SPLC going down in flames

I’ve always thought the Southern Poverty Law Center was one of the good guys, fighting against race hatred and taking on groups like the KKK. And then, suddenly, Morris Dees, one of the founders and leaders of the organization, was booted out. What was going, I wondered. The SPLC’s brief announcements didn’t explain anything. Now we know.

We were working with a group of dedicated and talented people, fighting all kinds of good fights, making life miserable for the bad guys. And yet, all the time, dark shadows hung over everything: the racial and gender disparities, the whispers about sexual harassment, the abuses that stemmed from the top-down management, and the guilt you couldn’t help feeling about the legions of donors who believed that their money was being used, faithfully and well, to do the Lord’s work in the heart of Dixie. We were part of the con, and we knew it.

Wait, are you saying I was conned? By the SPLC? Crap.

the Los Angeles Times and the Alabama Political Reporter reported that Dees’s ouster had come amid a staff revolt over the mistreatment of nonwhite and female staffers, which was sparked by the resignation of the senior attorney Meredith Horton, the highest-ranking African-American woman at the center. A number of staffers subsequently signed onto two letters of protest to the center’s leadership, alleging that multiple reports of sexual harassment by Dees through the years had been ignored or covered up, and sometimes resulted in retaliation against the women making the claims. (Dees denied the allegations, telling a reporter, “I don’t know who you’re talking to or talking about, but that is not right.”)

The staffers wrote that Dees’s firing was welcome but insufficient: their larger concern, they emphasized, was a widespread pattern of racial and gender discrimination by the center’s current leadership, stretching back many years. (The S.P.L.C. has since appointed Tina Tchen, a former chief of staff for Michelle Obama, to conduct a review of its workplace environment.) If Cohen and other senior leaders thought that they could shunt the blame, the riled-up staffers seem determined to prove them wrong. One of my former female colleagues told me that she didn’t want to go into details of her harassment for this story, because she believes the focus should be on the S.P.L.C.’s current leadership. “I just gotta hope your piece helps keep the momentum for change going,” she said. Stephen Bright, a Yale professor and longtime S.P.L.C. critic, told me, “These chickens took a very long flight before they came home to roost.” The question, for current and former staffers alike, is how many chickens will come to justice before this long-overdue reckoning is complete.

They talked the talk, but they didn’t walk the walk. What they were doing was good and necessary, but their aims were not reflected at all in their internal organization. This is a familiar bad look, where teams of old white men run the show and tell the world how much they value diversity. It’s fine to promote diversity, but you also have to be able to step to the side and make room for other voices. I guess Morris Dees wasn’t able to do that.


  1. says

    The SPLCs credibility was already dead when they listed Ayaan Hirshi Ali and Maajid Nawas as anti Muslim extremists – together with Pam Geller and other genuinely unsavory characters. They literally had to get sued (and lose) to apologise for that amazing blunder.

  2. =8)-DX says

    @Christopher Svanefalk #2 Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been shown to be not only professionally dishonest, but yes also an anti-muslim bigot who has called for things like forced christianisation of muslim countries. Maybe not as odious as Pamela Geller, but not someone entirely innocent on that charge.

  3. weylguy says

    The entire human race is corrupt. I’m glad I just turned 70 — I won’t have to put up with this bullshit much longer.

  4. johnthedrunkard says

    Ali made the comment that Christianity might be a step up from the kind of Islam she’d been raised in. It did ring oddly in context. But the ‘called for forced Christianization’ claim is 100% bullshit. Exactly the kind of thing that Islamist appeasers smear all over the place.

  5. says

    Aside from the fact that the RW article reads more like a personal takedown of Ayaan than a reasonable expose, I still can find no claim in it that she advocated forced christianisation. Could you point me to the referenced source you’re referring to?

  6. says

    Wow, and when an article contains vile sexist bullshit like this, please never point me to it again:

    “She later fled to Europe to avoid what she claimed was abusive arranged marriage, although for some reason she still talked with her ex-husband, who had allegedly paid so that she could even go to Europe, and he even agreed to a divorce”

    Yes, because abused women need to follow clearly defined patterns (by men, who I assume also wrote the article) when it comes to how they interact with their abusive partners. How kind of the abuser to even agree to a divorce! Get out.

  7. says

    Marissa, it’s simple:

    People were involved. People screw up. And then try to cover up their screwups. Some people may have almost everything pointing in the right direction and screw up in just one area.

    Too often, “good guy” organizations end up adopting “bad guy” tactics routinely to Get the Mission Accomplished.

  8. F.O. says

    @Christopher Svanefalk #8: You are right, that’s sexist bullshit and I should have recognised it.
    I didn’t post the RW article to support any side or POV, but just to make the discussion a bit more concrete.

  9. says

    Does this mean that the whole operation is bad?
    I’ve been giving them $10 a month for years. I’m now in a quandary: should I stop or not?

  10. citizenjoe says

    I’ve been supporting them for decades. It’s not the first time people or organizations have disappointed me, some of them have redeemed themselves, and I’ve supported some of them through the process. I’m going to continue to support the SPLC, but watch what they do very carefully. Hell, I still give blood and money to the Red Cross, though they are hugely imperfect, because they are in some cases the only game in town: how else does blood get from me to my neighbors?

  11. KG says

    This is from Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s 2007 interview with Reason:

    Reason: Should we acknowledge that organized religion has sometimes sparked precisely the kinds of emancipation movements that could lift Islam into modern times? Slavery in the United States ended in part because of opposition by prominent church members and the communities they galvanized. The Polish Catholic Church helped defeat the Jaruzelski puppet regime. Do you think Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?

    Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.

    Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?

    Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.

    Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?

    Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.

    Reason: Militarily?

    Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.

    So pretending that she is not – or at least, was not at that time, she may have modified her views – an anti-Muslim extremist is either ignorant or dishonest. As for Maajid Nawas, he’s just a lying, self-dramatising opportunist – so SPLC did get that one wrong.