The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated itself an organization hostile to women and people of color. It fired its co-founder Morris Dees for unexplained reasons and removed his bio from its website at the same time it pledged to train its management in “racial equity, inclusion and results.”
Simultaneous with the cashiering of Dees after nearly 50 years at the SPLC, roughly two dozen employees wrote a letter warning “allegations of mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism threaten the moral authority of this organization and our integrity along with it.”
The missive is touching in its assumption that the SPLC still has moral authority or integrity. The scandal is, nonetheless, a remarkable comeuppance for an organization that has weaponized political correctness for its own money-grubbing.
Over the decades, the SPLC basically made the philosopher Eric Hoffer’s famous line about organizational degeneracy its strategic plan: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”
Originally founded as a civil-rights group in 1971 and gaining fame for its campaign to bankrupt the Ku Klux Klan, the SPLC shifted to a catchall “anti-hate” group that widened its definition of hate to encompass more and more people as the Klan faded as a threat.
It used the complicity or credulousness of the media in repeating its designations to punish its ideological enemies and engage in prodigious fundraising. It raised $50 million a year and built an endowment of more than $300 million.
Imagine a left-wing outfit with the same shoddy standards as Joe McCarthy, but with a better business sense.
Clear-eyed, fair-minded people on the left have long recognized the SPLC as a fundraising tool masquerading as a civil-rights group, but its absurd overreach has in recent years earned skeptical coverage from the likes of The Atlantic and PBS.
The SPLC never sees honest disagreement over contentious issues if it can see “hate” instead. It named the Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom hate groups for opposing gay marriage. It designated perfectly respectable restrictionist immigration groups like the Center for Immigration Studies for the offense of favoring less immigration. It labeled the American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers as complicit in “male supremacy.”
The SPLC pretends not to be able to tell the difference between Charles Murray, one of the country’s foremost intellectuals, and the likes of the white nationalists who marched on Charlottesville.
Usually, being named by the SPLC means having the designation routinely noted by the press whatever its merits, but occasionally there’s recourse.
True to form, the SPLC somehow deemed Maajid Nawaz and his Quilliam Foundation — devoted to pushing back against radical Islam — anti-Muslim even though Nawaz is himself a Muslim. He sued for defamation.
The SPLC steadily climbed down. First, it withdrew the “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists” that included him, then settled for $3.375 million. “We would like,” the SPLC said, “to extend our sincerest apologies to Mr. Nawaz, Quilliam, and our readers for the error.”
The error? This makes it sound like the SPLC misspelled his name rather than going out of its way to include him in a research report meant to put a blot on his reputation forevermore.
There’s a lot of talk of the need for more civility in our public life. Any journalist who believes this should shun the SPLC. Its business model is based on an elaborate form of name-calling. It lumps together people who have legitimate, good-faith opinions the SPLC finds uncongenial with hideous racists, using revulsion with the latter to discredit the former.
This is a poisonous form of public argument. Not to mention that many of the groups the SPLC smears have never had its employees complain about its hostile workplace culture. If the SPLC is going to engage in a period of self-reflection, it should think about what it’s become -- and recoil in shame.