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Nancy Smith

Southern Poverty Law Center: 'Sham' Authority on Hate Groups

March 28, 2019 - 9:00am
Morris Dees, SPLC co-founder
Morris Dees, SPLC co-founder

It's not often, if ever, I've picked a bone with even-handed News Service of Florida. But the bias in NSF's Tuesday story, "Group Works to Sway 'Sanctuary Cities' Bill," sticks out like a chapel hat peg.

Writer Ana Ceballos "exposed" the interest various groups have shown to help Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, draft SB 168, his red-hot bill to ban sanctuary cities in Florida.

I have no problem with that. Special interests with a dog in the hunt in virtually any controversial legislation will beat a sponsor's door down to effect the language that tumbles through the committee process. It's absolutely a public service to shine a light on who's pitching policy that could become state law.

But we in the media should do it fairly. Do the same homework, apply the same standards to lobbyists on all sides of the issue. If Ceballos had done that, I would be commending her now.

I'm referring to Ceballos' blind faith in the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). 

Apparently without checking out the Southern Poverty Law Center's reputation or its long fall from grace, she set this organization as The Authority on hate groups. In truth, though, she's not the only journalist to blindly trust this organization.

The SPLC, which enjoys a sterling reputation in the press as a serious and knowledgeable authority on bigotry and extremism in the U.S., does this to great effect with sleek gimmicks such as its infamous “hate maps” and “hate lists,” all of which are shared widely by an extremely eager, fawning news media." 

I wish she'd first Googled SPLC, which The New Yorker magazine refers to as "a highly profitable scam."

Which constitutional law attorney J. Matt Barber calls in Renew America, "corrupt to its core."

Which The Washington Examiner calls "a scam" and describes its business model as centering "entirely around keeping donors in a state of constant, wallet-opening panic.

The list goes on and on.

Though always left of center, the Southern Poverty Law Center once had a reputation as a fairly objective civil rights group. Founded by direct-marketing millionaire Morris Dees and partner Joseph Levin Jr. in 1971, the SPLC made important and honorable contributions to many of the historic civil rights gains of the 20th Century. According to its own materials, the SPLC was "internationally known for tracking and exposing the activities of hate groups."

But its lofty purpose crumbled more than 20 years ago as it transformed into a machine for raising money and launching left-wing political attacks. Dees perfected his money-raising skills by fearmongering with manufactured hate, labeling more and more nonviolent Christian right organizations hate groups, and as the lawsuits against him piled up. Lately the Center has become more of a threat to free speech and civil debate than a defender of the weak or a foe of violent extremism.

Ken Silverstein, writing for Harper's Magazine, addressed this untoward metamorphosis in 2000: "Today's SPLC spends most of its time -- and money -- on a relentless fund-raising campaign, peddling memberships in the church of tolerance with all the zeal of a circuit rider passing the collection plate. ... The American Institute of Philanthropy gives the Center one of the worst ratings of any group it monitors."

The Los Angeles Times reported in March that SPLC had fired 82-year-old Dees over unspecified misconduct. Though the organization's leadership didn't provide specific information, a letter signed by about two dozen employees -- and sent to management and the board of directors before news broke of Dees’ firing -- said they were concerned that internal “allegations of mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism threaten the moral authority of this organization and our integrity along with it.”

It doesn't bother me that the NSF reporter uses negative terms like "hard-line" and "controversial" to describe groups like the Center for Immigration Studies and FAIR. But it does strike me as profoundly unfair that the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has labeled these "hate groups" for no good reason I can find,  gets no reality check. None at all.

Reports Ceballos, "The Southern Poverty Law Center website categorizes the Center for Immigration Studies and FAIR as a 'hate groups' because John Tanton, who helped form the groups, has expressed his wish that America remains a majority-white population: a goal to be achieved, presumably, by limiting the number of non-whites who enter the country.” 

Presumably? That's a lot of presuming.

The bottom line here is, it's inappropriate for the media to continually cite SPLC as an authoritative source on hate without acknowledging its progressive agenda and conflation of extremist groups with mainstream ones.

Please Google the Southern Poverty Law Center for yourself.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith.

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