It had to happen sometime. The Southern Poverty Law Center has made so many vile, unjustified, hysterical, and hateful accusations over the years, it was bound to pay a price. When it did, the bill due was $3.375 million. Such was the amount the SPLC agreed to pay the British Muslim Maajid Nawaz and his think tank, the Quilliam Foundation, after smearing them in a “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists.” Nawaz, a former Islamist radical turned whistleblower who calls for the modernization of Islam in columns for the Daily Beast and on London talk radio, had threatened to sue the SPLC for defamation — traditionally and properly a difficult case to make in U.S. courts. Yet the SPLC caved spectacularly.
The Nawaz settlement was the most damaging episode yet in what has become an increasingly dire situation for the SPLC’s floundering image. Image, painstakingly built since its founding in 1971, is its chief asset. Image is what keeps the dollars flowing in. The Right has long been calling attention to the SPLC’s questionable tactics, but these days even Politico, The Atlantic, and PBS are running skeptical pieces about the saints of the South. Politico wondered whether the SPLC was “overstepping its bounds” and quoted an anti-terrorism expert, J. M. Berger, who pointed out that “the problem partly stems from the fact that the [SPLC] wears two hats, as both an activist group and a source of information.” David A. Graham of The Atlantic wrote that the “Field Guide” was “more like an attempt to police the discourse on Islam than a true inventory of anti-Muslim extremists, of whom there is no shortage, and opened SPLC up to charges that it had strayed from its civil-rights mission.” PBS interviewer Bob Garfield suggested to its president that the SPLC is increasingly seen “not as fighting the good fight but as being opportunists exploiting our political miseries” and that this was tantamount to killing “the goose that lays the golden egg.” In 2015 the FBI dropped the SPLC from its list of resources about hate groups.
Lately the SPLC has taken on an increasingly desperate, self-parodying tone, denouncing such mainstream figures as the psychologist, author, and PJ Media columnist Helen Smith and the American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers, calling them “anti-feminist female voices” and adding them to its double-secret-probation list under the catch-all term “male supremacy.” Former Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain, who is black, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the group had “smeared” her after she questioned the SPLC’s “misguided focus.” Mark Potok, then the SPLC’s national spokesman, denounced her as “an apologist for white supremacists” in a story published on the front page of Swain’s local newspaper, the Tennessean.
To sum up recent events: The SPLC has been crazily denouncing highly respected writers who are Muslim, black, and female for being anti-Muslim, anti-black, and misogynist. All of these contrived charges are in the service of the SPLC’s core mission, which is to separate progressives from their dollars.
Founded in 1971, the Alabama-based SPLC, dubbed “essentially a fraud” by Ken Silverstein in a blog post for Harper’s back in 2010, discovered some time ago that it could line its coffers by positioning itself as a scourge of racists. Silverstein reported that in 1987, after the SPLC sued the United Klans of America, which had almost no assets to begin with, over the lynching murder of Michael Donald, the son of Beulah Mae Donald, the grieving mother realized $52,000 from the court case — but the SPLC used the matter in fundraising appeals (including one that exploited a photograph of Donald’s corpse) that raked in some $9 million in donations. Today the SPLC typically hauls in (as it did in 2015) $50 million. In its 2016 annual report it listed its net endowment assets at an eye-popping $319 million. It’s now quaint to recall that, when Silverstein called the SPLC the wealthiest civil-rights group in America, it had a mere $120 million in assets. That was in 2000. President Richard Cohen and co-founder–cum–chief trial counsel Morris Dees each raked in well over $350,000 in compensation in 2015.