The latest person to leave the Southern Poverty Law Center is Heidi Beirich, who headed the controversial organization’s “Intelligence Project.” She was the SPLC’s Inspector Javert, pursuing individuals and organizations she labeled as “extremists” and “hate groups.”
Though Beirich claimed in a late-October memo to her co-workers (leaked to the Daily Beast) that “I’ve felt for a while now that it may be time for a change for me”, it’s hard to believe she wasn’t pushed. Over the past eight months, the top staff who’ve been fired or resigned included the SPLC’s co-founder and public face, Morris Dees, as well as its president, legal director, and deputy legal director.
While much of this turmoil stems from the organization’s alleged toxic work environment (with accusations of sexual harassment and racial bias), it’s been Beirich’s Inquisition-style tactics that have landed the SPLC in hot water in recent years (much of it documented at splcexposed.com). In 2015, the group was forced to apologize for placing Ben Carson on its “Extremist Watch List”. Last year, the organization had to pay a $3.375 million settlement and apologize publicly to Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz for including him in a list of “anti-Muslim extremists”. And the SPLC’s remaining credibility has gone up in smoke due to Beirich’s smears of mainstream organizations as “hate groups”, including the Alliance for Defending Freedom (which has argued, and won, multiple cases before the U.S. Supreme Court), the Family Research Council (which was targeted by an armed assassin based on the SPLC’s “hate map”), and the Center for Immigration Studies (which I head), among many others.
(The Center for Immigration Studies, founded in 1985, was added to the “hate group” list shortly after President Trump’s election; that designation is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit against Beirich and former SPLC president Richard Cohen filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.)
So does Beirich’s departure signal a move away from smearing political opponents? Maybe even removing mainstream organizations from SPLC’s blacklist? Time will tell, but a chilling e-mail I received recently doesn’t bode well.
Michael Edison Hayden is a “Senior Investigative Reporter” at the SPLC, apparently working on yet-another hit piece about White House advisor and Stephen Miller. Why chilling? It begins with a chatty greeting one doesn’t sincerely offer to what one views as a “hate group” equivalent to the Klan (“I hope you guys are having a good day. If you DC folks are a Nationals fan, congratulations.”). Hayden then mysteriously asserts: “Someone sent me a rather large volume of Stephen Miller’s emails from the run-up to the 2016 election.”
Having clearly already written his story, and not specifying what exactly I’m supposed to be commenting on, he asks:
-Do you have any comment you want to give regarding your communications with Stephen Miller in 2015 or 2016?
-Do you recall giving Miller any embargoed materials?
-How closely were you guys connected to Miller at this time?
-Some CIS employees have acknowledged that you are connected to people in the White House in comments before. Did this level of contact continue after he joined the White House?
You see where this is going — something along the McCarthyite lines of “I have here in my hand a list of 205 e-mails from Miller to the haters at CIS!”, and so on. (Needless to say, I did not respond and instead forwarded the e-mail to our lawyers handling the RICO suit.)
Then, curiously, he asks:
-Also, does Mr. Krikorian recall this “cockroach” comment? “When you turn the lights on, the cockroaches are going to run away.” He would have said this in April of 2019 in a call with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, referring to foreign born workers.
I bolded that last part because, as it happens, I do recall it, and here’s what I said to the DHS officials at the in-person gathering (not a call):
I realize the statute doesn’t allow you to prevent firms from replacing the American workers with H1-Bs, but is there wiggle room for a reporting requirement, so that if they do that, they’re required to report it? Because when you turn the lights on, the cockroaches are going to run away.
“[C]ockroaches” in this context clearly refers not to “foreign born workers” but the “firms . . . replacing the American workers with H1-Bs” — firms such as Disney and others, which also require American workers to train their foreign replacements as a condition of receiving severance. Congress wrote the H-1B law specifically to allow this sort of replacement of American workers, but if USCIS, through regulation, were to require public reporting of any such replacements (“turn the lights on”), some employers might be shamed (“run away”) into not doing it. Falsely claiming I was referring to foreign workers themselves as “cockroaches” is, regrettably, just the sort of smear we’ve come to expect from the SPLC.
The e-mail ends, inscrutably, with “Warm regards”. But either you’re writing to the head of a “hate group” who thinks foreigners are “cockroaches” or you offer “warm regards” — it can’t really be both.
Beirich’s departure offered the hope that the SPLC had come to realize how much damage her reckless smear-mongering had done, both to the organization and to the country. That hope appears to have been in vain.