The Southern Poverty Law Center’s $147,000-a-year public relations guru, Mark Potok, recently appeared at a local Virginia university to talk about, what else, “The State of Hate in America: The Radical Right Since 9/11”
Billed as a “Visiting Scholar, Mr. Potok delivered a rather predictable, hour-long diatribe on the evilness of evil white/conservative/Christian men in America, all leading to and from the Oklahoma City bombing.
A long-time Watching the Watchdogs reader actually captured most of Potok’s sales pitch on video and, better still, Mr. Potok was finally asked the very question we’ve been asking for years: Where are the missing “hate groups”?
Up to that point, Mr. Potok had been preaching to the choir. The professor who introduced the Maestro gushingly referred to him as her “personal hero,” and the crowd of wide-eyed twenty-somethings had been nodding and “Amen”-ing their way throughout the lecture.
By questioning Potok’s numbers in his own element, our correspondent was literally “bearding the lyin’,” so to speak.
Below is a transcript of the exchange, and a video clip of the the three-minute exchange can be found here.
The question seemed to throw Mr. Potok off his game, as nobody, certainly nobody in the media, academia or the DHS had ever challenged his numbers before. He seems to hem and haw and grasp for words. At one point, Mr. Potok seemed to have a flash of sudden inspiration, the missing “hate groups,” said he, “are state chapters!”
If you listen closely, you can almost hear Jon Lovitz exclaiming from the bleachers, “Yeah! That’s the ticket!!”
To his credit, Mr. Potok acknowledged that the question was an honest one: “I understand the criticism and it’s not an illegitimate criticism,” he said.
More amazing still, Mark Potok admitted that his “Hate Map,” the Crown Jewel of all SPLC fund-raising fear campaigns is “a very rough measure” and the result of “an imperfect process.”
Potok further concedes that his information is “anecdotal” and that up to 20% of his groups can’t be found. The actual number is 26%, assuming all of the other “groups” actually exist. In fact, last year Mr. Potok bumped the number of alleged “hate groups” up by 70 and yet the number of homeless “hate groups” jumped by 99 for the same time period!
In other words, Mr. Potok’s numbers are meaningless. Who knew?
Let’s allow the Director of Intelligence to speak for himself:
Q: Mr. Potok, every year your organization produces a “Hate Map” that purports to identify the number of “hate groups” in individual states across the country. This past spring, according to your accounting, the number was up to 1,002, but if you actually go in… if you Google the map and look at it…, 262 of those groups aren’t affiliated with any town or city or anything. They’re just kind of floating out there in limbo.
MP: Sure. Well, these aren’t.. I mean, look, let me tell you a little bit about how we do the “hate group” map. I understand the criticism and it’s not an illegitimate criticism.
Let me first of all say, that we do the “hate group” map and the counts, and so on, as a very rough measure… I’m not talking about the individual towns and such… as an attempt to get a feel for what the Radical Right looks like. Is it growing? Is it shrinking? And so on.
And, you know, I will admit right up front, I mean, is… are two groups with two people in them worse than one group with four people in them? Well, maybe not… it’s the same thing. But, what we’ve seen historically is that counts do seem to… very clearly… go up and down… we now see it going up again and we can see it reflected anecdotally.
What you are asking about, and it’s true, we have a lot of groups that we can’t identify in a town, and you know, I’ll say we can’t always… it’s an imperfect process… because we’re forced to… many times we know quite a lot about a group. Other times we don’t know much more, uh, other than a particular Klan group… What those basically are, those are state-wide units… that’s what those groups are… So, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan might have a chapter in Harrison, Arkansas, they may have a chapter in another town, and so they might also have an Arkansas chapter, and in those cases, we don’t know where the chapter is.
Q: But the media doesn’t see it that way. They quote you verbatim, saying that there are 1,002 groups out there.
MP: Well, that’s, that’s what there are out there…
Q: But you can’t locate them. You claim there are 221 Klan groups in the U.S., but you can’t locate 109 of them.
Q: You claim there are 221 Klan groups in the U.S., but you can’t locate 109 of them. That’s fifty percent. That’s quite a discrepancy.
MP: You said it yourself, it’s more like 20% of the overall numbers [unintelligible]. And I’m telling you… the reasons I’m not telling you it’s not possible that some claims of some statewide group that doesn’t exist.
We’re often looking at these groups… I mean, one of the criteria we use when looking at these groups… we’re trying to separate out the real groups that really do things from one man and a computer [unintelligible]… In other words, separating out the real interest blogs… or, you know, a site on the Internet, from groups that actually do something. So one of the things we try to establish [unintelligible]… is that group active? Has it had a rally? Is it publishing? Propaganda of one kind or another? Can you join that group? Those kinds of things.
And there it is, from Director of Intelligence himself. The ludicrous nature of the final paragraph is worthy of its own blog entry, so replete is it with half-truths and outright contradictions. Stay tuned.