Politics

Southern Poverty Law Center Got Rich on 'Hate'

Founded in 1971 to fight the KKK, the SPLC has become twisted with its own hate of all things conservative.

Michael Swartz · Jun. 30, 2017

Back in 1971, a marketer and attorney co-founded a crusading legal organization that cut its teeth with a series of civil lawsuits that eventually all but dismantled the Ku Klux Klan. Had the organization rested on its laurels with that achievement, as well as other early work in the civil rights arena, perhaps the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) would continue to maintain a modest but solid reputation in the legal advocacy community for its impact on that movement.

But co-founder Morris Dees has always had bigger things in mind. So as the SPLC continued to move beyond its original focus on civil rights and issues common in the Southern U.S. to include a plethora of other leftist causes on a national scale, its ambition (and fundraising appetite) became larger as well. Dees once promised to stop the constant appeals for money when the group’s endowment reached $55 million, but as that marker drew closer the bar was raised to $100 million, and now the SPLC sits on a $302.8 million pile of cash. Clearly, the “Poverty” is in name only.

Dees and company haven’t stopped looking for money either: a guitar that belonged to the late Grateful Dead founder Jerry Garcia was sold at auction last month for $1.9 million. After expenses, and with a matching donation from the sponsor, the SPLC netted a cool $3.2 million from the event. “[I could] indulge two passions of mine at the same time,” said winning bidder Brian Halligan, chief executive of HubSpot: “social justice and the Grateful Dead.”

Meanwhile, since there isn’t much need to sue the KKK out of existence these days, the SPLC has turned its attention to advocacy, as in trying to define itself as the sole arbiter of what defines a “hate group.” One recent case in point: The GuideStar directory of charities ran into controversy when it adopted the SPLC’s definition of “hate group” and applied it to legitimate organizations such as those opposing same-sex “marriage” or otherwise promoting Bible-based Christian beliefs. “The ‘hate group’ list is nothing more than a political weapon targeting people it deems to be its political enemies,” states a letter to GuideStar that was signed by more than 40 people, many affiliated with these organizations or otherwise sympathetic to their views.

In fact, the conservative Liberty Counsel is suing. Its founder and chairman, Mat Staver, said, “We want to stop the lies because this kind of reporting is defamatory, it’s reckless, and it’s dangerous.”

One of the supposed “hate groups” is the Family Research Council, which has its own history with the SPLC. In 2012, a deranged man, Floyd Corkins, walked into the lobby of the FRC offices and began shooting, wounding a security guard before being subdued. (A year later, Corkins was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the shooting.) Corkins later told police his attack was a protest against the FRC’s pro-traditional marriage stance, and he was inspired in part by the SPLC’s labeling of the Family Research Council as a “hate group.”

Behind the imposing, nearly prison-like façade of its six-story headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama, the SPLC has more than 200 employees tasked mainly with a relentless study and definition of right-of-center organizations as purveyors of hatred merely for their stance on issues like immigration, religious freedom, social issues, and the welfare state. In its “Extremist Files,” the SPLC does have a handful of fringe leftist exceptions such as the Nation of Islam and a few black nationalists to provide a fig leaf of cover for themselves, but the SPLC seems to believe the hate comes almost exclusively from the intolerant Right — so much so that even the Obama administration backed away from using it as a resource.

Yet that mindset has moved into overdrive since the election of Donald Trump. It was made even worse when Trump appointed Alabama’s own Jeff Sessions as attorney general, a move Dees called “probably the worst mistake Trump could have made for the United States of America.”

There’s no question leftists are reeling from the 2016 election: The SPLC board was so confident Hillary Clinton had it in the bag that they were game-planning their next four years shilling for her when they met on the eve of the November election. They couldn’t envision a Trump administration, even if 63 million Americans could.

What the SPLC board lacked in vision, though, will more than likely be made up for with ruthless ambition. Once again, with the Right currently controlling all three branches of government, the SPLC will make Donald Trump a fundraising bogeyman. Maybe that wasn’t in the original plan 46 years ago, but the SPLC must now feed the beast of the intolerant Left. Indeed, it’s much more lucrative to build up those feelings of hatred before asking for that donation.

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