J.P. Morgan Chase & Co is planning up to $2 million in donations to human and civil-rights organizations following the recent clashes in Charlottesville, Va. The largest U.S. bank by assets will donate $1 million split between the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League “to further their work in tracking, exposing and fighting hate groups and other extremist organizations,” according to an internal bank memo sent Monday that was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
I blogged a bit last week about the decision by Apple CEO, Tim Cook, to spend $1m of shareholders’ money on a gift to the Southern Poverty Law Center in the wake of those clashes and Trump’s less than impressive (to put it mildly) response to them .
Yes, it has been alleged in a series of articles in Harper’s Magazine that, for all its undoubted achievements in the past, the SPLC has its, well, issues, but my real focus in last week’s post was the organization’s “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists” and in particular the inclusion of two names on that list: Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Here’s some more on Maajid Nawaz, this time from an article in the Tablet by Lee Smith:
I spoke to Nawaz on the phone in London to ask for his reaction. “A bunch of first-world, comfortable liberal Americans who are not Muslims have decided from their comfortable perch to label me, an activist who is working within his Muslim community to push back against extremism, an anti-Muslim extremist.”
On the face of it, it’s difficult to understand why Nawaz was listed as such. As he told me, he’s a proud Muslim. “I learned Arabic in order to read my holy book,” he said. “In an Intelligence Squared debate, I defended the proposition that Islam was a religion of peace. This was the same week that the man who attempted to bomb Times Square was sentenced so it wasn’t the friendliest New York audience. I hosted Morgan Freeman in a mosque for his documentary The Story of God.”
Nawaz takes the SPLC blacklist seriously, he told me, because he believes that it has put his life in danger. “They’ve put a target on my head,” he said. “This is what putting people on lists does. When Theo Van Gogh was killed in the Netherlands, a list was stuck to his body that included Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s name. It was a hit list. When Bangladeshi reformers were hacked to death by jihadist terrorists, they were working off lists. Only fascists produce lists.”
And it’s not as if SPLC needs the cash.
The organization has been criticized for spending more of its money on fundraising and overhead and less on litigation than comparable groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. And it has taken flak for amassing a huge endowment—more than $200 million—that is disproportionately large for its operating costs. SPLC President Richard Cohen defends the endowment as necessary to ensure the group can survive legal battles that might last for years. (As for Dees himself, he made $337,000 in 2015, according to the watchdog group Charity Navigator; Cohen made $333,000 the same year.) In 1994, the local paper, the Montgomery Advertiser, ran a series investigating the group’s marketing, finances and personnel practices that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. (Dees responded—according to a transcript from a 1999 Nieman Foundation discussion on journalism about nonprofits—by mobilizing prominent liberal politicians for whom he had raised money to lobby the Pulitzer Board not to award the prize to the Advertiser.)
Other critics say the SPLC picks its causes with its bottom line in mind. In the 1980s, the group’s entire legal staff quit to protest Dees’ obsession with the remnants of the KKK—which still captured the imagination of the group’s liberal donor base—at the expense of lower-profile but more relevant targets. In its marketing, the SPLC still touts seven-figure judgments it has won against Klan organizations, even though the plaintiffs have been able to recoup only a tiny fraction of that from the groups, which possessed paltry assets…
And then there’s that freedom of expression thing (my emphasis added):
William Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell and critic of the SPLC, says the group has wrapped itself in the mantle of the civil rights struggle to engage in partisan political crusading. “Time and again, I see the SPLC using the reputation it gained decades ago fighting the Klan as a tool to bludgeon mainstream politically conservative opponents,” he says. “For groups that do not threaten violence, the use of SPLC ‘hate group’ or ‘extremist’ designations frequently are exploited as an excuse to silence speech and speakers,” Jacobson adds. “It taints not only the group or person, but others who associate with them.”
I suppose defenders of free speech should be grateful that J.P. Morgan Chase has only chosen to throw $500,000 of its shareholders’ money this organization’s way.