A Tale of Two SPLCs

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “serendipity” as:

“The faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.”

In short, looking for one thing and finding something else that you weren’t expecting. It happens to everyone at some time or other and it can be quite rewarding when it does.

As long-time readers of this blog know, we get the vast majority of our information about the Southern Poverty Law Center from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC’s web site is a treasure trove of information on the organization’s hiring, fundraising and public relations practices.

As long-time web surfers know, a fairly reliable shortcut to finding many web sites is simply to type in the name of an organization with a “.com” or “.org” appended to the end. If you try this trick with www.splc.org, however, you will be rewarded with a serendipitous trip to an entirely different SPLC web site.

In this case, you will be directed to the site of the Student Press Law Center, located in Northern Virginia. Apparently, these folks registered their domain name before their Alabama counterparts, who had to settle for http://www.splcenter.org instead.

Actually, “counterparts” is misleading as you would be hard pressed to identify two law centers with such diametrically opposite missions.

Since the primary mission of the Southern Poverty Law Center appears to be fundraising, we’ll call it the $PLC, for short, and use SPLC to refer to the Student Press Law Center, which operates on a fraction of the $PLC’s annual budget.

The primary mission of the SPLC, as you might imagine, is to serve as a resource and advocate for student publications from elementary school through to colleges and universities.

The Student Press Law Center is an advocate for student First Amendment rights, for freedom of online speech, and for open government on campus. The SPLC provides information, training and legal assistance at no charge to student journalists and the educators who work with them.

Did you catch the reference to First Amendment rights? This is the foundation and basis for all of the Student Press Law Center’s work. For those who are a little rusty on the First Amendment, as the Southern Poverty Law Center seems to be, it goes like this:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Imagine, a law center dedicated to preserving the most fundamental civil rights in the U.S. Constitution. Compare that with the $PLC’s take on the First Amendment rights of those groups its donors find objectionable:

Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing.

Instead of promoting and protecting the First Amendment rights of people to assemble peaceably and to speak, write and publish their own thoughts and opinions, the $PLC conflates those rights with “hate group” activities and “criminal acts.”

Even the entirely spurious term “hate group” is nothing more than a blatant attempt to silence people engaged in entirely legal and protected activities. Who, after all, would listen to anything a “hate group” has to say?

Those who would petition their own elected government for redress are smeared as “far right-wing, anti-government radicals.” Those concerned with their government’s response to the  millions of people who flaunt US law and enter the country illegally are “nativists” and those hold conservative religious beliefs are tarred as “radical traditionalists.” (As we recently noted, the $PLC contends that “Modern Americans” have abandoned Christianity…)

In short, if there is a Constitutionally protected civil right, the Southern Poverty Law Center has a smear for it.

The $PLC maintains a “Hate Map” fundraising tool a “Stand Strong Against Hate” map that also allows donors to “report hate incidents” directly to the $PLC for inclusion in the dossiers they compile and send to every law enforcement agency in the land. Note the term “hate incidents” as opposed to “hate crimes.” Watching the Watchdogs created a short video that uncovers the fast and loose accounting behind that scam:

The Student Press Law Center maintains an interactive map as well, only this one identifies areas where bigots have attempted to censor the press by stealing newspapers from newsstands. These are actual civil rights violations, (more than half a million papers stolen since 2000), in which the First Amendment rights of both the publishers and the readers were denied by ignorant vigilantes.

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

So at the end of the day we have two law centers with the same initials but absolutely nothing else in common. The Student Press Law Center fights to preserve and protect people’s most fundamental First Amendment rights while the Southern Poverty Law Center is hell-bent on censorship and denying those same civil rights to those they designate as having “wrong thoughts” and smear with dehumanizing labels such as “hate group.”

While the mission of the Student Press Law Center is to protect all forms of expression, even those that some may find offensive, here’s what the $PLC’s $150,000-dollar-a-year Public Relations Chief Mark Potok had to say about the rights of all citizens to free speech and freedom of association back in 2007:

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that these are human beings and it’s a mistake to regard them as just a bunch of sociopaths… though most of them are.”

“Let me say… our aim… sometimes the press will describe us as monitoring hate groups and so on. I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups. Completely destroy them.”

These are American citizens engaging in entirely legal free speech activities and the “nation’s leading civil rights organization” wants to “completely destroy them.” You don’t have to agree with anything these groups have to say, most people don’t, but you cannot arbitrarily deny them their rights to free speech or it’s only a matter of time before the $PLC or some other self-appointed vigilante group decides that you have “wrong thoughts” and need to be “completely destroyed.”

Mark Potok, this veritable paragon of civil rights makes both of these telling comments within the first two minutes of the video below. What’s even more ironic is that Mr. Potok began his career as journalist back in the 1990s. Apparently, the $PLC pays better than USA Today. It’s amazing what people are willing to sell for a few pieces of silver.



The $PLC has nearly a quarter-billion dollars in cash on hand while the SPLC does actual good in the world on just over 1% of that bloated trove.

The Student Press Law Center also offers an online First Amendment quiz. that everyone should take, especially the would-be civil libertarians at the $PLC.

Mr. Potok, what was your score?

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