400 Washington Avenue
See also: Morris Dees Mark Potok Julian Bond
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was founded in 1971 by two young Alabama lawyers, 35-year-old Morris Dees and 28-year-old Joseph Levin, Jr. The latter served as the Center's legal director from 1971-76, but it was Dees who would emerge as the long-term “face” of the organization. A leftist who views the U.S. as an irredeemably racist nation, Dees, upon launching SPLC, joined forces with an African American who would serve as a perfect complement to him ideologically—the civil-rights activist Julian Bond.
Identifying itself as a “nonprofit civil rights organization” committed to “fighting hate and bigotry” while “seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society,” SPLC describes the United States as a country “seething” with “racial violence” and “intolerance against those who are different.” “Hate in America is a dreadful, daily constant,” says the Center, and violent crimes against members of minority groups like blacks, Hispanics, homosexuals, and Arabs/Muslims “are not isolated incidents,” but rather, “eruptions of a nation’s intolerance.” To combat this epidemic of “bigotry,” SPLC dedicates itself to “tracking and exposing” the activities of “hate groups and other extremists throughout the United States.” Specifically, the Center's “Hate & Extremism” initiative publishes its findings in the SPLC Hatewatch blog and in its quarterly journal, the Intelligence Report, which claims to be “the nation's preeminent periodical monitoring the radical right in the U.S.”
SPLC first gained widespread national recognition in 1987, its seventeenth year of activity, by winning a verdict in a civil lawsuit against the United Klans of America (UKA) for the role that organization had played in the death of a black Alabama teenager. By the time that lawsuit was filed, UKA was already a destitute, impotent, disintegrating entity that virtually all white Americans had emphatically rejected; the SPLC lawsuit merely drove the final nail into the UKA coffin. SPLC boasts that it has likewise won “crushing jury verdicts” that effectively shut down groups like the White Aryan Resistance, the White Patriot Party militia, and the Aryan Nations.
This has been SPLC's modus operandi since its inception: to initiate “innovative lawsuits” against prominent hate groups for crimes that their individual members commit. In these suits, declares Morris Dees proudly, “We absolutely take no prisoners. When we get into a legal fight we go all the way.” The leftist writer Ken Silverstein, who in 2000 wrote a penetrating exposé of SPLC for Harper's magazine, notes that the targets of these suits tend to be “mediagenic villains” who are “eager to show off their swastikas for the news cameras.” As Dees and SPLC well understand, such figures stand the best chance of triggering an emotional public response that translates, in turn, into financial contributions from donors eager to combat the perceived threat.
Inflating the Numbers on “Hate”
As of 2012, SPLC had identified 1,018 active “hate groups” in the U.S.—an all-time high. Asserting that the vast majority of such organizations can be classified as “right wing,” the Center says they include “neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads … border vigilantes and others”—along with a tiny smattering of Hispanics (e.g., Voz de Aztlan) and black separatists (Nation of Islam, National Black Foot Soldier Network, New Black Panther Party). SPLC takes pains to point out, however, that black hate groups must be judged by a different standard than their white counterparts, because “much black racism in America is, at least in part, a response to centuries of white racism.”
SPLC contends that from 2000 to 2012, the number of hate groups in the U.S. increased by 69%—a surge allegedly “fueled by anger and fear over the nation’s ailing economy, an influx of non-white immigrants, and the diminishing white majority, as symbolized by the election of the nation’s first African-American president”—i.e., Barack Obama. In other words, white Americans' reflexive bigotry allegedly triggered a host of hate-filled responses to the increased political and cultural influence wielded by nonwhites. And America's racists, by SPLC's calculus, are almost unanimously conservatives—as evidenced by the caption featured in the “HateWatch” section of SPLC’s website: “Keeping an Eye on the Radical Right.” The Radical Left gets no mention at all.
In 1997, SPLC'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, the Center'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 its 90-plus chapters. By 2009, just 4 autonomous organizations and their many branches accounted for fully 229 “hate groups”—approximately one-fourth of all the entries in SPLC’s catalog.
SPLC's “hate group” counts have been shown to be devoid of legitimacy a number of times. Laird Wilcox—a researcher specializing in the study of political fringe movements—reports that many SPLC-designated “hate groups” are untraceable, due either to their inactivity or nonexistence. After analyzing the SPLC Klanwatch Project's list of 346 “white supremacist groups” in 1992, for instance, Wilcox denounced “this irresponsible inflation of figures.” “In terms of viable groups,” he elaborated, “i.e., groups that are objectively significant, are actually functioning and have more than a handful of real numbers—not post office box ‘groups’ or two-man local chapters, the actual figure is about 50—a far cry from 346!”
In 2002, the Cleveland Scene investigated an SPLC claim that there were 40 active “hate or militia groups” in Ohio. Ultimately the publication concluded that “while a few groups on the monitors' lists warrant attention, most have dissolved or amount to little more than a guy with a copy of Mein Kampf and a Yahoo! Account.” “Between their peculiar theories and a proclivity for self-destruction,” added the paper, “a majority of white-nationalist groups would have trouble staging a poker game, let alone a revolution.”
In 2007—when a news reporter in Rutland, Vermont could find no evidence of an active Klan chapter that SPLC claimed was operating in that town—the Rutland Herald noted that “the SPLC does not attempt to confirm the validity of each listing.” The paper quoted SPLC research chief Mark Potok saying, “When a group claims chapters in a given place, we list them unless we have a reason to believe it [the claim] is false.” Emphasizing the difficulty of actually tracking down hate groups, Potok added: “Very frequently, authorities in a given community are surprised to find a hate group operating in their town or operating a mailbox, especially if it turns out to be a drop box. Especially in a state like Vermont, where the Klan is not very popular, you won’t see your local Klan in public. Just because local police and local anti-racism groups don’t know about it does not make it not true.” According to Laird Wilcox, “In private [Potok] concedes that there’s no overwhelming threat from the far right and in public [he] says something altogether different.” This, Wilcox explains, is because “professionally [Potok] is just a shill. It’s his job. That’s what he’s paid for.”
On another occasion, when SPLC falsely reported that a Klan group had gained a foothold in Larkin, Kansas, Wilcox explained: “What happened in this case is that someone rented a P.O. box for a bogus Ku Klux Klan group and then kept the rent paid on it for years, thus allowing [SPLC] to list Larkin as having a ‘KKK presence’ … This was pure disinformation and an example of the terrible things the SPLC does in its campaign to keep the money rolling in from frightened liberals and blacks.” In 2010, Wilcox reported: “Several years ago with minimal effort I went through a list of 800-plus 'hate groups' published by the SPLC and determined that over half of them were either non-existent, existed in name only, or were inactive.”
JoAnn Wypijewski, who writes for the far-left Nation magazine, says: “No one has been more assiduous in inflating the profile of [hate] groups than [SPLC's] millionaire huckster, Morris Dees, who in 1999 began a begging [fundraising] letter, 'Dear Friend, The danger presented by the Klan is greater now than at any time in the past ten years.'” To put Dees's claim in perspective, the Klan, by that time, consisted of no more than 3,000 people nationwide—a far cry from the 4 million members it had boasted in the 1920s. Nonetheless, notes Wypijewski, “Dees 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 in 2009 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 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—SPLC, lest its fundraising begin to dry up, warned of an imminent, rising new menace. To fulfill that prophecy, the Center helped lead an elaborate campaign denouncing an epidemic of racially motivated arsons that purportedly had been targeting black churches across the South. A national database search in July 1996 found that more than 2,200 news articles had been written about these black church burnings. Eventually, however, it was learned that in fact the incidence of such fires had increased only slightly, and temporarily, above their historically low levels. Moreover, on a per capita basis, black church fires continued to be significantly less common than white church fires. By the end of 1998, just three of the more than seventy black church fires investigated by the Justice Department could be tied to racial motives. The National Church Arson Task Force likewise found few racial links. It turned out, in fact, that a number of the arsonists responsible for the infamous black church fires were themselves African Americans.
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 the Center extends that designation also to conservative and libertarian organizations that harbor no ill will against any demographic group and merely hold positions contrary to those of SPLC on issues of social or political import. 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.”
One noteworthy organization that SPLC has placed in its crosshairs is the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which the Center identifies as part of “an array of right-wing foundations and think tanks [that] support efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respectable.” Especially objectionable to SPLC is AEI fellow Dinesh D’Souza, an Indian-born scholar (and former Reagan Administration advisor) “whose views,” according to the Center, “are seen by many as bigoted or even racist.” Specifically, D'Souza has written that affirmative action is an unjust, counterproductive policy; that “many liberals have been peculiarly blind about black racism”; that “virtually all contemporary liberal assumptions about the origin of racism ... and what to do about it are wrong”; and that “the civil-rights industry ... 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.” Such sentiments are anathema to an organization whose income stream is largely dependent upon an ability to perpetuate public angst over black suffering.
SPLC likewise saw the 2010 ascendancy of the Tea Party, which advocated reductions in government spending and taxes, as an odious development. In a piece titled “Rage on the Right: The Year in Hate and Extremism,” the Center's Intelligence Report claimed that the movement was “shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories, and racism.”
In yet another illustration of SPLC's ability to detect “hate” virtually everywhere, the Center in 2006 issued a report claiming that “large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists continue to infiltrate” the U.S. armed services, as one might expect to occur in a nation rife with unbridled bigotry. Echoing on the claims in that report, which were parroted repeatedly by major media outlets across the country, the Department of Homeland Security subsequently warned that American soldiers returning from active duty in Iraq might be particularly susceptible to recruitment and radicalization by “rightwing extremists,” and thus could present a terror threat worth monitoring.
Another of SPLC's bedrock beliefs is its conviction that the U.S., in addition to being inherently racist, is also a homophobic nation that countenances all manner of injustice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people—who, according to the Center, are “far more likely to be victims of a violent hate crime than any other minority group in the United States.” SPLC tars anyone objecting to transformative cultural changes involving homosexuals—such as gay marriage—as a “hate” monger whose opinions have no more legitimacy than those of an Aryan militia. Thus does the Center list the conservative Family Research Council (FRC) as a hate group, chiefly because of its opposition to gay marriage and its view that homosexuality is an “unnatural” condition “associated with negative physical and psychological health effects.” It should be noted that FRC expresses no malice at all toward homosexuals, as demonstrated not only by its professed “sympathy” for “those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions,” but also by its call for “every effort ... to assist such persons to overcome those attractions.”
On August 15, 2012, SPLC's allegations about FRC had serious ramifications. That morning, a domestic terrorist named Floyd Corkins walked into FRC's Washington, DC headquarters carrying a pistol, 100 rounds of ammunition, and a knapsack filled with 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches. (The sandwiches were significant because in June and July of that year, Chick-fil-A's chief operating officer had made some public statements supporting the traditional family structure and opposing gay marriage.) Corkins, who later acknowledged that he had intended "to kill people in the [FRC] building and then smear a Chick-fil-A sandwich in their face," was prevented from carrying out his deadly plan by FRC buildings operations manager Leo Johnson, who physically tackled him. When an FBI agent subsequently asked Corkins why he had chosen to target FRC, he 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 list of hate groups also includes the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative organization that opposes homosexuality on religious grounds and rejects the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would designate transgendered people (cross-dressers) as a “protected class” whom employers would not be free to eliminate from job-applicant pools.
Focus on the Family (FOTF), which has long been a respected and influential evangelical ministry, is classified by SPLC as a “fringe group” that uses “smarmy tactics” to “make schools less safe for LGBT students and more safe for their harassers.” Most objectionable to the Center is FOTF's suggestion that “too often, classroom materials promoted in the name of 'safety,' 'tolerance' or 'anti-bullying' teaching go far beyond the realm of safety prevention into political advocacy, and even indoctrination.”
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. But in that definition, the word “typically” provides a conspicuous loophole enabling the Center to also smear groups that hate “atypically,” for reasons of “mutable” characteristics like class, ideology, and religious belief. As author Steven Menzies points out, “scores if not hundreds of SPLC’s 'hate groups' are organizations whose 'beliefs and practices' include disagreement with groups over doctrine, ideology, or status rather than 'immutable characteristics.'”
Indeed, SPLC sees “Islamophobia”—hatred and fear based on the “mutable” trait of religious faith—as yet another major defect in the American character, particularly post-9/11. The June 2012 edition of 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%.” That 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 in 2009 to 160 in 2010—technically a 50% increase, but hardly what could be characterized as an epidemic in a nation of 310 million people.
Further, SPLC's report gives 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 steeply declining.
SPLC's “30 New Activists” report dismisses, 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 World Net Daily 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, SPLC lumps them together with Klansmen and neo-Nazis.
SPLC's list of “anti-Muslim groups” likewise conflates responsible expositors of hard truths, with bands of hate mongers. For instance, the Center has condemned 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 “the American citizenry about how Sharia Law stands in opposition to Constitutional Law”; PoliticalIslam.com, a website that points out, quite accurately, that Islam is “a political ideology” that “divides the world into Muslims and unbelievers, the latter of whom “must submit to Islam in all politics and public life”; and the Christian Action Network, which produced a documentary, titled Homegrown Jihad, featuring footage of activities inside terrorist training compounds throughout the United States. Neither the declared motives nor the public statements of these organizations call for any type of mistreatment of Muslims, but SPLC—convinced of its own ability to ascertain the hidden motives of its ideological adversaries—nonetheless maintains that “anti-Muslim” bigotry is the animating force that drives them.
Adhering to the theme of a profoundly hateful United States, SPLC charges that Latin American immigrants, who “perform some of the hardest, most dangerous jobs in our economy—for the least amount of pay,” are “routinely cheated out of their wages”; are “denied basic protections in the workplace”; are “subjected to racial profiling and harassment by law enforcement”; and are “increasingly targeted for violent hate crimes.” These trends, says SPLC, have been “encouraged” by “politicians and media figures” guilty of spreading “false propaganda that scapegoats immigrants for our nation’s problems and foments resentment and hate against them.” 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 assertions is any acknowledgment that it is illegal immigration that sits at the heart of the debate.
Condemning conservatives' supposedly mean-spirited “war on immigrants,” SPLC in 2011 was incensed by the Alabama legislature's passage of HB 56, which the Center dubbed an “anti-immigrant law” that sent “a destructive message of intolerance” to the state's “Latino residents.” Specifically, the law: (a) required Alabama police to try to determine a detainee's immigration status if there was “reasonable suspicion” that he was in the U.S. illegally; (b) barred illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits or attending publicly owned colleges; (c) prohibited the transporting or harboring of illegal immigrants; (d) forbade employers from knowingly hiring illegals; (e) criminalized the production of false identification documents; and (f) required voters to provide proof of citizenship when registering. By SPLC's reckoning, these positions were uniformly “hateful.”
SPLC derides the American Legion's opposition to illegal immigration and amnesty as “Legionnaires’ Disease”—even though the Legion fully supports opportunities for legal immigration. The Center similarly denounces the Minuteman Project—a nonviolent, volunteer, grassroots effort initiated by private American citizens seeking to restrict the flow of illegal border-crossers—as an organization whose ideals and tactics are rooted in “racism.” The Arizona-based American Border Patrol, which monitors traffic across Southeastern Arizona's border with Mexico—the heart of a major smuggling corridor—is classified as a “hate group” dominated by “anti-immigrant ideologues.” Americans for Immigration Control, which contends that illegal immigration is a “lawless” phenomenon that “puts the future of our country in jeopardy,” is branded an “anti-immigrant group.” And the Center reserves that same designation for NumbersUSA, which, while favoring “reductions in immigration numbers toward traditional levels,” explicitly rejects “hostile actions or feelings toward immigrant Americans” and declares that “illegal aliens deserve humane treatment even as they are detected, detained and deported.”
By contrast, SPLC 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 the National Council of La Raza, whose name literally means “The Race.” Hailed by SPLC research director Heidi Beirich as “a venerable civil-rights organization,” La Raza views virtually any opposition to amnesty and to government assistance for illegal immigrants as “a disgrace to American values.”
SPLC finds no fault with La Raza, even though the latter once gave money to a branch of MEChA, a “Chicano Students” organization that: (a) calls for the people and government of Mexico to annex the American Southwest; (b) explicitly refuses (in its founding manifestos) to recognize “capricious frontiers on the bronze continent [the United States]”; and (c) vows to repel the “brutal ‘gringo’ invasion of our territories.” Not even MEChA's slogan—which translates to “For the race, everything; Outside of the race, nothing”—draws the ire of SPLC. As Mark Potok puts it, “we have found no evidence to support charges that [MEChA] is racist or anti-Semitic.”
In late 2007, SPLC labeled the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)—which seeks to “improve border security” and “stop illegal immigration”—as a “hate group.” La Raza, in turn, exploited that “hate group” designation for use in its own “Stop the Hate” campaign, which it launched, on behalf of “undocumented immigrants,” soon after FAIR had played a key role in persuading members of the U.S. Senate to reject a sweeping immigration-reform proposal that would have created a pathway to amnesty and citizenship for millions of illegals. As part of “Stop the Hate,” La Raza president and CEO Janet Murguia cited SPLC’s designation and declared, “FAIR is a known, documented hate group.” Similarly, La Raza policy analyst Cecilia Munoz denounced the “wave of hate” underlying the anti-immigration-reform movement.
As the Center for Immigration Studies noted, the objective of “Stop the Hate” was “to have the other side shunned by the press, civil society, and elected officials,… destroy the reputations of its targets, [and] intimidate and coerce others into silence.” Mark Potok candidly confirmed this, saying: “What we are hoping very much to accomplish is to marginalize FAIR. We don’t think they should be a part of the mainstream media.”
To emphasize just how dangerous FAIR's rhetoric could be, SPLC announced, soon after commencing its “Stop the Hate” initiative, that “hate crimes targeting Latinos 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 crimes in the U.S. was 480, a fact that would have failed to advance the narrative of consistently rising levels of bigoted violence. Even more inconvenient was the fact that in 2001, there were 597 reported anti-Hispanic hate crimes—i.e., two more than in 2007, whose total allegedly represented the high point of an alarming trend.
The "Anti-Government" "Patriot Movement"
In the spring of 2013, SPLC issued a report asserting that there had recently been a dramatic proliferation of radical anti-government “Patriot” and militia groups which “believ[e] that the federal government is conspiring to take Americans’ guns and destroy their liberties as it paves the way for a global ‘one-world government.’” According to SPLC, the total number of such groups had skyrocketed from 149 in 2008 to 1,360 by 2012. The report attributed this trend to the fact that “for many, the election of America’s first black president [Barack Obama] symbolizes the country’s changing demographics, with the loss of its white majority predicted by 2043.” Further, the report speculated: “Now that comprehensive immigration reform is poised to legitimize and potentially accelerate the country’s demographic change, the backlash to that change may accelerate as well.”
Said SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok: “We are seeing a real and rising threat of domestic terrorism as the number of far-right anti-government groups continues to grow at an astounding pace. It is critically important that the country take this threat seriously. The potential for deadly violence is real, and clearly rising.”
One of SPLC's most highly touted initiatives is its Teaching Tolerance program, which works to “foster school environments that are inclusive and nurturing,” and to help teachers “prepare a new generation to live in a diverse world.” The program produces a biannual publication, Teaching Tolerance magazine, which reaches more than 400,000 educators nationwide, as well as multimedia teaching kits, online curricula, and professional development resources. All of these are provided to educators at no cost. The Teaching Tolerance lesson kits contain reading materials and suggested classroom activities designed to steer K-12 students toward the conclusion that America is an inequitable, racist, and sexist society. As such, they bear the unmistakable imprint of Morris Dees. Click here for examples of Teaching Tolerance's classroom lessons.
The Spring 1998 edition of Teaching Tolerance magazine featured an interview with former Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers, under the title “An Unconditional Embrace.” In the prologue to that interview, Ayers, who had become a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was described variously as “a highly respected figure in the field of multicultural education”; a man who “has developed a rich vision of teaching that interweaves passion, responsibility and self-reflection”; a professor who “helps aspiring teachers recognize and tap the potential of every child”; and someone who believes that “challenging stereotypes and reforming inner-city schools is as much about fighting for social justice as about improving the quality of teaching and learning.”
SPLC's Immense Wealth
In 1978, when SPLC's assets were below $10 million, Morris Dees pledged that as soon as that total 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 as SPLC's assets approached that figure, the organization in 1989 revised its estimate, stating that it would actually need to accumulate $100 million before it could finally “cease the costly and often unreliable task of fund raising.” As money continued to fill its coffers, the Center persisted in depicting itself as a cash-strapped organization working on a shoestring budget. In 1995, for instance, when SPLC had more than $60 million in cash reserves, it informed would-be donors that the “strain on our current operating budget is the greatest in our 25-year history.”
SPLC's endowment passed the $100 million plateau in the late 1990s, at which time the Center was spending about twice as much on fundraising as on legal services for victims of civil-rights violations. Yet even after reaching that lofty milestone and securing its status as the wealthiest civil-rights group in America, SPLC's obsession with fundraising did not diminish. In 2010 alone, the Center took in more than $36.1 million in contributions and grants, plus another $2.3 million in investment income. By the end of that fiscal year, its total assets amounted to $260,547,642. These funds were derived not only from many thousands of individual donors, but also from scores of charitable foundations. Among these are the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the Minneapolis Foundation, George Soros's Open Society Institute, the Ploughshares Fund, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Vanguard Public Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. To view a list of additional SPLC funders, click here.
Today, some 80% of SPLC's money is stockpiled in a massive endowment fund that is invested in a variety of mutual funds, hedge funds, and private equity funds, and is not used to bankroll civil-rights programs. Further, the Center has a bank account of undisclosed size in the Cayman Islands, a well-known tax haven.
An April 2013 exposé by the Weekly Standard shows that SPLC, in comparison to other nonprofit organizations, spends an inordinately high percentage of its revenues on salaries, overhead, and fundraising:
"CharityWatch (formerly the American Institute of Philanthropy), an independent organization that monitors and rates leading nonprofits for their fundraising efficiency, has consistently given the SPLC its lowest grade of 'F' (i.e., 'poor') for its stockpiling of assets far beyond what CharityWatch deems a reasonable reserve (three years’ worth of operating expenses) to tide it over during donation-lean years. But even if the SPLC weren’t sitting on an unspent $256 million, according to CharityWatch, it would still be a mediocre ('C+') performer among nonprofits. The SPLC’s 2011 tax filing reveals that the organization raised a total of $38.5 million from its donors that year but spent only $24.9 million on 'program services,' with the rest going to salaries, overhead, and fundraising. And even that 67 percent figure is somewhat inflated, according to CharityWatch, which notes that the SPLC takes advantage of an accounting rule that permits nonprofits to count some of their fundraising expenses as 'public education' if, for example, a mailer contains an informational component. CharityWatch, ignoring that accounting rule, maintains that only 60 percent—about $19 million—went to program services during the year in question.... Furthermore, the SPLC spends a relatively high $26 on fundraising (according to CharityWatch, $18 according to the SPLC) for every $100 that it manages to raise."
SPLC has accumulated its wealth mainly through the calculated maneuverings of Morris Dees, who has repeatedly tailored his fundraising tactics to suit the needs of the moment. The renowned anti-death-penalty lawyer (and former Dees associate) Millard Farmer points out, for instance, that the Center, at one point, largely stopped taking capital-punishment cases for fear that a visible opposition to the death penalty might alienate would-be donors. Similarly, Ken Silverstein notes that “in 1986, the Center's entire legal staff quit in protest of Dees's refusal to address issues—such as homelessness, voter registration, and affirmative action—that they considered far more pertinent to poor minorities, if far less marketable to affluent benefactors, than fighting the KKK.” In 2001, left-wing writer JoAnn Wypijewski wrote: “Hate sells; poor people don’t, which is why readers who go to the SPLC’s website will find only a handful of cases on such non-lucrative causes as fair housing, worker safety, or healthcare, many of those from the 1970s and 1980s.”
Whatever the specifics of a given case, SPLC's profits invariably dwarf those of its clients. Consider the $7 million judgment Dees won in 1987 against the United Klans of America (UKA) on behalf of Beulah Mae Donald, whose son Michael had been killed by two Klansmen. At the time, UKA's sole asset was a warehouse, the sale of which netted $51,875 for Mrs. Donald. The case was much more lucrative for SPLC, which raked in $9 million from subsequent fundraising solicitations built around Michael Donald's murder, including one solicitation that featured a photo of the young man's corpse. So profitable was the Michael Donald case, in fact, that as of 2010 the Center was still citing it in fundraising appeals.
Dees's fundraising tactics are as varied as they are creative. In a 1985 fundraising letter to zip codes where many Jewish residents lived, he made conspicuous use of his Jewish-sounding middle name, Seligman, in his signature at the end of the document. Attorney Tom Turnipseed, a former Dees associate, recounts how, on another occasion, Dees distributed a fundraising letter with “about six different stamps” affixed to the return envelope, so as to make it appear that “they had to cobble them all together to come up with 35 cents.” “Morris loves to raise money,” Turnipseed told Cox News Service. “Some of his gimmicks are just so transparent, but they’re good.”
“He's the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of the civil-rights movement,” attorney Millard Farmer says of Dees, “though I don't mean to malign Jim and Tammy Faye.” According to former SPLC legal fellow Pamela Summers, “What they are doing in the [SPLC] legal department is not done for the best interest of everybody [but] is done as though the sole, overriding goal is to make money. They’re drowning in their own affluence.” The Baltimore Sun characterizes SPLC's operations this way: “Its business is fundraising, and its success at raking in the cash is based on its ability to sell gullible people on the idea that present-day America is awash in white racism and anti-Semitism, which it will fight tooth-and-nail as the public interest law firm it purports to be.” Perhaps the strongest rebuke comes from Stephen Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, who in 1996 called Dees “a fraud and a con man,” deriding him for “your failure to respond to the most desperate needs of the poor and powerless despite your millions upon millions, your fund-raising techniques, the fact that you spend so much, accomplish so little, and promote yourself so shamelessly.”
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 a courageous foe of those vices. 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.”
 Cited by William Norman Grigg in The New American, April 12, 2005.
 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 (November/December 1998), p. 25.
 “Hiding Behind the Smoke,” Washington Post (June 18, 1996), p. A 13. “Indiana Man Admits to 50 Church Arsons,” The New York Times (February 24, 1999), p. A 18.
(Information on granters courtesy of The Foundation Center, GuideStar, ActivistCash, the Capital Research Center and Undue Influence)