Morris Dees, one of the co-founders of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), recently was fired for unspecified misconduct.

We covered the firing, Southern Poverty Law Center fires co-founder Morris Dees for unspecified misconduct, including my long-time criticism of SPLC:

I was critical of the Southern Poverty Law Center before it was cool to be critical of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

You can scroll through my posts about the SPLC dating back to 2009, including:

I was quoted in a Politico article about the SPLC in January 2017, and it pretty much summed up my view:

William Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell and critic of the SPLC, says the group has wrapped itself in the mantle of the civil rights struggle to engage in partisan political crusading. “Time and again, I see the SPLC using the reputation it gained decades ago fighting the Klan as a tool to bludgeon mainstream politically conservative opponents,” he says. “For groups that do not threaten violence, the use of SPLC ‘hate group’ or ‘extremist’ designations frequently are exploited as an excuse to silence speech and speakers,” Jacobson adds. “It taints not only the group or person, but others who associate with them.”

So I was happy when Dees was fired, as quoted in The New York Times:

“I am glad to see Dees leave S.P.L.C., whatever the reason,” William A. Jacobson, a professor at Cornell Law School and an outspoken critic of the group, said on Thursday.

“S.P.L.C. long ago focused on combating the Ku Klux Klan, but then abused the reputation it earned for those efforts by demonizing political opponents through the use of hate and extremist lists to stifle speech by people who presented no risk of violence,” Mr. Jacobson said.

Reports after the firing indicate there was a culture of racism and sexism at SPLC which Dees either engaged in or tolerated. The loss of Dees was a body blow to SPLC’s public image, and the hits have kept coming.

Bob Moser, who used to work at SPLC, wrote at The New Yorker that SPLC was “a highly profitable scam” in which sexism and racism were widespread:

In the decade or so before I’d arrived, the center’s reputation as a beacon of justice had taken some hits from reporters who’d peered behind the façade. In 1995, the Montgomery Advertiser had been a Pulitzer finalist for a series that documented, among other things, staffers’ allegations of racial discrimination within the organization. In Harper’s, Ken Silverstein had revealed that the center had accumulated an endowment topping a hundred and twenty million dollars while paying lavish salaries to its highest-ranking staffers and spending far less than most nonprofit groups on the work that it claimed to do. The great Southern journalist John Egerton, writing for The Progressive, had painted a damning portrait of Dees, the center’s longtime mastermind, as a “super-salesman and master fundraiser” who viewed civil-rights work mainly as a marketing tool for bilking gullible Northern liberals. “We just run our business like a business,” Dees told Egerton. “Whether you’re selling cakes or causes, it’s all the same.”

Co-workers stealthily passed along these articles to me—it was a rite of passage for new staffers, a cautionary heads-up about what we’d stepped into with our noble intentions. Incoming female staffers were additionally warned by their new colleagues about Dees’s reputation for hitting on young women. And the unchecked power of the lavishly compensated white men at the top of the organization—Dees and the center’s president, Richard Cohen—made staffers pessimistic that any of these issues would ever be addressed. “I expected there’d be a lot of creative bickering, a sort of democratic free-for-all,” my friend Brian, a journalist who came aboard a year after me, said one day. “But everybody is so deferential to Morris and Richard. It’s like a fucking monarchy around here.” The work could be meaningful and gratifying. But it was hard, for many of us, not to feel like we’d become pawns in what was, in many respects, a highly profitable scam.

The L.A. Times reported that SPLC President Richard Cohen promised a full investigation:

The Times has also learned that the organization, whose leadership is predominantly white, has been wrestling with complaints of workplace mistreatment of women and people of color. It was not immediately clear whether those issues were connected to the firing of Dees, who is 82.

Also Thursday, employees sent correspondence to management demanding reforms, expressing concerns about the resignation last week of a highly respected black attorney at the organization and criticizing the organization’s work culture.

A letter signed by about two dozen employees — and sent to management and the board of directors before news broke of Dees’ firing — said they were concerned that internal “allegations of mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism threaten the moral authority of this organization and our integrity along with it.”

In a public statement, Richard Cohen, president of the SPLC, announced that an outside organization would be hired immediately “to conduct a comprehensive assessment of our internal climate and workplace practices, to ensure that our talented staff is working in the environment that they deserve — one in which all voices are heard and all staff members are respected.”

Now Cohen is gone, in a resignation in many ways more devastating to SPLC than Dees’ firing, because Cohen has run the SPLC for the past two decades. The L.A. Times reports on Cohen’s resignation:

The president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Richard Cohen, announced his resignation Friday, the latest in a series of high-profile departures at the anti-hate organization that have come amid allegations of misconduct and workplace discrimination.

The departure will mark the end of an era at the Montgomery, Ala., nonprofit, whose staff had recently raised questions about whether the organization’s long-standing mission of justice and anti-discrimination — which had yielded hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from the public — had matched its internal treatment of some black and female employees.

“Whatever problems exist at the SPLC happened on my watch, so I take responsibility for them,” Cohen wrote in an email obtained by The Times, while asking the staff to avoid jumping to conclusions before the board completes an internal review of the organization’s work culture.

Cohen’s resignation comes the same day as a resignation by the organization’s legal director, Rhonda Brownstein, who did not give a reason for her departure in a brief email to her colleagues. Brownstein did not respond to requests for comment.

SPLC has destroyed lives and contributed to the stifling of speech through false or politicized designations of political opponents as “hate groups” or “extremists.”

Maybe it’s time for SPLC, which nurtured an internal culture of racism and sexism, to designate itself a “hate group.”

 
 
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