These are not happy times for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which doesn’t have a lot to do with the South, poverty or the law, and it thrives far from the center of the political spectrum. The center is mostly a cash machine, and it has raised hundreds of millions of dollars, mostly from well-meaning but gullible liberals — “progressives” in the current argot — in the name of fighting injustice and hate. Lately it has been called out as a hate group itself.
The poverty center has compiled lots of lists of what it calls “hate groups,” and maps of where they operate, and even the U.S. government, which ought to have known better, has used the lists as a “resource.” Who doesn’t hate authentic hate groups? Exposing actual hate groups is a worthy goal, as worthy as exposing hucksters who make a career of bearing false witness.
The poverty center has labeled perfectly respectable pro-family organizations such as the Family Research Council as “hate groups,” and individuals, such as Ben Carson, a racial “extremist.” The Defense Department, the FBI and other government agencies once used the poverty center’s lists as a “resource.” The federal gumshoes, with their own vast resources at hand, might have more usefully looked for hate groups on their own.
The Department of Justice, under President Obama, first rebuked its lawyers for using the poverty center’s “hate group” label to dismiss a conservative advocacy group. Using a map contrived by the poverty center “overstepped the bounds of zealous advocacy and was unprofessional,” a disciplinary lawyer in the department said in an internal document. Such behavior, it said, was “uncivil” and “constitutes frivolous behavior and does not aid the administration of justice.”
The Defense Department’s Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute Institute, a mouthful of alphabet soup that not even its dean can keep straight, once used the poverty-center lists as a “resource,” but the Daily Caller obtained internal emails at the Pentagon that revealed that “all references to the Southern Poverty Law Center have been removed from any current training.”
The poverty center was founded by a Montgomery, Alabama, lawyer named Morris Dees, now 80, a direct-mail specialist and onetime fundraiser for the late George Wallace, the segregationist governor and presidential candidate who carried four Deep South states in 1968. He set out, he once said, “to make a lot of money,” and, after revising his moral convictions, has done that. The poverty center is said to be sitting on more than $300 million in cash reserves.
Mr. Dees and his center were once accused by the Montgomery Advertiser, his hometown newspaper, and Harper’s magazine of exaggerating the threat posed by the Ku Klux Klan and overstating the prevalence and number of hate groups to raise large amounts of money. The newspaper’s eight-part series, about the poverty center’s exaggerations, discrimination against black employees and misleading fundraising tactics, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Journalism.