EDITORIAL: Southern Poverty Law Center sells an epidemic


Some of the shills on the left lament “an epidemic of hate out there, and it’s about to drown the republic.” The contagion has spread like wildfire, which stretches cliche to a breaking point, and according to the usual jeremiahs on the left it all started with Donald Trump.

Hate is bad. Who can doubt it? But the idea that the nation is about to drown, or die by fire (which might be difficult to achieve at the same time), is, as Mark Twain said of rumors of his death, greatly exaggerated.

Such exaggeration is abundant on the left, where there’s money to make with abuse of reality. Fantasy is often more salable than mere facts. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which some people insist on taking seriously against considerable evidence pointing otherwise, calls 2016 “The Year [of] Hate and Extremism.” Naturally all that hate and extremism is illustrated with a photograph of the Donald. The terms “hate groups” and “radical right” are used interchangeably, and the report’s authors say Mr. Trump’s “run for office electrified the radical right.”

The poverty center paints America as overrun by the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation and other white-nationalist, neo-Nazi, “anti-immigration” and anti-government groups. The poverty center concedes, however, that these are “mostly tiny groups” and that several of them “collapsed almost as quickly as they appeared.” Indeed, the Ku Klux Klan, the poverty center’s favorite fund-raising bait, is down now to several thousand members and by most law-enforcement estimates 10 percent of those are undercover FBI agents, police informants and others of harmless ilk. But you can’t make a profit selling good news.

The poverty center casts a wide definition of what constitutes a “hate group,” with a definition so expansive that the Campfire Girls and the Cub Scouts barely escape citation. The center disparages the perfectly respectable Family Research Council, for example, as an organization “virulently anti-LGBT.” To the horror of the author of the report, Mr. Trump even selected Kenneth Blackwell, an official of the Family Research Council, to lead his transition team.

The poverty center’s origins and fund-raising methods have given it a shady reputation among professional fund-raisers. The center was founded by Morris Dees, now 80, an Alabama lawyer and onetime aide of the late George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama and two-time third-party candidate for president. Then he set out to make a pile of money, and he didn’t care how. He has succeeded beyond his dreams.

Harper’s magazine published the results of a lengthy investigation years ago and concluded that the center spends twice as much on fund-raising than it spends on legal services for the poor and black victims of civil-rights abuse.

The former director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta has called Mr. Dees “a con man and a fraud” who “has taken advantage of naive, well-meaning people — some of them moderate or low-income — who believe his pitches and give to his $175-million center operation.” One former official of the organization says its appeals, which sometimes include photographs of blood and gore, are designed to cash in on “black pain and white guilt.” The American Institute of Philanthropy has given the poverty center one of the worst ratings of any group it monitors, and estimates that the organization could operate for five years without making an appeal for contributions, solely on the investments of its bulging financial reserves.

These poverty warriors take what they’re selling with more than a grain of salt themselves, and so should the rest of us.


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