Seven Reasons to Beware the Southern Poverty Law Center
Seven Reasons to Beware the Southern Poverty Law Center
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Written by Carol Swain, PhD

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says its primary mission is to fight hatred, teach tolerance, and seek justice. These are noble goals for most Americans, but this is not a noble organization. It is the exact opposite. Given the SPLC’s power and influence over the media and members of Congress, this once highly-regarded civil rights organization deserves fresh scrutiny. Here are seven reasons why the SPLC fails to serve the public interest:

The SPLC ignores basic standards of scientific research in selecting and classifying hate groups and extremists. 

The SPLC’s definition of “hate” is vague. It defines a hate group as one with “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” SPLC President Richard Cohen testified in December 2017 that its assessment of hate is based on opinion, not objective criteria. (See minutes 43-48 of his testimony.)

George Yancy, a University of North Texas sociologist, documented the SPLC’s subjective nature in a 2014 study, “Watching the Watchers.” Yancy said the group’s methodology seemed more geared to mobilizing liberals than cataloguing hate groups.

The SPLC uses guilt by association to engage in ad hominem attacks against individuals.

Hannah Scherlacher, a Campus Reform worker, found her name listed in the SPLC’s “Anti-LGBT Roundup of Events and Activities” after the conservative Family Research Council interviewed her. Surprisingly, Scherlacher’s interview had nothing to do with LGBT issues. In 2009, soon after I criticized the SPLC for having mission creep, it labeled me “an apologist for white supremacy.”

I committed the crime of endorsing a film produced by a man the SPLC considers a racist.

The SPLC ignores threats posed by leftist, anti-American groups such as ANTIFA, ISIS, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite the growing threat of jihadist violence, the SPLC has been reluctant to add Islamic groups with terrorist ties to its list of extremists. It also ignored how, in 2004, the FBI found plans for a “grand jihad” in America within the archives of the Muslim Brotherhood in North America. Yet, the SPLC has applied the hate label to Muslim critics of Islam, such as Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Both are listed in its Field Guide to Muslim Extremists.

The SPLC attacks and smears mainstream public service organizations, including churches, ministries, and various pro-family entities.

Targeted organizations include the American Family Association, Alliance Defending Freedom, Act for America, the Center for Immigration Studies, Center for Security Policy, D. James Kennedy Ministries, Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel and the Traditional Values Coalition*. These groups are lumped together by the SPLC with the Aryan Nations, KKK, and neo-Nazis. Preposterous.

Note: labelling an organization as a hate group hurts its fundraising and hinders access to credit card-processing vendors, search engine rankings, and ministry partners.

The SPLC bashes conservatives while pushing a liberal agenda that empowers and supports leftists, communists, and anarchists.

The SPLC regularly bashes President Donald Trump, blaming him for the growth of white nationalism. Their analysis fails to acknowledge that the rise of white nationalism predates the election of Trump by more than two decades. Much of what the president says or does is framed as an attack on civil rights.

Curiously, after violence in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, the SPLC republished a map detailing the location of more than 1,500 Confederate monuments and symbols. Consider the map a field guide for anarchists.

The SPLC’s labeling of groups and individuals has inspired acts of violence against its targets.

The SPLC is the common thread in two violent hate crimes against conservatives. After the SPLC listed the Family Research Council (FRC) on its hate map, Floyd Lee Corkins II entered FRC headquarters in August 2012 intending to commit mass murder. He was subdued by a security guard who was shot in the process. Likewise, James T. Hodgkinson, who in 2017 shot U.S. House Majority Whip Representative Steve Scalise (R-La.), was an SPLC social media fan.

The SPLC is an irresponsible public charity.

The SPLC has violated the public trust. Nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations are expected to operate in a nonpartisan manner with the public interest at heart. The SPLC, however, is a radical activist group dedicated to suppressing political dissent.

As of 2016, the SPLC had $319 million in net assets with $69 million parked in offshore accounts. Despite its name, the SPLC does not fight poverty. Its salaries are bloated, and only a fraction of its annual contributions are used to support its programs. Writing for Philanthropy Roundtable, a nonprofit group informing the public on philanthropic activity and groups, executive director Karl Zinsmeister wrote:

The SPLC is a cash-collecting machine. In 2015 it vacuumed up $50 million in contributions and foundation grants, a tidy addition to its $334 million holdings of cash and securities and its headquarters worth $34 million. They’ve never spent more than 31 percent of the money they were bringing in on programs, and sometimes they spent as little as 18 percent. Most nonprofits spend about 75 percent on programs.

A strong case can be made to strip the SPLC of its nonprofit, tax-exempt status.

Congress and the media need to take a fresh look at the SPLC. It no longer serves the public interest.


[*Editor’s note: The Illinois Family Institute is also on the SPLC “hate groups” list. Read more here and here.]

Carol Swain is a former associate professor of politics at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and former professor of both political science and law at Vanderbilt University. She holds a master of studies in law from Yale University and a Ph.D from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This article was originally posted at

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