The Weekly Standard has an excellent takedown of the "shysters" and "con men" -- it's long, but read every word. What's so very telling is that the media cites these frauds every time they write about me (AFDI and SIOA are two of the 1,360 patriot "hate" groups named by the SPLC alone during 2012) or anyone else the enmedia wants to smear. We don't promote hate, we expose it. Here's an excerpt:
King of Fearmongers Weekly Standard
Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center, scaring donors since 1971
...This leads to yet another SPLC irony: Its severest critics aren’t on the conservative right (although the Federation for American Immigration Reform, another “hate group” on the SPLC’s list, has done its fair share of complaining), but on the progressive left. It may come as a surprise to learn that one of the most vituperative of all the critics was the recently deceased Alexander Cockburn, columnist for the Nation and the leftist webzine CounterPunch. In a 2009 article for CounterPunch titled “King of the Hate Business,” Cockburn castigated Dees and the SPLC for using the 2008 election of Barack Obama as America’s first black president as yet another wringer for squeezing out direct-mail donations from “trembling liberals” by painting an apocalyptic picture of “millions of [anti-Obama] extremists primed to march down Main Street draped in Klan robes, a copy of Mein Kampf tucked under one arm and a Bible under the other.” Cockburn continued: “Ever since 1971 U.S. Postal Service mailbags have bulged with Dees’ fundraising letters, scaring dollars out of the pockets of trembling liberals aghast at his lurid depictions of hate-sodden America, in dire need of legal confrontation by the SPLC.”
Cockburn was following on the heels of Ken Silverstein, who in 2000 wrote an article for the reliably liberal Harper’s magazine titled “The Church of Morris Dees.” Silverstein accused the SPLC of manufacturing connections between the “hate groups” that it highlighted in its numerous mailings—back then the groups on the SPLC list tended to be mostly fringe militia organizations—and the Columbine-style school shootings and a wave of black-church arsons during the 1990s that were a staple of the SPLC’s direct-mail panic pleas. “Horrifying as such incidents are, hate groups commit almost no violence,” Silverstein wrote. “More than 95 percent of all ‘hate crimes,’ including most of the incidents SPLC letters cite (bombings, church burnings, school shootings), are perpetrated by ‘lone wolves.’ Even Timothy McVeigh [perpetrator of the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people], subject of one of the most extensive investigations in the FBI’s history—and one of the most extensive direct-mail campaigns in the SPLC’s—was never credibly linked to any militia organization.”
Silverstein followed up with more of the same in a 2007 blog post for Harper’s: “What [the SPLC] does best . . . is to raise obscene amounts of money by hyping fears about the power of [right-wing fringe] groups; hence the SPLC has become the nation’s richest ‘civil rights’ organization.” In 2001 JoAnn Wypijewski wrote in the Nation: “Why the [SPLC] continues to keep ‘Poverty’ (or even ‘Law’) in its name can be ascribed only to nostalgia or a cynical understanding of the marketing possibilities in class guilt.” Silverstein had already noted in his 2000 Harper’s article that “most SPLC donors are white.”
What has infuriated the SPLC’s liberal critics is their suspicion that Morris Dees has used the SPLC primarily as a fundraising machine fueled by his direct-mail talents that generates a nice living for himself (the SPLC’s 2010 tax filing lists a compensation package of $345,000 for him as the organization’s chief trial counsel and highest-paid employee) and a handful of other high ranking SPLC officials plus luxurious offices and perks, but that does relatively little in the way of providing the legal services to poor people that its name implies.
CharityWatch (formerly the American Institute of Philanthropy), an independent organization that monitors and rates leading nonprofits for their fundraising efficiency, has consistently given the SPLC its lowest grade of “F” (i.e., “poor”) for its stockpiling of assets far beyond what CharityWatch deems a reasonable reserve (three years’ worth of operating expenses) to tide it over during donation-lean years. But even if the SPLC weren’t sitting on an unspent $256 million, according to CharityWatch, it would still be a mediocre (“C+”) performer among nonprofits. The SPLC’s 2011 tax filing reveals that the organization raised a total of $38.5 million from its donors that year but spent only $24.9 million on “program services,” with the rest going to salaries, overhead, and fundraising. And even that 67 percent figure is somewhat inflated, according to CharityWatch, which notes that the SPLC takes advantage of an accounting rule that permits nonprofits to count some of their fundraising expenses as “public education” if, for example, a mailer contains an informational component. CharityWatch, ignoring that accounting rule, maintains that only 60 percent—about $19 million—went to program services during the year in question. The SPLC’s 2011 tax return reveals that the organization spent $1.6 million (aside from salaries) on litigation-related costs that year, in contrast to the $7.8 million it spent on “professional fundraising services,” “postage and shipping cost,” “printing & lettershop,” and “other development cost.”
Furthermore, the SPLC spends a relatively high $26 on fundraising (according to CharityWatch, $18 according to the SPLC) for every $100 that it manages to raise. Compare that with the “B+” rated American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), where 78 percent of the budget goes to program services and $20 is spent for every $100 raised or to the “A-” rated ACLU Foundation (79 percent going to program services and only $11 spent to raise $100). True, the ACLU has net assets comparable to those of the SPLC, $254 million according to a fiscal 2012 financial statement, but it spends a full $111 million a year on program services. People who want to support a litigation-minded liberal organization and see a higher percentage of their donations actually spent on the causes they support might be better off giving to the ACLU—or to some shoestring civil rights nonprofit that actually needs the donor’s money.
In 1995, when the SPLC had amassed $52 million in net assets, the Montgomery Advertiser published a Pulitzer-nominated investigative series about the organization, titled “Charity of Riches.” At that time the Advertiser concluded that the SPLC was spending only 31 percent of its revenue on program services and was essentially under the control of and subject to the fundraising whims of Dees. During the 1970s the SPLC had pursued several significant lawsuits enforcing the civil rights of African Americans. One suit had resulted in the racial integration of Alabama’s state police troopers, and another had led to a state redistricting that allowed black candidates to win seats in the state legislature for the first time in generations. But during the mid-1980s Dees decided to focus instead on suing the Ku Klux Klan and similar white-supremacist organizations. By then the Klan was moribund, with a membership that had declined from a peak of 4 million during the 1920s to about 5,000 members in 1980. But few of the Northern liberals who formed the bulk of Dees’s donor base seemed to know that. (Dees had used his letter-writing skills to raise $24 million as a volunteer for George McGovern’s Democratic presidential race in 1971-72, and he had received McGovern’s campaign mailing list as a reward. He had also worked briefly on Jimmy Carter’s 1976 presidential campaign and on Ted Kennedy’s run for president in 1980.) The Klan made for hair-raising copy in Dees’s mailings. One of his fundraising letters, quoted by the Advertiser, alluded to “armed Klan paramilitary forces [that] freely roam our wooded hills from Texas to North Carolina practicing with military-like weapons to ‘kill niggers and Jews in a race war they are planning.’ ”
Letters such as this one generated tens of millions of dollars for the SPLC—but they also generated resentment among the lawyers who worked with Dees and complained that his fixation on donor money had crowded out the SPLC’s traditional civil rights work. Early on, for example, the SPLC stopped handling death-penalty cases, even though opposition to capital punishment had been one of its early causes. (In 1975 Dees was one of the lawyers—and a major fundraiser—for Joan Little, a black inmate in North Carolina who had fatally stabbed a white jailer she said had been trying to rape her. Little’s case became a progressive cause célèbre, and she was eventually acquitted of murder charges. During the trial Dees was removed from the courtroom and briefly charged with suborning the perjury of one of the witnesses; although the charges were dropped, the trial judge refused to allow Dees back on the case.) In 1977, however, Dees abruptly pulled the SPLC out of another high-profile capital case, that of the “Dawson Five,” black men accused of murdering a store customer during a robbery in rural Georgia. Millard Farmer, a veteran death penalty lawyer in Atlanta who got the charges dropped, said in a telephone interview that Dees had told him that fighting the death penalty wasn’t making any money for the SPLC. “He said, ‘We’re going to cut the money off,’ ” Farmer recalled. “He said, ‘We’ll give the case to a public defender.’ ” By Farmer’s account, when he balked, Dees promptly sued him in federal court for improperly spending SPLC funds. Dees backed off after Farmer mounted an aggressive defense detailing where the SPLC funds had gone, and Dees eventually paid Farmer approximately $50,000 in a settlement. (The SPLC declined to make Dees available for an interview with me, but in a 1988 interview with the Progressive’s John Egerton, Dees called Farmer a “fool.”)
Dees further alienated opponents of the death penalty—and Southern liberals in general—by successfully lobbying the Senate in 1992 to confirm George H. W. Bush’s nomination of Edward Carnes, head of the capital-punishment unit of the Alabama attorney general’s office and a leading death-penalty advocate, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. “He was up in Washington staying at the Four Seasons Hotel [in Georgetown] and lobbying Congress every day,” recalls Stephen B. Bright, a Yale law professor and president of the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights, a criminal-justice public-interest law firm that opposed the Carnes nomination. “He was the great Morris Dees, so he gave cover to the Democrats in Congress to vote to confirm Carnes,” said Bright in a telephone interview. Bright’s Southern Center has a $2 million annual budget, with nine staff lawyers pulling down relatively modest salaries. “Their annual budget is $30 million,” said Bright of the SPLC, “and we accomplish more than they do with a lot less.” Bright called Dees “a shyster if there ever was one—Morris is a con man.”
Bright’s words to me were nearly identical to those he had written in a 2007 letter to Kenneth C. Randall, dean of the University of Alabama’s law school, Dees’s alma mater, turning down an invitation to a presentation of the school’s annual “Morris Dees Justice Award,” jointly sponsored by Dees and the prestigious law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. In that letter Bright called Dees “a con man and fraud.” He wrote of Dees: “He has taken advantage of naïve, well-meaning people—some of moderate or low incomes—who believe his pitches and give to his [then] $175 million operation. He has spent most of what they have sent him to raise still more millions, pay high salaries, and promote himself.” (The Morris Dees Justice Award is currently defunct, and both Randall and Skadden Arps turned down my requests for interviews.)
During the 1970s and 1980s Dees is said to have briefly flirted with other liberal causes for the SPLC—abortion rights and gun control, for example—before shutting them down. But he hit the jackpot with the Ku Klux Klan, helped along by Klansmen’s regular denunciations of him as a Communist, an attempted firebombing of the SPLC office in 1983, and the occasional threat to his life. In 1981 Dees formed Klanwatch as an educational and publications unit of the SPLC. It was the beginning of the SPLC’s focus on “hate groups.” Fundraising letters flew out from Montgomery signed by such liberal celebrities as McGovern, Ethel Kennedy, and novelist Toni Morrison. A 1985 letter bearing the signature of a Montgomery rabbi “asked for funds to protect the Center and its staff, ‘who are suffering under a siege of Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi terrorism unparalleled in this decade,’ ” Egerton reported in the Progressive. The letter with its hints of anti-Semitism run amok, reportedly mailed to zip codes on the East and West Coasts populated by wealthy Jews, referred to Dees as “Morris Seligman Dees.” Dees was raised Baptist but received a rarely used Jewish-sounding middle name from his father, who had himself been named in honor of a “prominent Jewish Alabamian,” Egerton noted in his article. At one point in 1986 the SPLC’s entire cadre of staff attorneys quit en masse, dismayed by Dees’s obsession with the Klan at the expense of what they perceived to be more pressing civil rights issues such as employment and housing discrimination.
Nonetheless the Klan and its white-supremacist spin-offs proved to be ideal litigation targets for the civil damage suits that the SPLC routinely filed on behalf of victims and their families: scattered, underfunded, and wounded by decades of infighting. The economically and socially marginal Klansmen, whose units typically consisted of a handful of down-market youths clustered around a kitchen table, could seldom afford either decent lawyers or the cost of mounting an effective defense (in civil cases, in contrast to criminal cases, the government is not obliged to supply defendants with free lawyers). Besides, what the groups were charged with having done—assaults and homicides—was appalling. The SPLC has won a handful of multimillion-dollar judgments against supremacist organizations, the latest one in 2008 against the Imperial Klans of America over the beating of a Panamanian-American. Nonetheless the judgments have mostly proved to be uncollectible, because the tiny groups have typically owned few if any assets that can be sold to satisfy a judgment.
The SPLC’s most striking legal victory in the South was a $7 million judgment in 1987 against the United Klans of America, notorious for the violent acts committed by its members during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. The SPLC had filed the suit on behalf of Beulah Mae Donald, a black woman whose son Michael was lynched by two Klansmen in Mobile, Alabama, in 1981. Donald received only a tiny fraction of that amount, however, since the United Klans’ sole asset by then was its national headquarters, a rundown warehouse in Tuscaloosa whose forced sale netted only $51,875. Meanwhile, according to the Montgomery Advertiser, the SPLC’s fundraising mailings highlighting the case, one of which featured a photo of Michael Donald’s corpse, brought the center $9 million in donations. The SPLC continues to this day to tout the $7 million judgment in its promotional materials and to take credit for putting the United Klans out of business, although some of its members simply joined other Klan groups after the United Klans dissolved.
Similarly, a $12.5 million judgment that the SPLC won in Oregon in 1990 against Tom Metzger, a former Ku Klux Klan grand dragon who later led a group called the White Aryan Resistance, over the beating death of an Ethiopian immigrant by three skinheads in 1988, remains largely a paper victory. Furthermore, even some civil libertarians were troubled by the SPLC’s legal strategy, which was predicated on the theory that Metzger and his son were responsible for the homicide because they had made incendiary racist statements that inspired the skinheads to commit the crime. The ACLU, for example, filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the Metzgers’ statements were protected by the First Amendment’s free-speech guarantees and that the father and son should have been held liable only if it could be proved that they had intentionally provoked the skinheads’ violence.
During the 1990s, when Timothy McVeigh became another name with which to launch a thousand direct-mail pitches, the SPLC branched out and began tracking, besides hate groups, a category it calls “patriot groups.” Patriot groups can be full-fledged paramilitary militias—or they can simply be loose organizations of people who believe, say, that the Obama administration will soon be confiscating citizens’ guns (actually a not-unfounded belief, given the recent disclosure of a Justice Department memo arguing that gun regulation is meaningless without mandatory federal weapons buybacks), or that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is building secret concentration camps in anticipation of a declaration of martial law. One group on the SPLC’s latest patriot list, for example, calls itself the Granny Warriors: gray-haired ladies in North Carolina who trade canning tips and other food-stockpiling advice on a survivalist website of vintage 1990s design. Without entirely jettisoning its cash-generating Klan-centrism (an SPLC web page features a Birth of a Nation-style black-and-white photo of hooded men making a sinister circle around a flaming three-story cross), the SPLC changed the name of its quarterly magazine Klanwatch to Intelligence Report. The Report features alarmed articles, often written by Mark Potok, a former reporter for USA Today who now serves as the SPLC’s press spokesman and also as the editor of Intelligence Report and the organization’s Hatewatch blog. The articles in Intelligence Report and Hatewatch bear such scary-sounding titles as “Rage on the Right,” “The ‘Patriot Movement’ Explodes,” “For the Radical Right, Obama Victory Brings Fury and Fear,” and “Strange Bedfellows Snuggle Under White Sheets.” A 2010 post on Hatewatch didn’t quite go so far as to characterize the Tea Party as a hate group, but it came close, citing the grassroots movement’s attraction for “antigovernment extremists.” On a web page titled “Misogyny: The Sites,” the SPLC skirts self-parody, branding the “manosphere” blogs of pickup artists and other dispensers of seduction techniques as hate-promoting because their posts bear such titles as “Even Nice Girls Are Sluts” and “More Proof That Feminism is a Social Cancer.” The SPLC is currently spotlighting the prison gang Aryan Brotherhood of Texas as a hate group because of its rumored, although as yet unproven, connection to the murders of two prosecutors in Kaufman County, Texas.
One of the SPLC’s leitmotifs is that there is an ever-spiraling amount of hate in America, and sure enough, its state-by-state list of hate and patriot groups has grown steadily over the years, especially during the presidency of Obama, a godsend to the SPLC’s fundraisers because of his race and his pro-gun control and pro-gay marriage stances. In the SPLC’s latest hate report, issued on March 5, it counted a record 1,360 patriot groups alone during 2012, up 6.75 percent since 2011 and up by almost a factor of 10 from the mere 149 such organizations that the SPLC had counted just before Obama was elected in 2008. (The conservative George W. Bush years had apparently marked a kind of hate vacation for America’s right-wingers, after they supposedly went militia-crazy during Bill Clinton’s presidency.) Cohen, the SPLC’s president, promptly shot off a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano urging the pair to establish “an interagency task force to assess the adequacy of resources devoted to responding to the growing threat of non-Islamic domestic terrorism.” (The SPLC ignores Muslim-linked terrorist activity on the theory that it is foreign-based.)
Critics have charged that the way the SPLC counts hate groups renders its impressive tallies essentially meaningless. One of the most vocal critics is Laird Wilcox, a self-described political liberal in Olathe, Kansas, who has been tracking radical-fringe organizations on both the left and the right for five decades, amassing an enormous documentary archive that is now housed at the library of the University of Kansas. According to Wilcox, many of the organizations on the SPLC’s expansive list “may be two guys and a post-office box,” while others might not exist at all. “Their lists of hate groups never have addresses that can be checked,” Wilcox said in a telephone interview. “I’ve had police departments across the country calling me and saying we can’t find this group [on the SPLC’s list]. All they can find is a post-office box, so I have to tell them that I don’t know whether they even exist.” In a self-published book, The Watchdogs, he criticized the SPLC for having “misleadingly padded” its list of white-supremacy organizations. In particular, Wilcox faulted the SPLC for maintaining that three men accused of killing a police officer in Cortez, Colorado, in 1998 had belonged to a supposedly racist and anti-Semitic militia group called the Four Corners Patriots for whose existence no evidence ever emerged. “People have tried to track down these groups, but they couldn’t find them,” Wilcox said.