The Los Angeles Times reports as a bylined (Paresh Dave) news story:
Founded in 1971, the Southern Poverty Law Center has been the leading watchdog of the extreme right, monitoring groups such as neo-Nazis, white nationalists, black separatists, Holocaust deniers and the patriot and militia movement.
In general, patriot and militia enthusiasts believe that the U.S. government is seeking to disarm them as a first step to destroying personal liberty and then turning the country over to foreigners seeking world domination.
There’s no skepticism of SPLC claims in the article. Who says the SPLC is the leading watchdog of the extreme right?
Jesse Walker wrote in 2010 for Reason magazine:
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which would paint a box of Wheaties as an extremist threat if it thought that would help it raise funds, has issued a new “intelligence report” announcing that “an astonishing 363 new Patriot groups appeared in 2009, with the totals going from 149 groups (including 42 militias) to 512 (127 of them militias) — a 244% jump.” To illustrate how dangerous these groups are, the Center cites some recent arrests of right-wing figures for planning or carrying out violent attacks. But it doesn’t demonstrate that any of the arrestees were a part of the Patriot milieu, and indeed it includes some cases involving racist skinheads, who are another movement entirely.
As far as the SPLC is concerned, though, skinheads and Birchers and Glenn Beck fans are all tied together in one big ball of scary. The group delights in finding tenuous ties between the tendencies it tracks, then describing its discoveries in as ominous a tone as possible…
The American Spectator notes that many of the groups in the SPLC’s count are basically innocuous, and that’s certainly a point worth making. But there’s another important question: To what extent does this increase in groups represent an actual increase in activists? Given the past year’s surge in right-wing protest, I would expect the Patriot milieu to grow along with everything else. But I’d also expect a lot of those new bodies to get involved in more than one organization simultaneously. The SPLC’s list includes militias, third parties, local chapters of the Oath Keepers and the John Birch Society — there’s plenty of room for overlap here. Note also that if a group splinters into two or more pieces, that probably indicates that it’s getting weaker, but the faction fight will show up as growth if all you’re counting is the number of organizations on the ground. So when the SPLC finds 15 chapters of six different militias in Indiana, does that mean more people want to join paramilitary organizations? Or does it mean the militiamen can’t get along?
A black Political Science professor (Carol M. Swain) writes:
In case you missed the story, last November 4th a polling precinct in Philadelphia, PA was patrolled by an organization called the New Black Panther Party, a Marxist group that in 2000, was listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a racial hate group. Video footage shot in 2008, show Black Panther precinct workers intimidating white voters. This was covered by the news organizations, and resulted in charges being filed by the Bush Department of Justice, whose job it is to defend and protect the voting rights of all Americans.
What should have been an open and shut case has become something more troubling, after the Eric Holder-led Justice Department dropped charges against the Black Panthers, who supported President Obama. Currently, this decision to drop the charges, is being challenged by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, (an organization with which I am affiliated).
Now this is the part where things really get interesting.
The SPLC has been mum on the issue, despite the fact that in 2000, it included the New Black Panther Party among its annual list of hate groups. In fact, what is most shocking is that the SPLC has spent far more resources hounding conservative organizations, such as the Center for Immigration Studies, and prominent citizens like CNN’s award-winning anchor Lou Dobbs, than it has protecting the civil rights of American voters, which includes white people as well as black. The unrelenting attacks on Mr. Dobbs and others are shameless. The once venerable organization wages war against conservative individuals, principles, and organizations. How unfortunate for America. How unfortunate for the organization’s founders.
There is a name for what has happened. It is called “mission creep.” Mission creep occurs when an organization strays beyond its original purpose and engages in actions antithetical to its goals. Rather than monitoring hate groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center has become one.
Ken Silverstein writes for Harpers: “I’ve written in the past on various occasions about Morris Dees, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the bogus “civil rights organization” whose chief (and wildly successful) mission has been to separate wealthy liberals from their money. Last time I checked, the SPLC had more than $150 million in its treasury, more than the GNP of some of the world’s smaller countries, yet it did very little work to advance civil rights or fight poverty.”
Here’s a letter by Stephen Bright, an Atlanta-based civil rights and anti-death penalty attorney, turning down an invitation to an event that honored Morris Dees, head of the SPLC.
Kenneth C. Randall, Dean and
Thomas L. McMillan, Professor of Law
School of Law
University of Alabama
249 Law Center
101 Paul W. Bryan Drive
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0382
Dear Dean Randall:
Thank you very much for the invitation to speak at the law school’s commencement in May. I am honored by the invitation, but regret that I am not able to accept it due to other commitments at that time.
I also received the law school’s invitation to the presentation of the “Morris Dees Justice Award,” which you also mentioned in your letter as one of the “great things” happening at the law school. I decline that invitation for another reason. Morris Dees is a con man and fraud, as I and others, such as U.S. Circuit Judge Cecil Poole, have observed and as has been documented by John Egerton, Harper’s, the Montgomery Advertiser in its “Charity of Riches” series, and others.
The positive contributions Dees has made to justice–most undertaken based upon calculations as to their publicity and fund raising potential–are far overshadowed by what Harper’s described as his “flagrantly misleading” solicitations for money. He has raised millions upon millions of dollars with various schemes, never mentioning that he does not need the money because he has $175 million and two “poverty palace” buildings in Montgomery. He has taken advantage of naive, well-meaning people–some of moderate or low incomes–who believe his pitches and give to his $175-million operation. He has spent most of what they have sent him to raise still more millions, pay high salaries, and promote himself. Because he spends so much on fund raising, his operation spends $30 million a year to accomplish less than what many other organizations accomplish on shoestring budgets.
The award does not recognize the work of others by associating them with Dees; it promotes Dees by associating him with the honorees. Both the law school and Skadden are diminished by being a part of another Dees scam.
Again, thank you for the invitation to participate in your commencement. I wish you and the law school the very best.
Stephen B. Bright
cc: Morris Dees
Dees award committee
By Ken Silverstein — Harper’s Magazine, November 2000
How the Southern Poverty Law Center profits from intolerance
Ah, tolerance. Who could be against something so virtuous? And who could object to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Montgomery, Alabama-based group that recently sent out this heartwarming yet mildly terrifying appeal to raise money for its “Teaching Tolerance” program, which prepares educational kits for schoolteachers? Cofounded in 1971 by civil rights lawyer cum direct-marketing millionaire Morris Dees, a leading critic of “hate groups” and a man so beatific that he was the subject of a made-for-TV movie, the SPLC spent much of its early years defending prisoners who faced the death penalty and suing to desegregate all-white institutions like Alabama’s highway patrol. That was then.
Today, the SPLC spends most of its time–and money–on a relentless fund-raising campaign, peddling memberships in the church of tolerance with all the zeal of a circuit rider passing the collection plate. “He’s the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of the civil rights movement,” renowned anti- death-penalty lawyer Millard Farmer says of Dees, his former associate, “though I don!t mean to malign Jim and Tammy Faye.” The Center earned $44 million last year alone–$27 million from fund-raising and $17 million from stocks and other investments–but spent only $13 million on civil rights program , making it one of the most profitable charities in the country.
The Ku Klux Klan, the SPLC’s most lucrative nemesis, has shrunk from 4 million members in the 1920s to an estimated 2,000 today, as many as 10 percent of whom are thought to be FBI informants
. But news of a declining Klan does not make for inclining donations to Morris Dees and Co., which is why the SPLC honors nearly every nationally covered “hate crime” with direct-mail alarums full of nightmarish invocations of “armed Klan paramilitary forces” and “violent neo-Nazi extremists,” and why Dees does legal battle almost exclusively with mediagenic villains-like Idaho’s arch-Aryan Richard Butler-eager to show off their swastikas for the news cameras.
In 1987, Dees won a $7 million judgment against the United Klans of America on behalf of Beulah Mae Donald, whose son was lynched by two Klansmen. The UKA’s total assets amounted to a warehouse whose sale netted Mrs. Donald $51,875. According to a groundbreaking series of newspaper stories in the Montgomery Advertiser, the SPLC, meanwhile, made $9 million from fund-raising solicitations featuring the case, including one containing a photo of Michael Donald’s corpse.
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.
No faith healing or infomercial would be complete without a moving testimonial. The student from whose tears this white schoolteacher learned her lesson is identified only as a child of color. “Which race,” we are assured, “does not matter.” Nor apparently does the specific nature of “the racist acts directed at him,” nor the race of his schoolyard tormentors. All that matters, in fact, is the race of the teacher and those expiating tears. “I wept with him, feeling for once, the depth of his hurt,” she confides. “His tears washed away the film that had distorted my white perspective of the world.” Scales fallen from her eyes, what action does this schoolteacher propose? What Gandhi-like disobedience will she undertake in order to “reach real peace in the world”? She doesn’t say but instead speaks vaguely of acting out against “the pain.” In the age of Oprah and Clinton, empathy–or the confession thereof–is an end in itself.
Any good salesman knows that a products “value” is a highly mutable quality with little relation to actual worth, and Morris Dees-who made millions hawking, by direct mail, such humble commodities as birthday cakes, cookbooks (including Favorite Recipes of American Home Economics Teachers), tractor seat cushions, rat poison, and, in exchange for a mailing list containing 700,000 names, presidential candidate George McGovern-is nothing if not a good salesman. So good in fact that in 1998 the Direct Marketing Association inducted him into its Hall of Fame. “I learned everything I know about hustling from the Baptist Church,” Dees has said. “Spending Sundays on those hard benches listening to the preacher pitch salvation-why, it was like getting a Ph.D. in selling.” Here, Dr. Dees (the letter’s nominal author) masterfully transforms, with a mere flourish of hyperbole, an education kit available “at cost” for $30 on the SPLC website into “a $325 value.”
This is one of the only places in this letter where specific races are mentioned. Elsewhere, Dees and his copywriters, deploying an arsenal of passive verbs and vague abstractions, have sanitized the usually divisive issue of race of its more disturbing elements-such as angry black people-and for good reason: most SPLC donors are white. Thus, instead of concrete civil rights issues like housing discrimination and racial profiling, we get “communities seething with racial violence.” Instead of racially biased federal sentencing laws, or the disparity between poor predominantly black schools and affluent white ones, or the violence against illegals along the Mexican border, the SPLC gives us “intolerance against those who are different,” turning bigotry into a color-blind, equal-opportunity sin. It’s reassuring to know that “Caucasians” are no more and no less guilty of this sin than African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics. In the eyes of Morris Dees, we’re all sinners, all victims, and all potential contributors.
Morris Dees doesn’t need your financial support. The SPLC is already the wealthiest civil rights group in America, though this letter quite naturally omits that fact. Other solicitations have been more flagrantly misleading. One pitch, sent out in 1995-when the Center had more than $60 million in reserves-informed would-be donors that the “strain on our current operating budget is the greatest in our 25-year history.” Back in 1978, when the Center had less than $10 million, Dees promised that his organization would quit fund-raising and live off interest as soon as its endowment hit $55 million. But as it approached that figure, the SPLC upped the bar to $100 million, a sum that, one 1989 newsletter promised, would allow the Center “to cease the costly and often unreliable task of fund raising. ” Today, the SPLC’s treasury bulges with $120 million, and it spends twice as much on fund-raising-$5.76 million last year-as it does on legal services for victims of civil rights abuses. The American Institute of Philanthropy gives the Center one of the worst ratings of any group it monitors, estimating that the SPLC could operate for 4.6 years without making another tax-exempt nickel from its investments or raising another tax-deductible cent from well-meaning “people like you.”
The SPLC’s “other important work justice” consists mainly in spying on private citizens who belong to “hate groups,” sharing its files with law-enforcement agencies, and suing the most prominent of these groups for crimes committed independently by their members-a practice that, however seemingly justified, should give civil libertarians pause. The legal strategy employed by Dees could have put the Black Panther Party out of business or bankrupted the New England Emigrant Aid Company in retaliation for crimes committed by John Brown. What the Center’s other work for justice does not include is anything that might be considered controversial by donors. According to Millard Farmer, the Center largely stopped taking death-penalty cases for fear that too visible an opposition to capital punishment would scare off potential contributors. 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. Another lawyer, Gloria Browne, who resigned a few years later, told reporters that the Center’s programs were calculated to cash in on “black pain and white guilt.” Asked in 1994 if the SPLC itself, whose leadership consists almost entirely of white men, was in need of an affirmative action policy, Dees replied that “probably the most discriminated people in America today are white men when it comes to jobs.”
Contributors to Teaching Tolerance might be surprised to learn how little of the SPLC’s reported educational spending actually goes to education. In response to lobbying by charities, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants in 1987 began allowing nonprofits to count part of their fundraising costs as “educational” so long as their solicitations contained an informational component. On average, the SPLC classifies an estimated 47 percent of the fund-raising letters that it sends out every year as educational, including many that do little more than instruct potential donors on the many evils of “militant right-wing extremists” and the many splendid virtues of Morris Dees. According to tax documents, of the $10. 8 million in educational spending the SPLC reported in 1999, $4 million went to solicitations. Another $2.4 million paid for stamps.
In the early 1960s, Morris Dees sat on the sidelines honing his direct-marketing skills and practicing law while the civil rights movement engulfed the South. “Morris and I…shared the overriding purpose of making a pile of money,” recalls Dees’s business partner, a lawyer named Millard Fuller (not to be confused with Millard Farmer). “We were not particular about how we did it; we just wanted to be independently rich.” They were so unparticular, in fact, that in 1961 they defended a man, guilty of beating up a journalist covering the Freedom Riders, whose legal fees were paid by the Klan. (“I felt the anger of a black person for the first time,” Dees later wrote of the case. “I vowed then and there that nobody would ever again doubt where I stood.”) In 1965, Fuller sold out to Dees, donated the money to charity, and later started Habitat for Humanity. Dees bought a 200-acre estate appointed with tennis courts, a pool, and stables, and, in 1971, founded the SPLC, where his compensation has risen in proportion to fund-raising revenues, from nothing in the early seventies to $273,000 last year. A National Journal survey of salaries paid to the top officers of advocacy groups shows that Dees earned more in 1998 than nearly all of the seventy-eight listed, tens of thousands more than the heads of such groups as the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Children’s Defense Fund. The more money the SPLC receives, the less that goes to other civil rights organizations, many of which, including the NAACP, have struggled to stay out of bankruptcy. Dees’s compensation alone amounts to one quarter the annual budget of the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights, which handles several dozen death-penalty cases a year. “You are a fraud and a conman,” the Southern Center’s director, Stephen Bright, wrote in a 1996 letter to Dees, and proceeded to list his many reasons for thinking so, which included “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.” Soon the SPLC win move into a new six-story headquarters in downtown Montgomery, just across the street from its current headquarters, a building known locally as the Poverty Palace.
Karen DeCoster wrote:
“Hate-watching” has become an enterprising sport in America. As so-called hate-watch groups and organizations spring up all across the country, they are venerated for their courage and unwavering defense of minority classes. They are touted as the great overseers of the civil rights granted to minorities by government.
For persons and organizations that wish to become powerful and recognizable to mainstream America, hate-watching is a clever way to earn a secure living. They can do so under the false flag of protecting minority identity and opportunity, though crying hate has become the call to arms for the protected classes against traditional culture.
Who are the true intolerants? Are they fervent Christians? Or is it the so-called watchdog groups that profit from the anger and backlash of protected classes who are themselves strangled by government policies?
The most notable of such prevaricators is the not-so-impecunious Southern Poverty Law Center, headed by lawyer Morris Dees. Mr. Dees is a leftist icon of sorts. He manages to reap gorgeous profits from his not-for-profit business through website terrorism and hyper-emotional junk-mail campaigns.
The SPLC is the lead aggressor against right-wing organizations that are ideologically unappealing to Mr. Dees and his fellow intolerants. What SPLC does is use its government-approved coercive powers to ruin businesses, smear reputations, and try to force people to participate in their farcical diversity movement through “monitoring,” while exposing alleged fascists, white-supremicists, and even (gasp!) pro-Confederates.
These accusations are gathered in the SPLC’s Intelligence Report, a scuttlebutt rag that generates severe intolerance against any ideological group that doesn’t agree with its pinko views. One of the latest hits from the Intelligence Report has been directed toward the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Auburn, Alabama, an educational organization dedicated to Austrian economics and classical liberalism. Such dedicated passions toward education and the advancement of intellectual spirit apparently are not sanctioned by the SPLC’s intolerant bunch.
Another organization that has come under fire is the League of the South, an organization inspired by the political theory of self-government, especially with regard to local rule. As if smearing the Mises Institute and the League of the South weren’t enough, the SPLC attempts to link the two, in effect, implying that any educational institution in the South with libertarian-like views must be composed of Confederate sympathizers, and therefore, is racist and hate-filled.
Victimology is an art at SPLC. The past deeds of Morris Dees sensationalize race relations and patriotic uprisings, while encouraging deep fear in individuals who see themselves as victims of an unfair political system. Without producing this fear and victimological thinking, the center could not possibly raise the huge funds necessary to such a tireless spy machine.
The SPLC is exactly such a machine, in fact. It is also a newspeak machine that does not use logical reasoning or philosophical arguments to make its case, but rather, emotional attacks that bait the weak-minded, and seduce those looking for monetary “justice.”
Organizations like the SPLC are empowered by government agencies in the civil rights sector, and they are supported by a leftist media that allows them unchallenged on-air exposures of purported right-wing intolerance groups.
HBO recently ran a cable special entitled Hate.com: Extremists, which focused on internet groups that don’t fall within the tolerance guidelines set forth by hate-watchers. Of course, Mr. Dees and his Intelligence Report editor Mark Potok took center stage in this documentary, pointing out how extremist, right-wing America, with the famed Turner Diaries as its bible, advances the cause of white people and terrorizes oppressed minorities.
It’s interesting how the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP) gets flagged for hate, while the NAACP is a perfectly legit organization.
The SPLC seems to take special pride in the fact that it can use tolerance education as the carrot, and draw upon its Northern liberal junk-mail base for its attack on all the evils of “extremist” America.
Throughout the HBO piece, Messrs. Potok and Dees appear against an impressive backdrop of stately bookshelves in fancy offices. However, when a self-styled racist appears on screen, his backdrop is the SPLC’s favorite target: the Confederate flag. This is a purposeful attempt, of course, to smear the symbol of the noble causes of Southern secession and personal liberty.
The HBO documentary treats religious-based organizations in such a way as to propagate the notion that all hardcore religious activism is “Aryan” in temperament, excessive, and therefore dangerous to non-whites.
It is interesting to note how the SPLC also includes patriot groups in the Intelligence Report. This is due to the fact that such groups “advocate or adhere to extreme anti-government doctrines,” and this undermines the State worship that makes people like Mr. Dees opulent by way of the multicultural-tolerance issue. One must remember that it was the Oklahoma bombing that put the SPLC propaganda machine on the map.
In fact, SPLC must have licked its chops after Oklahoma City, as they stormed into Michigan — a state known for citizen militias — and set up camp for the enduring attack on patriotic movements. Mr. Dees was as familiar to many Americans during this ordeal as was Dan Rather. One can almost say that Dees was to Oklahoma City what Wolf Blitzer was to the Persian Gulf.
Now the SPLC takes it on the road, as Dees travels about the country preaching his brand of liberality. He often speaks before college audiences, where supple minds are ripe for feel-good altruism.
This man works to gain the trust of young people by displaying the evils of admitted racist organizations that have a tiny number of adherents. Mr. Dees then proceeds to propagate the notion that conservative organizations —- particularly those that are pro-gun or anti-government — pose the same dangers, and thus, must be impeded.
The seeds of multiculturalism are planted in all forms of the media, and the harvest of fear and anger is in full growth. Accordingly, the nobility of the cause of liberty is buried beneath the scare tactics that associate virtuous symbols and causes with loathing and intolerance. For that reason, the professional hate-watchers are the profiteers of divisiveness.
Kevin Michael Grace wrote:
In Morris Dees’ America, night is always falling. It is a nation of ceaseless cross-burnings and lynchings, where minorities cower endlessly in fear, waiting helplessly for the next assault from the Klan, skinheads, the League of the South, Thomas Fleming, Samuel Francis and Chronicles, Peter Brimelow and VDare.com, David Horowitz and the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, the American Enterprise Institute . . . The American Enterprise Institute? Surely there must be some mistake. Not at all…
Clearly, by 1994, even the SPLC realized there was no longer much to fear from the KKK, that tiny band of bedraggled and government-infiltrated losers. Even so, according to the SPLC’s most recent The Year in Hate, “Buoyed by rising numbers of Skinhead and Klan groups, the American radical right staged something of a comeback last year, following a tumultuous period that saw the destruction or hobbling of some of the nation’s leading hate groups.”
So what is the connection between AEI and some of the nation’s leading hate groups? Well, you see, AEI “in recent years has sponsored scholars whose views are seen by many as bigoted or even racist.” You have to love that passive verb, seen. For example? “For example, Dinesh D’Souza.” He holds a fellowship there and also holds heterodox opinions on the civil-rights movement. (You might think that D’Souza shopping Samuel Francis to save his own skin and getting him fired from the Washington Times would score him points with the SPLC, but apparently not.) More “controversial” still is AEI fellow Charles Murray, who wrote The Bell Curve, which cites research funded by the “racist” Pioneer Fund. Why is the Pioneer Fund “racist”? Because it endorses the idea of racial differences. It is a commonplace today for those that believe in the very idea of race to be condemned as “racist,” although it is hard to understand how such a thing as “racism” could exist in the absence of races…
The technique it uses to ferret out those “seen” as “racists” is one well known to aficionados of conspiracy theory: “consanguinity.” As the old song put it, “I danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales.” Or as Thomas Fleming put it, “If Congressman Tom Tancredo or [American Conservative executive editor] Scott McConnell has ever met anyone who met anyone who took money from the Pioneer Fund, they must be bigots.” By this measure, every person and organization to the right of the Southern Poverty Law Center is beyond the pale—which is precisely the point. Consanguinity is self-evidently a shoddy logical tool. Not so long ago, those on the right who employed it were accused of “McCarthyism.” Police departments and schools, however, make use of Dees’ smears and “Teaching Tolerance” materials. In 2001, Dees was the recipient of the National Education Association’s highest honor, the Friend of Education Award. And whenever any credulous member of the media wants the lowdown on “hate,” he gives the SPLC a call.
Other SPLC bête noires include “neo-Confederates”; Pat Buchanan; the Bradley, Olin, and Scaife Foundations; the Free Congress Foundation; the Council of Conservative Citizens; the Ludwig von Mises Institute; and the New Century Foundation, publisher of American Renaissance.
Those added to the SPLC’s enemies list are inclined to consider it a rather higher honor than any NEA gong. David Horowitz, however, was mortified. Horowitz was added for his opposition to reparations for slavery. Two howls of protest were published on Horowitz’s website, FrontPageMag.com. His own cri de coeur was an open letter to Morris Dees, which begged him not to lump him in with the real bad guys:
“You’ve made yourself a national reputation as a fighter against hate groups. Recently, however, you released a report called “Into the Mainstream” by a leftwing conspiracy theorist named Chip Berlet, which purports to show how “right wing foundations and think tanks support efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respectable.” This report is so tendentious, so filled with transparent misrepresentations and smears that if you continue to post the report you will create for your Southern Poverty Law Center a well-earned reputation as a hate group itself.”
Where has Horowitz been? It is an old story: First, they came for the Pioneer Fund, and I did not speak out because I was not a eugenicist . . .
Movie buffs will recall that a TV movie was made about Dees. “Line of Fire: The Morris Dees Story” was released in 1991. In a delicious irony, this hagiography starred Corbin Bernsen, best remembered as the slimy lawyer Arnie Becker from L.A. Law.
Steve Sailer wrote:
Scam Watch — By the way, the Southern Poverty Law Center is on the official Scam Watch of iSteve.com. See Ken Silverstein’s Harper’s article “The Church of Morris Dees: How the Southern Poverty Law Center profits from intolerance” for the basics on Morris Dees’ money machine. And here’s leftist Alexander Cockburn’s column on the SPLC’s money-hungry machinations.
Lately, as Morris’s moneymaking ambitions have expanded, he has turned to attacking people of the quality of Richard Lamm, the Democratic former three term governor of Colorado. I’m proud to be on Gov. Lamm’s side of the ethical chasm between him and Mr. Dees, a member of the Direct Marketing Association Hall of Fame.
Here’s something important I hadn’t seen before: the revealing statement of Jim Tharpe, the Deputy Metro Editor of the Atlanta Constitution, which he made during a Harvard panel discussion about his experience editing a massive Pulitzer-finalist investigative series on the Southern Poverty Law Center during his days at the Montgomery Advertiser:
I’d never done any reporting on nonprofits, I thought they were all good guys, they were mom-and-pop, bake-sale, raise-money-for-the-local-fire-department type operations. I had no idea how sophisticated they were, how much money they raised, and how little access you have to them as a reporter, some of which has already been covered here.
Summary of Findings
Our series was published in 1995 after three years of very brutal research under the threat of lawsuit the entire time.
Our findings were essentially these:
The [Southern Poverty Law] center was building up 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 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.
A sampling of their donors showed that they had no idea of the center’s wealth. The charity watchdog groups, the few that are in existence, had consistently criticized the center, even though nobody had reported that.
There was a problem with black employees at what was the nation’s richest civil rights organization; there were no blacks in the 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.
We also found some questionable fundraising tactics. One of the most celebrated cases the center handled was the case of a young black man, Michael Donald, who was killed by Klansmen in Mobile, Alabama, and his body suspended from a tree, a very grotesque killing. The state tried the people responsible for the murder and several of them ended up on death row, a couple ended up getting life in prison.
The center, after that part of the case took place, sued the Klan organization to which they belonged and won a $7 million verdict. It was a very celebrated verdict in this country. 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 C enter 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. I think it was called, “The Morris Dees Story.” [Actually, "Line of Fire: The Morris Dees Story" with, appropriately enough, Corbin Bernsen (who played sleazy lawyer Arnie Becker on "LA Law") as Morris.]
As I said, being the editor on this series really raised my eyebrows. I never knew anything about nonprofits before this. I thought we would have complete access to their financial records; we didn’t. We had access to 990’s, which Doug mentioned earlier, which tell you very little, but they are a good starting point.
Organizations Monitor Nonprofits
I also learned that there are organizations out there that monitor nonprofits. A couple of these that might be worth your time are the National Charities Information Bureau, the American Institute of Philanthropy, and the Charities Division of the Better Business Bureau. They have rather loose guidelines, I think, for the way nonprofits operated, and even with those guidelines, they had blasted the center repeatedly for spending too little on programs, for the number of minorities in management positions, just very basic stuff that they’d been criticized for but nobody had reported.
The relationship with sources on this story was pretty interesting, because like I said, most of these people were our friends, and as somebody mentioned earlier, these were the disillusioned faithful. They were people who didn’t resign. As I said, most of their jobs simply ran out, but they left the center very disillusioned and very willing to talk about it, although most of them wanted to talk off the record.
That presented a number of problems for us. We did not publish anything in the series unless it was attributed to somebody, but we went beyond that. I think if we had stuck with that tack as the only thing we did in the series, we would have ended up with people at the center could have easily dismissed as disgruntled employees.
By looking at 990’s, what few financial records we did have available, we were able to corroborate much of that information, many of the allegations they had made, the fact that the center didn’t spend very much of its money that it took in on programs, the fact that some of the top people at the center were paid very high salaries, the fact that there weren’t minorities in management positions at the center.
If I had advice for anybody looking into a nonprofit it would be this: It’s the most tenacious story. You have to be more tenacious in your pursuit of these things than anything else I’ve ever been a part of. These guys threatened us with a lawsuit from the moment we asked to look at their financial records.
They were very friendly and cooperative, up until the point where we said, “We want to see the checks you write,” and they turned over their 990’s and said, “Come look at these.” We said, “We don’t want to see those, we know what those are and we’ve seen them. We actually want to see the checks you write,” and they said, “Well, there’s 23,000 checks we’ve written over two years, you don’t possibly have time to look through all those,” and we said, “Yes, we do, and we’ll hire an auditor to do it.”
First Threats, Eventually No Response to Questions
At that point, they hired an independent attorney. They’re all lawyers, you’ve got to understand. They hired an attorney who began first by threatening me, then my editor, and then the publisher. “And you better be careful of the questions you ask and the stories you come up with,” and they would cite the libel law to us. So we were under threat of lawsuit for two years, basically, during the research phase of the series.
They initially would answer our questions in person, as long as they could tape-record it. After we asked about finances, they wanted the questions written down and sent to them in advance, and then finally they said, “We’re tired of you guys, we’re not answering anything else,” and they completely cut us off.
We published the series over eight days in 1994, and it had very little effect, actually. I think the center now raises more money than it ever has. [Laughter]
The story really didn’t get out of Montgomery and that’s a real problem. The center’s donors are not in Montgomery; the center’s donors are in the Northeast and on the West Coast. So the story pretty much was contained in Montgomery where it got a shrug-of-the-shoulders reaction. We really didn’t get much reaction at all, I’m sad to say.
One of our editorial writers had an interesting comment on it. I think he stole it from somebody else, but his comment was this: “They came to do good and they’ve done quite well for themselves, and they’ve done even better since the series was published.” I’m not sure what the lesson in that is, but don’t assume because a nonprofit has a sterling reputation it’s not worth looking into, and don’t assume when you start looking into it that it’s going to be easy to get the information, because it’s not.
Alexander Cockburn wrote:
What is the arch-salesman of hate-mongering, Mr. Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center doing now? He’s saying that the election of a black president proves his point. Hate is on the rise! Send money!
Without skipping a beat, the mailshot moguls, who year after year make money selling the notion there’s been a right resurgence out there in the hinterland with massed legions of haters, have used the election of a black president to say that, yes, hate is on the rise and America ready to burst apart at the seams, with millions of extremists primed to march down Main Street draped in Klan robes, a copy of Mein Kampf tucked under one arm and a Bible under the other, available for sneak photographs from minions of Chip Berlet, another salesman of the Christian menace, ripely endowed with millions to battle the legions of the cross.
Ever since 1971 US Postal Service mailbags have bulged with Dees’ fundraising letters, scaring dollars out of the pockets of trembling liberals aghast at his lurid depictions of hate-sodden America, in dire need of legal confrontation by the SPLC. Nine years ago Ken Silverstein wrote a devastating commentary on Dees and the SPLC in Harpers, dissecting a typical swatch of Dees’ solicitations. At that time, as Silverstein pointed out, the SPLC was “the wealthiest civil rights group in America,” with $120 million in assets.
As of October 2008 the net assets of the SPLC were $170,240,129, The merchant of hate himself, Mr. Dees, was paid an annual $273,132 as chief trial counsel, and the SPLC’s president and CEO, Richard Cohen, $290,193. Total revenue in 2007 was $44,727,257 and program expenses $20,804,536. In other words, the Southern Poverty Law Center was raising twice as much as it was spending on its proclaimed mission. Fund-raising and administrative expenses accounted for $9 million, leaving $14 million to be put in the center’s vast asset portfolio.
The 990 non profit tax record for the SPLC indicates that the assets fell by about $50 million last year, meaning that like almost all non profits the SPLC took a bath in the stock crash. So what was thr end result of all that relentless hoarding down the year, as people of modest means, scared by Dees, sent him their contributions. Were they put to good use? It doesn’t seem so. They vanished in an electronic blip.
But where are the haters? That hardy old stand-by, the KKK, despite the SPLC’s predictable howls about an uptick in its chapters, is a moth-eaten and depleted troupe, at least 10 per cent of them on the government payroll as informants for the FBI. As Noel Ignatiev once remarked in his book Race Traitor, there isn’t a public school in any county in the USA that doesn’t represent a menace to blacks a thousand times more potent than that offered by the KKK, just as there aren’t many such schools that probably haven’t been propositioned by Dees to buy one of the SPLC’s “tolerance” programs. What school is going to go on record rejecting Dees-sponsored tolerance?
Dees and his hate-seekers scour the landscape for hate like the arms manufacturers inventing new threats and for the same reason: it’s their staple.
The SPLC’s latest “Year in Hate” report claims that “in 2008 the number of hate groups rose to 926, up 4 per cent from 2007, and 54 per cent since 2000.” The SPLC doesn’t measure the number of members in the groups, meaning they probably missed me. Change that total to 927. I’m a hate group, meaning in Dees-speak, “one with beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people,” starting with Dick Cheney. I love to dream of him being water-boarded, subjected to loops of Schonberg played at top volume, locked up naked in a meat locker. But the nation’s haters are mostly like me, enjoying their (increasingly circumscribed) constitutionally guaranteed right to hate, solitary, disorganized, prone to sickening relapses into love, or at least the sort of amiable tolerance for All Mankind experienced when looking at photos of Carla Bruni and Princess Letizia of Spain kissing.
The effective haters are big, powerful easily identifiable entities. Why is Dees fingering militia men in a potato field in Idaho when we have identifiable, well-organized groups which the SPLC could take on. To cite reports from the Urban League, and United for a Fair Economy, minorities are more than three times as likely to hold high-cost subprime loans, foisted on them by predatory lenders, meaning the big banks; “all black and latino subprime borrowers could stand to lose between $164 billion and $213 billion for loans taken during the past eight years.”
Get those bankers and big mortgage touts into court, chief counsel Dees! How about helping workers fired by people who hate anyone trying to organize a union? What about defending immigrants rounded up in ICE raids? How about attacking the roots of southern poverty, and the system that sustains that poverty as expressed in the endless prisons and Death Rows across the south, disproportionately crammed with blacks and Hispanics?
You fight theatrically, the Dees way, or you fight substantively, like Stephen Bright, who makes only $11,000 as president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights. The center’s director makes less than $50,000. It has net assets of a bit over $4.5 million and allocates about $1.6 million a year for expenses, 77 percent of its annual revenue. Bright’s outfit is basically dedicated to two things: prison litigation and the death penalty. He fights the system, case by case. Not the phony targets mostly tilted at by Dees but the effective, bipartisan, functional system of oppression, far more deadly and determined than the SPLC’s tin-pot hate groups. Tear up your check to Dees and send it to Bright,( http://www.schr.org/) or to the Institute for Southern Studies (http://www.southernstudies.org.html) run by Chris Kromm, which has been doing brilliant spadework on the economy, on poverty and on exploitation in the south for four decades.
Pigs, Cows, Sheep, Bison: Meat and the March of Empire
As Mexico reels from the swine flu panic, there’s angry talk of the disastrous impact on that country of North American methods of intensive livestock production. The initial swine flu deaths came near the huge pig factories in the state of Veracruz, owned by Granjas Carroll, a subsidiary of Smithfield Farms, centered in North Carolina and now expanding into Eastern Europe. Intensive pork production in North Carolina in the 1990s sponsored the emergence of the H1N1 swine flu virus in 1998, the year North Carolina’s pig population hit ten million, up from two million just six years earlier, achieved by cramming 25 times more pigs into each factory, each one a stinking nightmare to the people living nearby.
In our latest newsletter I visit the world that intensive livestock raising has made, from the Valle in Mexico destroyed by Spanish sheep ranching in the 16th century, to the trashed landscapes of Texas and California today. In the same brilliant issue Steven Higgs probes the safety of nanotechnologies. Moms, hold that nano-toy, and that nano make-up! And Senator Jim Abourezk looks back on the occupation of Wounded Knee, and the role he played.
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