Southern Poverty Law Center
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It is headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama. Attorneys Morris Dees and Joseph J. Levin Jr. founded the SPLC in 1971 while arguing a desegregation case involving the YMCA. After the case ended, future ACLU president Julian Bond was hired as the SPLC's president.
The SPLC originally focused on racist groups, most notably the KKK. Their Klanwatch program has since been expanded into Hatewatch, which keeps track of all forms of American hate groups. Their website is a fantastically useful resource collection. In what we're all sure is a complete coincidence, presence of SPLC listed hate groups in a county is a strong predictor of far-right violence.
The SPLC and Christian hate groups
The SPLC releases an annual list of what they consider to be currently active hate groups. They have recently, during the last few years, added a few Christian fundamentalist and evangelical ministries to the list, which espouse homophobia, anti-Catholicism, and/or hatred against Muslims. Examples are the Family Research Council, Chick Publications, Traditional Values Coalition, Power of Prophecy, Parents Action League, and the American Family Association.
Anyone who ever got involved in born again Christianity has known about these groups for years; although some, like Jack Chick, are bona-fide cranks, many have been around for decades and are hardly "fringe" within American evangelicalism. Two questions come to mind:
- What took the SPLC so long to add them to their list?
- Why just these few token groups, and why are so many other obvious ones missing? One searches in vain for any of Pat Robertson's groups, Liberty University and anything else associated with the Falwells, the Scottsdale, AZ Spiritual Freedom Church, Bob Jones University, Sword of the Lord, or any of the big megachurches, but they are nowhere to be found. Give the SPLC credit for at least adding a few such groups, but it's so much easier to just top-load the list with "groups" that are just some 18 year old skinhead with a post office box and web page, isn't it?
This latter issue may be far more damaging to their mission than it seems, as it makes their addition of a few Christian extremists here and there look like targeted axe-grinding instead of a result of the application of a broad, consistent standard. The fact that they do not present their criteria for inclusion furthers this effect, unfortunately. However, given the raging persecution complex and political and media influence of the likes of Robertson or Falwell, their absence is understandable, if lamentable. Likewise, there is probably a very practical reason for the SPLC not to publish their evaluation standards, namely the extremely legalistic and litigious nature of the U.S. political field in which they operate.
Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson wound up on the SPLC's list of extremists in October 2014. In February 2015 this came to the conservative media's attention, they covered this months-old happening as news for a while, and the SPLC eventually removed his profile, apologized, but then fired quite the Parthian shot. Effectively, the SPLC buckled under the scrutiny of the Fair and Balanced media and admitted that its original profile of Carson was sloppy, while simultaneously highlighting examples of Carson's statements that would merit his inclusion on the list, given a better researched profile.
The progressive Mother Jones magazine, on the other hand, has criticized them for casting their net too wide and including activists motivated primarily by civil liberties or libertarian issues, whose views have been construed by others to support racist ideologies (for example, states' rights advocates whose statements might fall in line with Confederate sympathizers). Some more notable selections include the Ludwig von Mises Institute, dedicated to worshipping the corpses of Murray Rothbard and other Austrian economics superstars, as well as factions of the Tea Party that insist they do in fact need that many guns.
It should also be noted that not only has the SPLC never added any TERF groups to their list of hate groups, but have even worked with infamous transphobic hatemonger Cathy Brennan (which isn't the same as saying they haven't taken any transgender-centered cases).
In 2000, Ken Silverstein of Harper's magazine accused the SPLC of using intolerance as a fundraising mechanism.
On October 25, 2016 the SPLC profiled a number of "Anti-Muslim Extremists" which included Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz (a Muslim himself), sparking criticism from Sam Harris, Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist blog and Sarah Haider of Ex-Muslims of North America.
The SPLC has been accused of very zealous fund raising.
“”What the Center’s other work for justice does not include is anything that might be considered controversial by donors. According to Millard Farmer, the Center largely stopped taking death-penalty cases for fear that too visible an opposition to capital punishment would scare off potential contributors. In 1986, the Center’s entire legal staff quit in protest of Dees’s refusal to address issues-such as homelessness, voter registration, and affirmative action-that they considered far more pertinent to poor minorities, if far less marketable to affluent benefactors, than fighting the KKK. Another lawyer, Gloria Browne, who resigned a few years later, told reporters that the Center’s programs were calculated to cash in on “black pain and white guilt.” Asked in 1994 if the SPLC itself, whose leadership consists almost entirely of white men, was in need of an affirmative action policy, Dees replied that “probably the most discriminated people in America today are white men when it comes to jobs. (...) A National Journal survey of salaries paid to the top officers of advocacy groups shows that Dees earned more in 1998 than nearly all of the seventy-eight listed, tens of thousands more than the heads of such groups as the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Children’s Defense Fund. The more money the SPLC receives, the less that goes to other civil rights organizations, many of which, including the NAACP, have struggled to stay out of bankruptcy. Dees’s compensation alone amounts to one quarter the annual budget of the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights, which handles several dozen death-penalty cases a year. “You are a fraud and a conman,” the Southern Center’s director, Stephen Bright, wrote in a 1996 letter to Dees, and proceeded to list his many reasons for thinking so, which included “your failure to respond to the most desperate needs of the poor and powerless despite your millions upon millions, your fund-raising techniques, the fact that you spend so much, accomplish so little, and promote yourself so shamelessly.” Soon the SPLC will move into a new six-story headquarters in downtown Montgomery, just across the street from its current headquarters, a building known locally as the Poverty Palace.
- The Relationship Between Hate Groups and Far-Right Ideological Violence
- Compare with the "Do not discuss this or we risk getting sued"-practicality on RationalWiki.
- Stephanie Mencimer, "SPLC Highlights New Extremist Leaders To Watch", Mother Jones 5/25/2012
- The church of Morris Dees. Harper's: November 2000.
- The Poverty Palace