Tolerance Group Accused of Character Assassination

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January 27, 2011; Source: The New American | Full disclosure: Unless there is something lurking in their genealogies, NPQ's Rick Cohen is not related to the J. Richard Cohen who leads the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center. That said, this New American diatribe against the SPLC is really way over the top.

Based in Montgomery, Ala., the SPLC has long provided a valuable function by tracking and mapping "hate groups." Lately, it has earned the enmity of many conservatives for its classification of the Family Research Council as a hate group due to its propagation of known falsehoods about lesbians and gays.

That earned the SPLC a newspaper ad signed by Michele Bachman, Phyllis Schlafly, Star Parker, and John Boehner, among others, for its purported "character assassination" tactics. Unfortunately, the New American fails to note that the SPLC’s mission is to teach tolerance. There is little or no tolerance for LGBT populations in the propaganda of the "family-values organizations".

As the SPLC notes, declaring lesbians and gays as unbiblical doesn't give organizations a free pass for their LGBT hatred. It would have been much better for the New American to explain how the Family Research Council isn’t really intolerant toward gays. Or they could have suggested how they might re-frame their arguments against don't-ask-don't-tell, for example, in a way that defuses those in their organizations who spew venomous anti-gay attitudes.

But the New American chose a different tack. Instead they hurled a litany of ad hominem attacks on the SPLC. For example, without evidence the article charges that the "SPLC's well-compensated directors invest their millions in hedge funds and offshore bank accounts in the Cayman Islands," and alleges that the SPLC along with the entire left uses the word "patriot" as "an epithet rather than an accolade."

Our favorite is the article’s critique of the purportedly money-grabbing Morris Dees who founded the SPLC, described as a "con man and fraud.” The New American writer criticizes Dees’ home, snarkily dubbed "Casa Dees," because of its "guest quarters . . . oodles of surrealistic decorations . . . [and] a matador's costume hang(ing) in a bathroom." He slams Dees’ wife as a "pretty missus [who] happens to be a textile artist . . . whose clientele is society's creme de la creme." That’s not the way to make the argument.—Rick Cohen

  • Mark Potok

    Thanks, Rick, for the very fair article on the counter-attack by the religious right on the Southern Poverty Law Center, where I work. (It’s the department I head, the Intelligence Project, that made these hate group designations.) One thing that seems important that is not in the story: The New American is published by the John Birch Society, anti-communist group that described President Eisenhower as a “conscious agent” of the worldwide communist conspiracy.

    Mark Potok
    Director, Intelligence Project
    Southern Poverty Law Center
    Montgomery, Ala.

  • Bill Dietel

    A first rate article on a very important subject.

  • james stuart

    Not that long ago Harper’s published a worthy assessment of SPLC that detailed offshore accounts to hide the group’s assets. One is left to wonder if they are indeed a “tolerance group” or perhaps they are onto an irresistible revenue-spinning scheme. If so, many are obviously duped.

  • Steve Scroggins

    The conspicuous nature of Dees’ home along with what Montgomery locals call the “Poverty Palace” (SPLC HQ) is significant when Dees’ salary is compared with ACLU, NAACP, etc., and when one sees how little of the funds they raise is actually spent on their primary mission.