5 Reasons the Southern Poverty Law Center Is a Hate-Mongering Scam
The Southern Poverty Law Center is not a legitimate arbiter of public discourse. It poisons public discourse for profit.
Amazon has decided to pull the Alliance Defending Freedom from its Amazon Smile program, in which shoppers can send a portion of their Amazon purchases to charities. Because the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled ADF a hate group, Amazon yanked its opportunity to receive donations on an equal playing field with other Amazon Smile participants, which include highly political leftist organizations Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, Media Matters, and Oxfam-America.
ADF is a nonprofit, First Amendment-focused legal organization that has successfully argued in front of the Supreme Court seven times in the past seven years. It is not some Klu Klux Klan revival, and to suggest so is both false and deeply offensive. Yet slandering good-faith people is SPLC’s raison d’etre. Why? Because that’s how it rakes in millions of dollars a year, show its latest tax filings, to fund its astronomical $432,723,955 endowment and management’s $200,000-$350,000 annual salaries (plus perks!).
Numerous media outlets and watchdog organizations have documented this reality, and over several decades. The Atlantic and Politico have covered, albeit in friendly fashion, the organization’s decision to group with neo-Nazis, black power groups, and Klu Klux Klan chapters people and organizations like Sen. Rand Paul, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, ADF, the Family Research Council, the Center for Immigration Studies, and Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz. Publications that have exposed SPLC’s hate-profiteering include Tablet magazine; the Montgomery Advertiser; Philanthropy magazine, Harper’s magazine, Megan McArdle at Bloomberg; The Weekly Standard; City Journal; National Review; and The Washington Free Beacon.
Simply put, SPLC is not a legitimate arbiter of public discourse. It poisons public discourse for profit. Its business model is to target groups and people, sometimes with baseless smears, to gin up fear and anger so people send SPLC gobs of cash it largely doesn’t use to benefit the oppressed. Neither Amazon nor major media outlets — such as CNN, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, CBS, and PBS — should amplify or give any credence to SPLC’s highly partisan, highly personal, self-interested fear-mongering.
Here are a few reasons why.
1. SPLC’s Attacks Are Purposefully Personal
“The SPLC’s hate group and extremist labels are effective. Groups slapped with them have lost funding, been targeted by activists and generally been banished from mainstream legitimacy,” Politico’s chummy writeup notes. “…in America, even fighting racism can be very good business.”
SPLC’s “extremist” and “hate group” labels are not impartial designations that help citizens, media, and public leaders make better decisions about either local concerns or broader politics. At best, they are self-interested marketing. At worst, they are designed to execute partisan vendettas, to wield financial and political power against legitimate opponents in public discourse.
“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,” SPLC Senior Fellow Mark Potok said at a 2007 conference.
Of course the ideas and methods of the KKK and other violent and bigoted groups that appear on SPLC’s listings are morally wrong and should be rejected. But since SPLC spends the vast majority of its funds on its own salaries and savings instead of tangible efforts to protect and serve victims of bigotry, it seems pretty clear that it uses the relatively few cranks and purveyors of reprehensible racism it can find in America to serve itself — both financially and ideologically — rather than the public good.
2. The Southern Poverty Law Center Is a Scam
“They’ve never spent more than 31 percent of the money they were bringing in on programs, and sometimes they spent as little as 18 percent. Most nonprofits spend about 75 percent on programs,” noted Montgomery Advertiser Managing Editor Jim Tharpe in a talk for Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism.
That’s because SPLC is basically a very effective scam organization that uses images of white-bedsheeted people and, now, Donald Trump policies, to scare donors into sending them piles of money. Trump-mongering has been very good for business. The organization’s latest IRS form, from 2017, shows that “Gifts, grants, contributions, membership fees” to SPLC almost tripled, from $50,297,653 in 2015 — already a huge amount — to $132,044,179 in 2016, of course the year Trump ran and won the presidency. Investigative reporters and actual anti-hate-crimes groups say SPLC is largely a shell organization that uses masterful marketing techniques to rake in big-time profits for its staff, especially founder Morris Dees.
“Over the years, numerous investigators have pointed out that most of the scary KKK and Nazi and militia groups that the SPLC insists are lurking under our beds are actually ghost entities, with no employees, no address, hardly any followers, and little or no footprint,” Philanthropy noted. “…Its two largest expenses are propaganda operations: creating its annual lists of ‘haters’ and ‘extremists,’ and running a big effort that pushes ‘tolerance education’ through more than 400,000 public-school teachers. And the single biggest effort undertaken by the SPLC? Fundraising. On the organization’s 2015 IRS 990 form it declared $10 million of direct fundraising expenses, far more than it has ever spent on legal services.”
Last year, a Washington Free Beacon investigation showed SPLC keeps millions in offshore accounts, which charity experts labeled “a huge red flag” and “completely unacceptable.”
3. The Southern Poverty Law Center Is Deeply Biased
While listing among largely isolated and rare racist groups several constructive, nonviolent organizations that lean conservative such as ADF and the Ruth Institute, a small pro-family organization headed by a genial PhD who has taught at Yale University, SPLC’s hate list does not include violent leftist organizations such as Antifa.
SPLC says this is because “as a general matter, prejudice on the basis of factors such as race is more prevalent on the far right than it is on the far left.” That’s not the case for anti-Semitism. Even if one assumes we should ignore political labels and focus on actions and ideology, as Megan McArdle notes, “the center offers bizarrely shifting rationales that suggest that the staff started with the target they wanted to deem hateful, and worked backward to the analysis.”
That is likely why its designated “haters” are those the organization deems most likely to stir up contributions from its mostly liberal donors, not groups and people who genuinely deserve calling out according to objective criteria.
“The SPLC blacklist list contains practicing Muslims like Maajid Nawaz, ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, foreign-policy think-tankers like Frank Gaffney and Daniel Pipes, and right-wing firebrands like David Horowitz—none of whom could be reasonably described as anti-Muslim bigots,” finds Tablet magazine. “…[T]he Southern Poverty Law Center is now aggressively defending the kind of violent supremacists [Islamists] it had once sought to prosecute, and attacking types like Nawaz it had once defended against violence.”
SPLC is entitled to its own opinions, but it is not entitled to respect for them or a pretense that they are fair, neutral, unbiased, or free of self-serving motivations.
4. The Southern Poverty Law Center Exploits Hate
SPLC “act[s] like they have hegemony over how to conduct a civil rights debate in this country, which I find a strange posture coming from a group of white men,” says Loretta Ross, program director for the Center for Democratic Renewal, an Atlanta, Georgia-based white supremacy monitoring group. That is likely because SPLC’s concern for civil rights appears to be a facade to facilitate donor and victim exploitation.
In its expose, Harper’s says former SPLC lawyer Gloria Browne, who resigned to protest its behavior, “told reporters that the Center’s programs were calculated to cash in on ‘black pain and white guilt.'” They are not targeted to need or effective social solutions. Harper’s continues:
Horrifying as such incidents are, hate groups commit almost no violence. More than 95 percent of all ‘hate crimes,’ including most of the incidents SPLC letters cite (bombings, church burnings, school shootings), are perpetrated by ‘lone wolves.’ Even Timothy McVeigh, subject of one of the most extensive investigations in the FBI’s history-and one of the most extensive direct-mail campaigns in the SPLC’s-was never credibly linked to any militia organization.
Of course, however, “news of a declining Klan does not make for inclining donations to Morris Dees,” so SPLC sensationalizes the incidents of racial and anti-LGBT violence in the United States, which data shows is still the most racially tolerant country in the world. While of course this doesn’t mean any incidents of bigotry are alright, SPLC’s profits depend on mischaracterizing and and exploiting them in ways that damage social cohesion and do not benefit actual victims.
Even when it does spend a tiny percentage of its war chest on litigation, “the SPLC would pursue essentially meaningless but headline-grabbing cases, exploiting its uncollectible verdicts through sensational fundraising appeals that generated massive donations,” reports City Journal. “One disgruntled former SPLC attorney complained that ‘[Dees] was on the Klan kick because it was such an easy target—easy to beat in court, easy to raise big money on.’”
Because the SPLC depends on racism, violence, and division for its revenue and legitimacy, they have reason to want more of these terrible things, or at least the appearance of more. Their vested interest is not in solving and reducing these social blights, but in maximizing and perpetuating them. All the more reason polite society should starve their fire-stoking of the oxygen of attention.
5. The SPLC Foments Hatred, Fear, and Violence
The SPLC is infamous for offering a pretext for violence. When eminent social scientist Charles Murray, whose work has done more to lift U.S. minorities out of poverty than perhaps any other single living person, visited Middlebury College for a talk, because SPLC has falsely smeared him as a “white supremacist,” students rioted. They attacked Murray and a Middlebury professor as security escorted them out, blocking and rocking their car and yanking the professor’s hair so hard it caused a neck injury that required her to wear a brace afterward.
Murray remains on the “hate list” and SPLC’s website includes no statement about the incident.
In 2012, a young man guided by the SPLC “hate map” entered the Family Research Council’s headquarters in Washington DC with a gun and shot the security guard, who managed to disarm the shooter. Police later determined the young man intended to kill people at the office because the SPLC had labeled FRC an extremist organization. While condemning the violence, SPLC continues to designate FRC a “hate” group and defend that designation.
After it designated Muslim reformer Nawaz an “extremist” in 2016, the British Quilliam Foundation leader told The Atlantic: “They put a target on my head. The kind of work that I do, if you tell the wrong kind of Muslims that I’m an extremist, then that means I’m an target. They don’t have to deal with any of this. I don’t have any protection. I don’t have any state protection. These people are putting me on what I believe is a hit list.” Given the FRC shooting four years earlier and the real dangers of opposing radical Islamism, that’s not a specious claim.
City Journal further reports that SPLC speaks highly of convicted domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization Weather Underground fomented riots and bombed government offices and banks:
The SPLC’s education project, ‘Teaching Tolerance,’ and its companion website, tolerance.org, market Ayers’s books and describe him as ‘a highly respected figure in the field of multicultural education.’ Failing to mention that Ayers dedicated the Weather Underground’s 1974 revolutionary manifesto, Prairie Fire, to Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, the SPLC lauds Ayers for his ‘rich vision of teaching that interweaves passion, responsibility and self-reflection.’
Whatever credibility SPLC earned fighting some anti-KKK cases in the 1970s is long gone. It has squandered its moral authority many times over. Its proclamations exploit people to serve its bottom line, and should receive no furtherance from media or organizations like Amazon.
Treating SPLC as a good-faith arbiter of public discourse grants speech police power to an organization whose business model is to make money from poisoning public discourse. Those who care about free speech and justice will grant no such power to folks who, like SPLC, exploit these noble and necessary ideas for their own selfish, cynical, socially destructive ends.