemned by the SPLC have in common is a conservative orientation. Favoring traditional marriage becomes the moral equivalent of cross-burning; opposing illegal immigration or amnesty for illegal immigrants equates to advocating genocide; resisting the spread of radical Islam invokes Timothy McVeigh; and anti-tax Tea Party groups are now indistinguishable from armed militias or Holocaust deniers. Thus, dissent is de-legitimatized, and political foes are demonized. All those who oppose the Left are, by definition, 'fascists,' 'white nationalists,' 'Islamophobes,' 'hate groups,' or 'extremists.'”
In a 2016 survey, the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that no fewer than 63 of the organizations that SPLC identified as “hate groups” or “extremist groups” were actually IRS-approved charities.
One of SPLC's bedrock beliefs is its conviction that the United States, in addition to being inherently racist, is also a homophobic nation that countenances all manner of injustice against LGBT people. Indeed, SPLC depicts anyone objecting to transformative cultural changes involving homosexuals — such as the legalization of gay marriage — as a “hate” monger whose opinions have no more legitimacy than those of an Aryan militia member.
One of the “Anti-LGBT hate groups” identified by SPLC is a Christian ministry called Liberty Counsel, which, while opposing same-sex marriage, explicitly emphasizes its belief that “every person,” regardless of their sexuality, “is created in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect.” Others, like Family Watch International and United Families International, likewise claim that traditional man-woman marriage is the bedrock of the family structure that is most beneficial to society. But to SPLC, their position amounts to an intolerable, repugnant thought crime.
On the morning of August 15, 2012, SPLC's designation of the conservative Family Research Council (FRC) as a hate group — a designation based chiefly on FRC's opposition to same-sex marriage — had serious ramifications. A heavily armed gunman named Floyd Corkins walked into FRC's Washington, DC headquarters intending, as he later acknowledged, “to kill people in the [FRC] building.” Corkins was prevented from carrying out his deadly plan by an employee who physically tackled him. When an FBI agent subsequently asked Corkins why he had chosen to target FRC, the perpetrator replied: “It was a, uh, Southern Poverty Law lists, uh, anti-gay groups. I found them online. I did a little bit of research, went to the website. Stuff like that.”
SPLC's defamatory rhetoric would come under scrutiny yet again on June 14, 2017, when a 66-year-old Illinois man named James Hodgkinson went to a northern Virginia baseball field where a number of Congressional Republicans were practicing for an upcoming charity baseball game, and he shot five people. Majority Whip Steve Scalise, 51, was the most seriously wounded, suffering life-threatening injuries. After the shooting, it was learned that Hodgkinson, who passionately hated Republicans and had volunteered for Bernie Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign, was carrying a list of six members of Congress in his pocket at the time of his crime. It was also learned that he had “liked” the SPLC on his Facebook page, along with other leftist smear operations such as Media Matters and MoveOn.org.
“Islamophobia” and “Anti-Muslim” Groups
SPLC likewise sees “Islamophobia” as yet another major defect in the American character. The June 2012 edition of SPLC's Intelligence Report, for instance, featured a hit piece titled “30 New Activists Heading Up the Radical Right,” which claimed that “an anti-Muslim movement, almost entirely ginned up by political opportunists and hard-line Islamophobes, has grown enormously since taking off in 2010, when reported anti-Muslim hate crimes went up by 50%.” This seemingly ominous statistic seems less foreboding, however, when one examines the actual raw numbers that SPLC omitted from its bold-faced alarm: According to FBI data, the number of “reported anti-Muslim hate crimes” nationwide increased from 107 incidents in 2009 to 160 in 2010 — technically a 50% increase, but hardly what could be characterized as an epidemic in a nation of more than 300 million people.
Further, SPLC's report gave no indication that the anti-Muslim hate-crime count of 2010 was in fact consistent with the normal, slightly fluctuating incidence of such events in other years — e.g., 155 in 2002, 149 in 2003, and 156 in 2004. Equally noteworthy is the fact that when the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes had dropped from 156 in 2006 to 115 in 2007 — and from 481 in 2001 (the year of the 9/11 attacks) to 155 in 2002 — the Center never thought to suggest that bigotry against Muslims was declining steeply.
SPLC's “30 New Activists” report condemns, as purveyors of hate, a number of scholars, researchers, and journalists who have examined and discussed, in a thoughtful and responsible manner, the teachings, values, history, and objectives of militant Islamists. Among those smeared in the report are WorldNetDaily publisher Joseph Farah, American Center for Security Policy founder Frank Gaffney, blogger/activist Pamela Geller, Accuracy in Media director Cliff Kincaid, and attorney David Yerushalmi. In an effort to marginalize these individuals, the report lumps them together with Klansmen and neo-Nazis.
SPLC's online list of “anti-Muslim groups” likewise conflates certain unprincipled hate mongers with articulate and serious expositors of conservative ideas and values. For instance, the Center has, at various times, directed its calumnies at such organizations as Concerned American Citizens, whose objective is to “develop a coalition with moderate Muslims ... for promoting Islamic reform in America”; the Sharia Awareness Action Network, which seeks to educate Americans “about how Sharia Law stands in opposition to Constitutional Law”; and PoliticalIslam.com, a website that points out, quite accurately, that Islam is “a political ideology” that “divides the world into Muslims and unbelievers.” Though neither the declared motives nor the public statements of these organizations call for any type of mistreatment of Muslims, SPLC nonetheless maintains that “anti-Muslim” bigotry is the animating force that drives them.
In October 2016, SPLC published its Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists, a blacklist profiling 15 “Islam-bashing activists” whose “propaganda” was allegedly responsible for “fueling” acts of public “hatred” against “American Muslims.” Consider some of the statements that SPLC cited as evidence of these activists' unhinged bigotry:
Ann Corcoran's assertion that “we have made a grievous error in taking the Muslim refugees, Somalis in particular, who have no intention of becoming Americans”;
Steven Emerson's observation that Europe has numerous “no-go zones” which non-Muslims cannot enter without great peril to their own safety;
Ayaan Hirsi Ali's assertion that “violence is inherent in Islam”;
David Horowitz's claim that the Muslim Students Association was “founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the godfather of Al Qaeda and Hamas”; and
Robert Spencer's declaration that “traditional Islam” is “the only major world religion with a developed doctrine and tradition of warfare against unbelievers.”
Rather than simply stating that the arguments or conclusions of these authors are somehow, in SPLC's view, flawed or misguided, the organization instead smears them as wild-eyed Islamophobes who are “gripped by paranoid fantasies about Muslims.”
One of the more noteworthy individuals named by SPLC's Field Guide as a guilty “extremist” was Maajid Nawaz, a former radical Muslim who had since become a prominent critic of jihadism. In an October 2016 interview with the Tablet, Nawaz described the SPLC staffers who had produced the Field Guide as “a bunch of first-world, comfortable liberal Americans who are not Muslims [and] have decided from their comfortable perch to label me, an activist who is working within his Muslim community to push back against extremism, an anti-Muslim extremist.” Emphasizing that because SPLC's blacklist had “put a target on my head,” Nawaz now feared for his own safety: “This is what putting people on lists does. When Theo Van Gogh was killed in the Netherlands, a list was stuck to his body that included Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s name. It was a hit list. When Bangladeshi reformers were hacked to death by jihadist terrorists, they were working off lists.... The left is no longer about advancing progressive values. For them, it’s now about tribal identities, and any internal critique is seen as treachery.”
When Nawaz in early 2018 threatened to take legal action over his inclusion in the Field Guide, SPLC quietly removed the publication from its website.
Immigrant Justice and “Anti-Immigrant” Groups
Adhering to the theme of ubiquitous racism pervading the United States, SPLC charges that Latin American immigrants are routinely “cheated out of their wages,” “denied basic protections in the workplace,” “subjected to racial profiling and harassment by law enforcement,” and “targeted for violent hate crimes.” The growth of this “civil rights crisis,” as SPLC calls it, “has been driven almost entirely by the immigration debate.” Conspicuously absent from the foregoing assertion is any acknowledgment that it is illegal immigration — and not legal immigration — that sits at the heart of the debate.
In late 2007, SPLC labeled the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) — which seeks to “improve border security” and ensure “that our immigration policies and laws … serve the nation’s future needs” — as a “hate group.” “What we are hoping very much to accomplish is to marginalize FAIR,” said SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok. “We don’t think they should be a part of the mainstream media.”
To emphasize just how dangerous FAIR's rhetoric supposedly could be, SPLC announced in 2008 that “hate crimes targeting Latinos [had] increased again in 2007, capping a 40% rise in the four years since 2003” — from 426 incidents in 2003 to 595 incidents in 2007. Why did SPLC choose 2003 as the starting point? Perhaps it was because in 2002, the number of reported anti-Hispanic hate-crime incidents in the U.S. was 480, a fact that would have failed to advance the narrative of constantly rising levels of bigoted violence. Even more inconvenient was the fact that in 2001, there were 597 reported anti-Hispanic hate-crime incidents — i.e., two more than in 2007.
Other organizations that the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as “Anti-Immigrant hate groups” include: Americans for Immigration Control, which contends that illegal immigration is a “lawless” phenomenon that “puts the future of our country in jeopardy”; the Center for Immigration Studies, whose mission is to provide “reliable information about the social, economic, environmental, security, and fiscal consequences of legal and illegal immigration into the United States”; and the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform, which describes itself as “pro-legal immigrant and pro-legal immigration, but at numbers consistent with assimilation and sustainability.” While these groups clearly take positions that differ from those of SPLC, they most certainly do not preach “hate” against any group of people for any reason.
So pronounced has been SPLC's propensity to portray mainline conservatives as racists, that even the left-wing Obama Administration at one point chastised the organization for its absurd rhetoric. After a March 2016 court hearing during which SPLC had accused the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) of being a racist organization, Jennifer J. Barnes, disciplinary counsel for the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review, wrote a letter scolding an SPLC attorney for having smeared FAIR by use of “derogatory name-calling” that “exhibited a lack of professionalism” and “overstepped the bounds of zealous advocacy.”
In contrast to its eagerness to brand conservatives as “racists,” SPLC typically gives a free pass to left-wing groups that advocate on behalf of illegal immigrants and open borders, no matter how hateful or race-obsessed those groups' agendas may be. Consider UnidosUS, which for 45 years was called the National Council of La Raza (“The Race”). Though this organization views virtually any opposition to its amnesty/open-borders/welfare-state agenda as “a disgrace to American values,” UnidosUS/La Raza has been hailed by SPLC research director Heidi Beirich as “a venerable civil-rights organization.” Moreover, UnidosUS/La Raza is known to have given money to MEChA, a “Chicano Students” organization that explicitly vows to repel the “brutal ‘gringo’ invasion of our territories,” and whose organizational slogan translates to: “For the race, everything; Outside of the race, nothing.” But SPLC sees nothing amiss here. As Mark Potok puts it, “we have found no evidence to support charges that [MEChA] is racist or anti-Semitic.”
Similarly, SPLC has elected not to include, in its list of “hate groups,” the violent Marxist/anarchist movement known as Antifa, which, as Atlantic magazine has noted, is responsible for “a level of sustained political street warfare not seen in the U.S. since the 1960s.” SPLC president Richard Cohen explains that while “we oppose these groups and what they're trying to do” by censoring speech and inevitably provoking “other forms of retaliation,” Antifa does not qualify for designation as a “hate group” because its brand of hate is “not the type of hate we follow.”
The Credulous Media
Notwithstanding SPLC's history of making inflated and reckless charges of “racism” and “hate,” the mainstream media, for the most part, have dutifully accepted the Center's self-characterization as an intrepid foe of those vices. Researcher Laird Wilcox puts it this way: “The SPLC has exploited the patina of the old civil-rights movement. And this has a mesmerizing effect on people, especially reporters who are naturally attracted to heroic images of racial struggles and stark contrasts of good vs. evil. I’ve been astounded at how many of the SPLC’s claims have gone unchallenged.”
Wilcox further describes SPLC as emblematic of the “anti-racist industry afoot in the United States that has attracted bullying, moralizing fanatics.” “They want to marginalize certain points of view in our society,” he says, “and they do it by acting like a kind of certifying agency that decides who is extremist and who isn’t.”
SPLC's Immense Wealth
In 1978, at which time SPLC's total assets amounted to less than $10 million, Morris Dees pledged that as soon as that figure reached $55 million, the Center would thenceforth discontinue its fundraising efforts, use its investment interest income to cover its operating expenses, and focus exclusively on its civil-rights work. But Dees's plans changed, thanks to the intoxicating effect of cash pouring ever-more-rapidly into SPLC's coffers. By the end of its 2016-17 fiscal year, the organization's net assets totaled more than $449 million — including some $92 million invested in tax havens like the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, and Bermuda.
“I've never known a U.S.-based nonprofit dealing in human rights or social services to have any foreign bank accounts,” tax expert Amy Sterling Casil, CEO of the nonprofit consulting firm Pacific Human Capital, told the Washington Free Beacon. “... I am stunned to learn of transfers of millions to offshore bank accounts. It is a huge red flag and would have been completely unacceptable to any wealthy, responsible, experienced board member who was committed to a charitable mission who I ever worked with.” “It is unethical for any U.S.-based charity to invest large sums of money overseas,” Casil added. “I know of no legitimate reason for any U.S.-based nonprofit to put money in overseas, unregulated bank accounts.”
With each passing year, the evidence piles up that the Southern Poverty Law Center is a shell-and-pea game that ends, every time, with Morris Dees laughing all the way to bank — be it in the U.S. or in the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, or Bermuda. Hate is his perpetual motion machine; the gift that keeps on giving. It's time for Americans to wake up and realize what SPLC is all about, and to finally consign it to the dustbin of history, where it can take its rightful place alongside similar collections of discredited charlatans, demagogues, hate mongers, and smear merchants.
 Michael Fumento, “A Church Arson Epidemic? It's Smoke and Mirrors,” The Wall Street Journal (July 8, 1996), p. A8. “Hiding Behind the Smoke,” Washington Post (June 18, 1996), p. A 13. Deroy Murdock, “Everyday America's Racial Harmony,” The American Enterprise (Nov./Dec. 1998), p. 25. “Indiana Man Admits to 50 Church Arsons,” The New York Times (February 24, 1999), p. A 18.