Former Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) “staffers have admitted that the hate accusations leveled by the SPLC are a ‘con,’ a deceptive scheme to raise money,” writes PJ Media Senior Editor Tyler O’Neil. In his new book, Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center, O’Neil shreds the SPLC’s claims to be an impartial “hate arbiter” and exposes the SPLC as a corrupt, leftist smear merchant.
Established in 1971, the SPLC has established a powerful presence in media, government, and corporations, to the detriment of mainstream conservative organizations slandered by the SPLC as bigots, as O’Neil documents. News organizations such as ABC, NBC, and CNN have uncritically referenced SPLC materials, while Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified before Congress in 2019 about the SPLC as a Google “trusted flagger” of bigotry. AmazonSmile, which donates a percentage of Amazon product purchases to eligible charities, also relied upon the SPLC in 2017 to exclude groups such as the American Freedom Law Center and D. James Kennedy Ministries.
In the public sector as well, Democratic senators including Dianne Feinstein and Tim Kaine have relied upon the SPLC to oppose judicial nominations and support hate crimes legislation. Similarly, using SPLC materials, Michigan’s attorney general and Department of Civil Rights in 2019 launched a “hate crimes unit.” SPLC ideology additionally has entrée into public schools via the SPLC’s 1991-established Teaching Tolerance program.
The SPLC’s ugly reality belies this veneer of respectability. Revelations in 2019 exposed an SPLC rife with racism and sexual harassment in the organization’s Montgomery, Alabama, headquarters. One former SPLC employee described it as a “virtual buffet of injustices,” while previously, during a 1994 journalistic investigation, black SPLC employees even compared it to a “plantation.”
These scandals, which caused SPLC founder Morris Dees to resign from its leadership, were hardly unpredictable, given his character. “The SPLC’s notoriously handsome founder has married at least five women,” O’Neil notes, while documenting in lurid detail the unconstrained libido of this philanderer. Reflecting white southern racist history, this native Alabamian also initially supported segregationist Democrats in the 1950s, and even once defended a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) member in court who had beaten civil rights activists. “Dees represents the truth that people can change—and the SPLC should remember that when they destroy a person’s reputation for a previous association with a ‘hate group,’” O’Neil trenchantly observes.
The SPLC likewise reflects the business savvy of Dees, who discovered his genius for direct mail operations in mail-order businesses before applying his talents to the SPLC, explains O’Neil. Donations of $500,000 or $1 million from corporations including Apple and JP Morgan Chase, often placed in Cayman islands bank accounts, would make the SPLC “one of the wealthiest charities in the country, if not the world.” “Whether you’re selling cakes or causes, it’s all the same thing,” was Dees’ maxim.
As O’Neil shows, Dees’ junk mail pitches have suckered low-income, would-be do-gooder contributors into imagining the SPLC as a “bare-bones place” and led them to make sacrifices for the SPLC, such as foregoing a new overcoat for the cause. Meanwhile, the SPLC’s Montgomery headquarters features a monument to civil rights heroes by celebrity architect Maya Lin, with the quotation “Until justice rolls down like waters” from Martin Luther King. By contrast, cynical SPLC staffers would mock this “Poverty Palace,” saying “Until justice rolls down like dollars.” Meanwhile, one study revealed that the SPLC in the years 1984-1994 never spent more than 31 percent of revenue on programs, contrary to the 80 percent minimum set by the watchdog Charity Navigator.
The SPLC won its reputation by fighting the KKK, but O’Neil examines how the SPLC has worn out whatever laurels it once thereby deserved, as “by the 1980s, the Klan was largely a spent force.” While nationwide KKK membership dropped below 10,000, the deceptive “SPLC easily raised millions by telling liberal donors up north how dangerous the Klan was.” Yet the SPLC’s legal team in 1986 resigned en masse over Dees’ KKK “obsession,” which “idealistic lawyers saw…as a distraction from the issues they really cared about, like getting innocent people off of death row.”
Today O’Neil reveals many of the SPLC’s “hate group” listings as “hilariously sad,” including Kennesaw, Georgia’s “Wildman’s Civil War Surplus and Herb Shop,” run by an unreconstructed pro-Confederacy southerner. The SPLC also once cited Iowa’s historic town of Amana Colonies because white supremacists claimed to have held a book club in a town restaurant. The SPLC will additionally list as a separate “hate group” each organization chapter; thus the grassroots national security organization ACT for America inflates to 47 “hate groups” in the SPLC’s distorted hate group listings. Moreover, several “hate crimes” denounced by the SPLC have turned out to be hoaxes.
The SPLC’s strident leftist biases are apparent in a 2016 SPLC lawsuit against a Mississippi charter schools program (with many black student beneficiaries) as well as in extreme LGBT advocacy. The SPLC has condemned this author’s esteemed colleague Jennifer Roback Morse, president of the Ruth Institute, for defending the Catholic Church Catechism‘s teaching that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered.” The SPLC has also blackballed as “anti-LGBT” her fellow Catholic, renowned Princeton University intellectual Robert George; O’Neil accordingly wonders whether the “SPLC should call the Catholic Church a ‘hate group.’”
Despite these travesties, the SPLC assumes an aura of authority that others dispute, including former American Civil Liberties Union director Nadine Strossen, who rejected the SPLC “hate group” label for the Alliance Defending Freedom. Facebook spokesperson Ruchika Budhraja likewise told PJ Media that Facebook does not share the SPLC’s “hate group” designations for various groups, including the Family Research Council (FRC). Perhaps if the deranged homosexual Floyd Lee Corkins II had only listened to Facebook, this domestic terrorist might not have relied upon an SPLC “hate list” to target FRC in an attempted 2012 mass shooting.
Yet the SPLC has conveniently cast aside all claims of objectivity in the face of defamation lawsuits by growing numbers of individuals and groups defending against SPLC character assassination. Once cornered in court, the SPLC suddenly claims that its “hate group” judgments are mere free speech expressions of “opinion,” devoid of any legal liability. Nonetheless, British Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz won a $3.375 million defamation settlement from the SPLC in 2018.
To paraphrase the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the SPLC can have its own shoddy opinions, but it cannot have its own facts. These “stubborn things,” as John Adams once called them, patently reveal the SPLC’s fraudulence. In ably assembling these facts, O’Neil has done valuable service for all who oppose the SPLC’s baleful influence.
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