In 1994, the Montgomery Advertiser reported that the Southern Poverty Law Center was a toxic atmosphere for its black employees, who said they “felt threatened and banded together.” At the time, SPLC co-founder Morris Dees pooh-poohed the report, claiming that the “most discriminated people in America today are white men when it comes to jobs.” This month, SPLC employees notified management that “allegations of mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism threaten the moral authority of this organization and our integrity along with it.” Dees, 82, was fired.
By any fair or rigorous standard, it’s difficult to impugn Dees’s character based on either the old charge of racial discrimination or the current, still-vague allegations. But Dees’s leadership of the SPLC has done enough to impugn his character, and by the SPLC’s own standard, both incidents could be enough to designate the organization a “hate group.” Far from being a nonpartisan watchdog genuinely dedicated to exposing racism and extremism, the SPLC has spent recent decades stoking fear and hostility for fun and funds. That is Dees’s legacy as he departs.
The SPLC’s estrangement from its former moral authority is an open secret. Yale law professor Stephen Bright, former director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, told the Los Angeles Times that “Morris is a flimflam man and he’s managed to flimflam his way along for many years raising money by telling people about the Ku Klux Klan and hate groups,” he said. “He sort of goes to whatever will sell and has, of course, brought in millions and millions and millions of dollars.” SPLC assets reached $477 million in 2017.
Hate groups, in Dees’s junk-mail pitches, are forever on the march, always growing, always metastasizing in sinister new ways. These fears were built on smears: Dees would make ever more absurd claims about right-leaning individuals and groups, labeling scholars and intellectuals such as Charles Murray, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Christina Hoff Sommers soldiers of hatred to attract publicity, which in turn would stoke the fundraising furnace. The Center for Immigration Studies and the Alliance Defending Freedom were absurdly designated hate groups, as was the Family Research Council for its traditional views on gay marriage. In 2012 a shooter who picked his target off the SPLC’s “hate map” marched into FRC’s offices and shot an unarmed security guard.
The SPLC hustle has become so brazen, the group was lately starting to receive skeptical coverage even from left-leaning media outlets. Last year, liberal Muslim Maajid Nawaz sued the SPLC for calling him an “anti-Muslim extremist.” It settled the lawsuit for $3.4 million and an apology, but its grift continued apace.
Lumping together neo-Nazis and distinguished authors is a vile, shameless tactic in which much of the mainstream media has been complicit for many years by treating the SPLC as a neutral umpire instead of a wildly and unabashedly partisan activist group. (“We’re not really set up to cover the extreme Left,” a spokesperson told NR in 2012.) Dees’s SPLC took a nominal stance against hatred, but its true mission was to profit from hate-mongering. While we doubt new leadership will solve the SPLC’s problem, we’re nonetheless happy to see him go.