Southern Poverty Law Center

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The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a civil rights organization headquarted in Montgomery, Alabama. It was founded by Morris Dees and Joe Levin, two local lawyers "who shared a commitment to racial equality" in 1971. The Center's first president was civil rights activist Julian Bond.[1]

According to its website, SPLC is "dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry" and seeking justice for "the most vulnerable members of our society." SPLC uses litigation, education and other forms of advocacy.[2]


The Intelligence Report

According to SPLC:

"The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors hate groups and racial extremists throughout the United States and exposes their activities to law enforcement agencies, the media and the public. We publish our investigative findings online and in the Intelligence Report, our award-winning quarterly journal. We’ve crippled some of the country’s most notorious hate groups by suing them for murders and other violent acts committed by their members.[3]

Teaching Tolerance

SPLC's Teaching Tolerance is a public school outreach program that teaches diversity through educational materials and teacher seminars. [4]


Aryan Nation

In 1998, a mother and son were beaten and shot at after their car had backfired outside of the compound outside of the Aryan Nations compound in Idaho. The SPLC filed a lawsuit against the group and its founder, Richard Butler, in an attempt to bankrupt them.[5]

In 2000, a jury ruled that Mr. Butler and the Aryan Nations were guilty of gross negligence and awarded the Keenan family $6.3 million. Richard Butler was forced to give up his 20-acre compound to the Keenans, who then sold the property to a local philantropist. Currently the former compound now serves as a museum for civil rights. [6], [7]


According to an October of 2008 article in Counterpunch, founder and Chief Counsel Morris Dees' fund raising letters have been "scaring dollars out of the pockets of trembling liberals, aghast at his lurid depictions of hate-sodden America, in dire need of legal confrontation by the SPLC", since 1971. [8] According to a November of 2000 article in Harpers Magazine by Ken Silverstein:

"The Klu Klux Klan, the SPLC's most lucrative nemesis, has shrunk from 4 million members in the 1920s to an estimated 2,000 today, as many as 10 percent of whom are thought to be FBI informants. But news of a declining Klan does not make for inclining donations to Morris Dees and Co., which is why the SPLC honors nearly every nationally covered "hate crime" with direct-mail alarms full of nightmarish invocations of "armed Klan paramilitary forces" and "violent neo-Nazi extremists," and why Dees does legal battle almost exclusively with mediagenic villains-like Idaho's arch-Aryan Richard Butler-eager to show off their swastikas for the news cameras.
In 1987, Dees won a $7 million judgment against the United Klans of America on behalf of Beulah Mae Donald, whose son was lynched by two Klansmen. The UKA's total assets amounted to a warehouse whose sale netted Mrs. Donald $51,875. According to a groundbreaking series of newspaper stories in the Montgomery Advertiser, the SPLC, meanwhile, made $9 million from fund-raising solicitations featuring the case, including one containing a photo of Michael Donald's corpse."


Expanding definition of "hate"

According to the SPLC, the numbers of "known hate groups operating across the country" are growing:

"Currently, there are 926 known hate groups operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others. ..And their numbers are growing." [10]

Some have alleged these numbers are growing because the SPLC has expanded their definition of "hate." Carol M. Swain is a Professor of Political Science and Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University, wrote on the Huffington Post in 2009 that "I have been highly critical of the organization in recent months because of its penchant for going after conservative individuals and groups who have exercised their First Amendment Rights to speak out on issues like illegal immigration." The SPLC included her in their weekly HateWatch after she recommended a documentary for classroom use. Swain replied:

"They seem to conflate my endorsement of A Conversation about Race with a comprehensive endorsement of [filmmaker Craig Bodeker], and his newly exposed familiarity with racist thought. The SPLC needs to rethink its mission and the impact that its attacks can have on individuals who are limited in the means available to defend themselves. An organization with the rich history of the Southern Poverty Law Center should be above ad hominem attacks, guilt-by-association smears, and the never ending search for red herrings." [11]

anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism?

A Fall of 2007 SPLC Intelligence Report featured an article entitled "Navy Extremist Disciplined--But Not for Extremism", focusing on Navy officer John Sharp, Jr. According to the article, evidence for Sharpe's anti-Semitism included:

"...connections to Arab extremists that were ignored. On his website, for example, is an interview with Ibrahim Ebeid, a Baathist and supporter of Saddam Hussein. Ebeid says in the interview that 'neo-cons and Zionists' are responsible for a 'vicious criminal war' against Iraq and Palestine."

According to Felice Pace in an open letter to the SPLC in Counterpunch:

"This is the evidence that you have used to determine that Ebeid is an "extremist"? If so, I too am an extremist and so are many American Progressives! ...Zionism is rejected by a growing number of American Jews and by many Israelis. In this regard I would refer you to the book "The Tragedy of Zionism--How its Revolutionary Past Haunts Israeli Democracy" by Israeli author Bernard Avishai.
It is of the highest importance that the Southern Poverty Law Center and its leaders clarify their positions on Zionism and specifically whether you equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Since you have not-to-subtly suggested this connection in your magazine, I believe this clarification should also be published in the magazine. Perhaps you should also consider opening a dialogue with those of us in the Progressive Community who are anti-Zionist. At minimum the article you published indicates a lack of clarity at the Center about whether opposition to Zionism alone makes one an "extremist" and/or 'anti-Semitic'."[12]

Further context: Jeffrey Blankfort, a justice activist and journalist in California, stated: "The Southern Poverty Law Center is another Zionist front group." [13]. SPLC set up to coopt African Americans.

Immigration reform

In the last few years, the SPLC has focused has focused on anti-immigration activists and groups.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is the largest immigration control organization in the country. The SPLC designated FAIR a "hate group" in December of 2007, citing the organization's "ties to white supremacy and its long track record of bigotry." According to a 2008 report by SPLC, founder and board member John Tanton, is the "architect of the movement" and has a "more than 30-year history of racial extremism." Based on "Tanton's personal correspondence, preserved at the University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library," the report revealed that Tanton has been "in the midst of the white nationalist scene for decades."

"He has corresponded frequently with leading white nationalist thinkers, race scientists and Holocaust deniers. He encouraged a major donor to read the work of a radical anti-Semitic professor to "give you a new understanding of the Jewish outlook on life." And he suggested that the board of FAIR, on which he sits, discuss the professor's theories on the Jews."

According to the report, his organizations have long been "high-profile players" in the immigration debate. Furthermore, FAIR is responsible for helping to "defeat federal immigration reform legislation in 2007". They are also held responsible for "playing a key role in fueling the fierce, anti-immigrant backlash in the United States." FAIR "boasts on its website that it has been called on to testify about immigration more than any other organization."[14]

Illegal government surveillance

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based writer on Middle East affairs and U.S. politics. She is Director of the Division on Muslim Civil Rights and Liberties for the National Association of Muslim American Women. In May of 2009, Ms. Friedman published an article entitled Americans Divided by Hate Crimes Bill , in the Khaleej Times (Persian Gulf), which included the following:

"The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), along with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), is already heavily involved in Homeland Security's locally based 'fusion centres, 'which collect personal data for intelligence databases that synchronise national intelligence collection with local police. ADL and SPLC have a record of illegally spying on American citizens and providing false information to law enforcement officials." [15]

In response to Mark Potok's demand for a retraction of "libelous and defamatory" statements, Ms. Friedman responded:

"The U.S. Department of Justice released FBI documents indicating that the Southern Poverty Law Center engaged in undercover surveillance of Oklahoma militia groups in 1995 before and after the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The local FBI team, which should have obtained a warrant to dispatch real FBI agents, criminally conspired with SPLC agents to get around Attorney General Janet Reno’s legal limitations on domestic spying. Because the conspiracy was criminal, the espionage was illegal."

In The Watchdogs: A close look at Anti-Racist ‘Watchdog’ Groups, [16] Laird Wilcox documents the SPLC’s extensive intelligence networks monitoring editorials, observing meetings and compiling files on people they consider offensive:

“By alleging ‘dangerousness’ on the basis of mere assumed values, opinions and beliefs, they put entirely innocent citizens at risk from law enforcement error and misconduct.”

Mark Potok admitted that the SPLC criminally spied on the Animal Rights 2001 Conference by secretly recording attendees. In response to complaints by Friends of Animals president, Pricilla Feral about misleading SPLC characterizations about the group, he responded that:

“We were at that conference, we collected the quote ourselves, in person and on a videotape to boot.”

In an article libeling Muslim clerics, the SPLC linked videos apparently made in violation of federal wiretapping and eavesdropping statutes. Many organizations and individuals have accused the SPLC of publishing false and misleading information as well as manipulating crime data and terminology. Federal law enforcement agencies and Homeland Security Fusion Centers have been issued a warning against relying on their erroneous and politicized "reports". The Turkish American Legal Defense Fund is currently suing the SPLC for defaming an 85-year-old emeritus professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts. [17]

Fund raising, assets & program expenses

As of October 2008, the group's net assets were $170,240,129. Chief Counsel Morris Dees was paid $273,132 and the President and CEO, Richard Cohen, was paid $290,193. Total revenue in 2007 was $44,727,257 and program expenses were $20,804,536. In other words, they raised twice as much they spent. Fund-raising and administrative expenses were $9 million, leaving $14 million to be put into the center's vast assets. [18]

According to a March of 2007 article in Harpers Magazine by Ken Silverstein, the SPLC combats mostly impotent groups like the Nazis and the Klu Klux Klan; raising obscene amounts of money by hyping fears about their power and influence. Hence, they have become the nation's richest "civil rights" organization. In 1978, when their treasury held less than $10 million, Mr. Dees vowed they would stop fund-raising and live off interest when they hit $55 million. A decade later, the goal was upped to $100 million. The group's newsletter promised that this amount would allow it "to cease the costly and often unreliable task of fund raising."[19]

SPLC is a tax-exempt, charitable organization incorporated in 1971 under tax code 501(c)(3). In the fiscal year ending in 2009, the group's assets totaled at $189.7 million dollars. Approximately 68% of our total expenses were spent on program services in 2009. [20]

Personnel & board

Senior program staff

  • Richard Cohen - President
  • Morris Dees - Founder, Chief Trial Attorney
  • Mary Bauer - Legal Director
  • Mark Potok - Director, Intelligence Project
  • Lecia Brooks - Director, Civil Rights Memorial Center
  • Maureen Costello - Teaching Tolerance Director


  • Heidi Beirich, PhD
  • Joseph T. Roy
  • Dan Werner
  • Mónica Ramírez
  • Kristi Graunke
  • Andrew Turner
  • Jim Knoepp
  • Sheila Bedi
  • Ron Lospennato
  • David J. Utter
  • Danielle Lipow
  • Marion Chartoff
  • Courtney Bowie
  • Sean Price
  • Thom Ronk [21]

Board members


Southern Poverty Law Center 400 Washington Avenue
Montgomery, AL 36104

Web address:

Articles & sources

Sourcewatch articles


  1. Advocates for Justice and Equality, Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed November 10, 2007
  2. What we do, SPLC, accessed March 2001
  3. Hate and Extremism, SPLC, accessed March 2010
  4. Teaching Tolerance, SPLC, March 2010
  5. Bryan Denson Suit aims to bankrupt Aryan Nations, The Oregonian, January 27, 1999
  6. Keenean, Aryan Nation Verdict, SPLC, March 7, 2001
  7. Aryan Nation Hub Gets New Owner, CBS News, March 7, 2001
  8. Alexander Cockburn King of the Hate Business, Counterpunch, May 15-17, 2009
  9. Ken Silverstein The Church of Morris Dees: How the Southern Poverty Law Center profits from intolerance, Harpers Magazine, November 2000
  10. Hate and Extremism, SPLC, accessed March 2010
  11. Carol M. Swain Guilt by Association: The Southern Poverty Law Center Hurls a Punch, Huffington Post, October 12, 2009
  12. Felice Pace An Open Letter to the Southern Poverty Law Clinic: Do You Equate Anti-Zionism with Anti-Semitism?, Counterpunch, November 1, 2007
  13. 12 December 2006; from his email list
  14. New SPLC Report: Documents Reveal History of Racial Extremism by Architect of Anti-Immigration Movement, SPLC, September 22, 2008
  15. Karin Friedemann Americans Divided by Hate Crimes Bill (Letter From America), Khaleej Times, May 16 2009
  16. Laird Wilcox The Watchdogs: A close look at Anti-Racist ‘Watchdog’ Groups, 1997, ISBN 0-933592-89-2
  17. Karin Friedemann SPLC vs. Karin Friedemann, May 24, 2009
  18. Alexander Cockburn King of the Hate Business, Counterpunch, May 15-17, 2009
  19. Ken Silverstein Southern Poverty: richer than Tonga, Harpers Magazine, March 2007
  20. Financial Information, SPLC, accessed March 2010
  21. Senior Program Staff, SPLC, accessed March 2020
  22. Board of Directors, SPLC, accessed March 2010

External articles

External resources