As the world emerges from a three-month lockdown, racial unrest has broken out again as a result of the killings of black Americans George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. While the nation is polarized, the reaction of corporate America and the media has been to carefully cull society and culture of any person or image that could be construed as racist or pro-law enforcement.
Statues are being toppled, kneeling for the national anthem is encouraged, and Confederate flags now are even banned at NASCAR events, Meanwhile, careers of liberals and conservatives alike are being ruined for passing remarks, perceived slights, or non-statements of support. This is the “cancel culture” that has been stirred up through years of corporate-media-nonprofit sector collusion, and one of the main accomplices is the Southern Poverty Law Center.
After years of writing about the SPLC’s overbearing dictates for PJ Media, writer Tyler O’Neil undertook to expose the deeper history of the group in his book, Making Hate Pay.
While it brands itself as the group that bankrupted the Ku Klux Klan, in recent years the SPLC has become one of the most domineering organizations policing speech through its hate group map and watch list. But they have a sordid history of internal corruption that their journalistic friends ignore, as well as continuing litigation by targets of their watchlist for publication of libelous claims.
In a recent interview with O’Neil, we discussed the relationship between the SPLC’s work and the events happening today.
RM: Much of the early work of the SPLC was with indigent legal clients, often those who were at risk of being put on death row in cases like Beck v. Alabama. But since refocusing on the Klan and then other hate groups, they are now advocating for harsher sentencing for hate crimes. Can you explain how that transition happened?
TO: That transition makes up a huge part of the book and for good reason, right? There was a step-by-step process. So Morris Dees who was the co-founder felt compunction and remorse about not getting involved actively in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. So in the 1970s, he founded the Southern Poverty Law Center which did a lot of good work on specific cases on changing the way that redistricting worked in Alabama. You had the first black representatives finally win since Reconstruction, being able to represent the community a little bit . . .
But then Morris Dees took the organization in two directions. First he was very liberal from the get-go. And he actually went and worked on the George McGovern campaign in 1972 and brought a whole bunch of those very far left donors into the SPLC’s donor base.
Then he also had this long term . . . personal history with the Klan. He had represented a Klan member in the 1960s, and he had Klan members in his family. And he eventually had a strong animus against the Klan not just as a hate group, but also personally. At one point he sat a Klan member across the room from him and pulled out a shotgun and put it in his face. And he mentions this in his autobiography he’s very proud of it. Anyway, he decided to take the SPLC in an anti-Klan direction, shooting to bankrupt hate groups like the Klan. And this is the kind of work that started to make even other people at the SPLC a little nervous; because they had signed up a lot of the lawyers to help poor people in these particular cases that the SPLC had done so well.
RM: You explored in-depth the unseen history of Dees, the co-founder and key figure in the SPLC, his naked attempts to use litigation for fundraising, and his numerous sexual indiscretions that led to a half-dozen divorces. These issues among others led to the resignations of Dees, Richard Cohen, and several other higher-ups. Why however did SPLC former employees never sue him or the organization for that behavior?
TO: Well I think they wanted to brush it under the rug, even the SPLC employees who were rightly horrified about Morris Dees’s history did not want to continue to weaken their organization by dragging out the story. And I think you see this almost terrifying double standard that a lot of liberal politicians and groups have when Brett Kavanaugh is accused of sexual assault by an extremely flimsy accusation, they’re all saying believe women.
When Joe Biden has a much more credible accusation brought against him—still questionable, mind you, Biden is not necessarily guilty—but then they’re like, “Oh let’s, let’s brush that under the rug.” So, for partially that reason the SPLC —when it fired Dees, when Cohen stepped down, when the entire leadership was pushed out—they announced that they would do an internal review and investigation. And to this day no results have been published.
And, in fact, shortly after Dees was fired and Cohen was let go, you had these claims based in decades of history of racial discrimination and sexual harassment—things that should get talked about and should really seriously encourage an organization to reform it.
And their interim president [Tina Tchen] goes out and says, “Oh, the SPLC is like the Underground Railroad,” forgetting the fact that former black employees had called the SPLC a
plantation. “No, it’s the Underground Railroad. We’re saving people from hate and violence.”
RM: It looked like not long ago that the Maajid Nawaz case and other episodes of bad publicity would wreck the SPLC’s reputation. Yet last year Chick-Fil-A donated $2,500 and did so as well in 2017. With the recent unrest, Pornhub has promised to donate $100,000 to organizations that fight “racism and social injustice” including the SPLC. The organization seems to have gotten a new lease on life. What do you think can be done after this setback for those attempting to shed light on the SPLC’s real nature?
TO: Yeah, I wrote the book to hold them accountable for this. It baffles my mind just how much mainstream media like the New York Times has seemed to have forgotten the scandal that wrecked the SPLC. They seem to have entirely moved on, and just last year the New York Times, the Miami Herald, and the Palm Beach Post all ran SPLC and Council on American-Islamic Relations talking points slamming Act for America as a hate group. And they actually forced even Mar-a-Lago, even the Trump Organization to cancel an event with Act for America.
It baffles my mind. It’s like, you know the organization you’re citing for this not only had a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal, but former employees came forward and said that the hate group accusation is itself a fundraising scam to raise money, to make pay.
In January, they testified before Congress and they said that big tech and the government need to shut down hate groups and silence them because they are statistically connected to white supremacist terrorism. I mean they acted as though their hate group list, which has a million problems—it goes through all sorts of different hate groups, it accuses conservative Christian groups of being anti-LGBT, it accuses national security groups of being anti-Muslim, it
accuses groups of being anti-immigrant—and yet none of those groups is necessarily connected in any way to racism or white nationalism or white supremacy. But the SPLC testifies before
Congress saying all the hate groups are somehow proof that white supremacist terrorism is increasing in the United States.
RM: One of your chapters focused on the impact of Charlottesville on the free speech discussion and the growing movement to rename schools and institutions that have Confederate roots. This has morphed and mutated, such that even Penny Lane, the Liverpool road made famous by the Beatles song, may be renamed for its association with a slave trader. Will the SPLC, in your opinion begin to press the issue further now and sue localities that refuse to rename their institutions?
TO: I think the answer is yes. If the SPLC is smart, they’re not gonna just sue over something like Penny Lane, but I think after you’ve seen these attacks—it’s funny the SPLC not only has this hate map which plots these hate groups—there was a terrorist attack, a would-be murderer found the hate map and targeted a group [the Family Research Council] on the hate map.
But the SPLC came out with another map, a hate map for Confederate monuments. And they said that the existence of these monuments has the potential to unleash turmoil and bloodshed citing Charlottesville. Now some of these monuments on this Confederate hate map are schools. Middle schools, elementary schools, high schools military bases in one case it was called Stonewall Elementary. . . [It’s] not named after Stonewall Jackson, it was named after a literal stone wall that was built there. And if the SPLC had done a little bit of digging they would have found that they were falsely accusing a school of being a Confederate symbol, rallying turmoil and bloodshed. And this kind of thing is malicious, and I would argue it’s defamation.
I list 10 cases in the back of the book, many of those cases are ongoing—a few of them, like you said, Maajid Nawaz which is a tremendous story who needs to get more attention, a Muslim reformer branded as an anti-Muslim extremist.
The SPLC would not just come with a lawsuit out of the blue, they would find some black person
who claims to feel the pain of this monument existing, and then do it on their behalf. And one of the problems with people like Governor Ralph Northam going out there and taking down these statues is that a lot of the rhetoric enables the SPLC to have a legal case to do this kind of thing.