Archive for February, 2015

The SPLC’s Outright Telemarketing Scam

February 27, 2015

One month ago, we gave the Southern Poverty Law Center the benefit of the doubt concerning their dubious telemarketing practices. Today, with the release of their 2014 IRS Form 990 tax report, we cannot cover for their outright telemarketing scam any longer.

Here is the SPLC’s IRS Form 990 for the fiscal year ending October 31, 2014.

Click Image to Enlarge

Click Image to Enlarge

For the fourth consecutive year, SPLC Founder Morris Dees, who bills himself as a “sound steward” of the donors’ money has deliberately scammed tens of thousands of well-meaning donors through his network of paid telemarketing rip-off artists.

To wit, for the past four years Mr. Dees has continued his relationship with Grassroots Campaigns of Boston, Mass, despite the horrific hemorrhaging of donor dollars. Grassroots has cost the SPLC hundreds of thousands, and even millions of dollars each year for their fundraising efforts:

2011:  -$212,214

2012:  -$869,686

2013: -$1,156,765

2014:  -$1,130,680

How in the world can Mr. Dees continue to deal with a company that has blatantly siphoned $3,369,345 donor-dollars out of his coffers over the past four years? These horrendous figures more than wipe out every dollar raised by his other telemarketing cronies, not that that amounted to all that much.

Checking out Telefund, Inc. of Denver, we see that they raised $561,102 in the name of the SPLC  in 2014, and only pocketed $422,292 in fees, leaving the SPLC $138,811, or a whopping 25% of the donation money.

Did anyone tell the donors that Telefund was pocketing three quarters of their donor-dollars?

But that’s all chump change compared to the experts at Harris Marketing group, who raised $213,694 in the name of the SPLC and “fighting hate,” and only pocketed $192,928, or a mere 90% of the money donated over the phone.

And yet, Morris Dees could not be happier with the results because Grassroots, Telefund and Harris all sold their information to him. For mere pennies on the dollar, Mr. Dees buys solid donor leads that he can feed into his own uber-efficient in-house fundraising machine at 100% profit down the road.

Best of all, it was the stupid donors who unwittingly paid to have their information sold to Mr. Dees. You really cannot beat that for “stewardship.”

Dees will lose money on the deal this year, but it’s nothing compared to the tens of millions he stands to gain from these donors over the coming decades.

But think about it. In 2014, Mo Dees paid $2,537,027 to third-party telemarketers to raise $1,979,272 in donor-dollars, meaning that the telemarketers kept every last dime they solicited over the phone in the name of the SPLC as well as an additional $557,755 out of the SPLC’s existing donor till

THIS is “sound stewardship?”  At $100 dollars apiece “only” 25,370 of the 2014 donors got screwed out of their donations. A mere pittance. At $50 dollars a pop the number jumps to more than 50,000 suckers, and yet, Mo Dees calls this “sound stewardship?”

Justify it anyway you want, but at least 25,000 well-meaning donors got screwed out of their money, just as they have for the past four years.

It’s time that the media and the IRS investigates the criminal scamming of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This is nothing less than blatant fraud. Selling the suckers one thing and giving them something far less.

The Other SPLC: (The Civil Rights One)

February 23, 2015

It was just over two years ago that we first wrote about the outstanding work done by the other SPLC, the Student Press Law Center, which, unlike the fundraising company with the same monogram (differentiated here as the $PLC), is actually interested in preserving civil rights for everyone.

The Student Press Law Center’s mission statement is very simple, but it covers points that the $PLC could never begin to fathom:

“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.”

A perfect example of the Student Press Law Center’s devotion to First Amendment rights can be found on a recent podcast, Protecting Off-Campus Speech on Social Media, which includes an interview with an attorney who recently fought for the free speech rights of a high school student.

The student, Taylor Bell, created a rap video that was critical of two coaches at his school who Bell alleged were engaging in inappropriate behavior with female students. Bell claims the behavior was widely known around school but the administration was ignoring the situation.

Bell’s lawyer, Scott Colom, admits that there was vulgar and offensive language in the video, but notes that Bell “…wrote the song away from the school, he recorded it in a studio away from the school, he never played it at the school, he never talked about the song at the school, he never did anything to bring the song to the school.”

In fact, the school blocks Facebook, Youtube and cellphones on school property, and so was entirely out of the purview of the school authorities. Nonetheless, Bell was expelled for the remainder of the school year.

When the case finally reached Mississippi’s 5th Circuit District Court of Appeals, it became evident that the sole basis for the school’s disciplinary action against Bell is that they simply didn’t like what he had to say in a video that he had created on his own time. The 5th Circuit ruled that Bell’s speech, as offensive as many would find it, was protected.

SPLC Executive Director, Frank LoMonte, summed it up nicely:

“Certainly the way the Westboro Baptist Church people make themselves heard is every bit as offensive as Taylor Bell’s rap song, and yet that was found to be fully protected by the First Amendment, and so the majority two-to-one ruling by 5th Circuit correctly focused in on the nature and the intent of the speech, which is the kind of speech that is most in need of First Amendment protection.

If the First Amendment doesn’t exist to allow people to blow the whistle on government wrongdoing, then it has no purpose at all.”

You’d be hard pressed to find any references to the First Amendment or freedom of speech in any form on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s web site. In fact, the $PLC makes its money by smearing anyone engaging in free speech as a “hate group,” anyone expressing their religious beliefs as a “radical fundamentalist,” and anyone seeking to petition the government as a “far-right-wing extremist.”

In fact, the $PLC’s Public Relations guru, Mark Potok, has stated publicly numerous times that his patented “hate group” smear is based entirely on offensive speech:

“All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” (SPLC “Hate Map” legend)

“Our criteria for a “hate group,” first of all, have nothing to do with criminality, or violence, or any kind of guess we’re making about ‘this group could be dangerous.’ It’s strictly ideological.” (2008 Potok interview)

Strictly ideological. Our donors don’t like what you have to say, regardless of your Constitutional right to say it, so we will simply smear you as a “hate group” in our fundraising materials and the donors will do the rest.

Mr. Potok’s “Hate Map” fundraising tool is so far removed from reality that it makes this unbelievable claim:

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

Think about that. An alleged “civil rights group” deliberately conflating six of the most fundamental First Amendment civil rights with “criminal acts” and “hate group activities.”

Congress cannot abridge people’s right to speak, to write and publish, or to assemble peacefully, but somehow a private, multimillion dollar fundraising company can?

And yet the media will never question the $PLC’s frequent press releases, or vet them for accuracy, and the donors keep sending Mr. Potok tens of millions of dollars a year.

The whole thing would be bad enough if it was simply the fact that Mr. Potok’s company deceives tens of thousands of its donors out of their money every year, but he also has the ear of the Department of Homeland Security, which seems every bit as gullible as the donors.

If you simply cannot resist writing out a donation check to the SPLC, make it the Student Press Law Center, the one that a) genuinely could use your donation, and b) is actually fighting for your civil rights.

The SPLC’s “Lone Wolf” Lunacy and the DHS

February 16, 2015

In its latest fear-mongering fundraising foray, the Southern Poverty Law Center has finally come out and stated the obvious: It’s not so-called “hate groups” that pose the greatest threat of violence today, it is the “lone wolf” lunatic.

As it turns out, an even greater threat to the American public is the extent to which the SPLC has insinuated itself into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as an alleged source of reliable data. More on this to follow.

First, let’s have a look at “Age of the Wolf,” a “report” written by SPLC staffer Ryan Lenz and edited by Public Relations Chief Mark Potok.

Click Image to Enlarge

Click Image to Enlarge

The “report” is filled with the usual “may-might-could” fundraising alarums familiar in Mr. Potok’s writing and repeats a point he made as far back as 2008:

“And I would say as a general matter, it is extremely unusual these days for an organization to plan and carry out a criminal act where mainly for the reason that they are so likely to get caught. So what we really see out there in terms of violence from the radical right is by and large what we would call lone wolves, people operating on their own or with just one or two partners. As opposed to, you know, being some kind of organizational plan.” (www.npr.org, October 30, 2008) [Emphasis added]

And:

“Still, [Potok] said the public should remain vigilant about the activities of hate groups, even though individuals are responsible for the majority of hate crimes in America. (www.courier-journal.com, July 21, 2009) [Emphasis added]

Individuals are responsible for the majority of hate crimes in America, but that has not prevented Mr. Potok from issuing his highly lucrative “hate group” “Hate Map” every year.

As we’ve demonstrated numerous times on this blog, and as Mr. Potok even admitted to us personally on video, the “Hate Map” is a fundraising tool and, in Mr. Potok’s own words, “anecdotal,” “an imperfect process” and “a very rough estimate.”

Potok continues to designate “hate groups” to populate his “Hate Map” because that is where the money is.

The media regurgitates his meaningless numbers without ever performing even the most rudimentary fact checks, Potok’s Progressive donor base gets agitated and out come the checkbooks. Works like a charm every time.

What is most troubling about “Age of the Wolf” is that it reinforces a dangerous trend we first reported on back in 2012. The report is full of soft, nebulous bogey-words such as “extremist,” “Right-wing” and “far right,” which are largely subjective terms intentionally skirting  legal definition as much as possible. They frighten the donors without risking litigation.

The problem comes with the frequent use of the term “domestic terrorist,” which actually does have a legal definition, even though Mr. Potok largely ignores it in his report.

While the FBI does not, cannot designate “hate groups,” the DHS has every right to investigate any potential source of “terrorism” and, as we’ve seen in the past, doesn’t necessarily bother with a lot of Constitutional niceties in the process.

Being branded a “hate group” by the SPLC carries a stigma. Being branded a “terrorist” has legal repercussions.

“Age of the Wolf” concedes the obvious repeatedly, with such provisos as:

 “Analyzing terrorism comes fraught with pitfalls. There is no hard and fast agreement on what constitutes a terrorist action. What if the attack has a political dimension, but is carried out by someone who is clearly mentally ill? [Emphasis added]

Is a rampage killing spree terrorism or simply an eruption of personal hatreds? Does the murder of three police officers responding to a domestic disturbance count, even if the killer does have a long history in the police-hating anti-government movement?”

 Obviously, to a veteran fundraiser and fear-monger like Mr. Potok, the answer to those questions is a resounding “Close enough!” to warrant inclusion in a list of incidents in the report.

The FBI has a rather more stringent, three-pronged definition:

“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

  1. Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;

  2. Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and

  3. Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.”

An event has to meet all three requirements before the FBI considers it a possible terrorist act, but the incidents on Mr. Potok’s list tend to focus mainly on the first and third criteria, while leaving the second characteristic pretty much up for interpretation.

Such broad interpretations are key to Mr. Potok’s standard M.O., whereby he breathlessly claims to have collected thousands of “hate incidents,” not hate crimes, most of which often do not pan out under closer examination. These are nothing more than standard Potokian fundraising hyperbole, designed to separate the donors from their dollars.

The serious part of “Age of the Wolf” comes at the end of the report in the “Related Studies” section.

To boost the credibility of his claims, Mr. Potok cites six recent studies that discuss domestic terrorism. Potok states:

“In recent years, a number of studies from sources inside and outside of federal government have warned of the threat of increased violence from the radical right, with many specifically addressing lone wolf attackers inspired by ideologies of hate and other extremism. What follows is a description of several of the studies.”

What Mr. Potok neglects to mention, however, is the incestuous relationship between the authors of these reports and his own Southern Poverty Law Center. Even more troubling is that several of them were funded by the DHS.

Before we delve into Mr. Potok’s reports, a quick word about a separate 2014 report Watching the Watchdogs stumbled upon two weeks ago.

In “The Relationship Between Hate Groups and Far-Right Ideological Violence,” published in the academic Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, JCCJ, (which you can download here), the four authors examine “whether the presence of hate groups increases the likelihood of serious ideologically motivated violence committed by far-rightists.”

That wording alone was enough to set off alarm bells, but reading further into the abstract, we read that:

“We test the relationship using data from the Extremist Crime Database (ECDB) for the dependent measure, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for the hate groups measure, and various other sources for additional variables.”

As Mark Potok has already explained to us in person, his “hate group” statistics are “anecdotal,” “an imperfect process” and “a very rough estimate.” How then, we wondered, could any serious study incorporate such shoddy data and come up with academically rigorous results?

After all, we had already reported on a similar “study” published by the Social Science Quarterly in 2012 that attempted to use Mr. Potok’s fundraising propaganda to prove the correlation between the presence of a Walmart in any given county with the subsequent appearance of a “hate group” on Mr. Potok’s “Hate Map” in that same county a decade later. This was junk science at its worst.

In the days before “Age of the Wolf” was posted, we had already emailed each of the four authors of the JCCJ report to ask them why they used SPLC numbers in their report. The wording to all four authors, Amy Adamczyk, Jeff Gruenewald, Steven M. Chermak, and Joshua D. Freilich, (remember these names), was identical and, we thought, quite civil and polite:

“Prof. _____, I have just read your 2014 article “The Relationship Between Hate Groups and Far-Right Ideological Violence,” in which you, Adamczyk, Chermak, et al, state in the abstract that you included data from “the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for the hate groups measure.”

Could you or one of your colleagues explain the methodology for vetting the SPLC’s data? I’m also interested in the working definition of “hate group” your team used for the study, as I was unable to find it within the text.

Thank you for your consideration,”

Ten days later and we’ve yet to hear anything from any of the authors. As we soon discovered, there seems to be a very good reason for the silence.

As for the funding for the article, “This research was supported by the Science and Technology Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through START.”

START is the National Consortium for the Studies of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, “established in 2005 as a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence, tasked with utilizing state-of-the-art theories, methods, and data from the social and behavioral sciences to improve the understanding of the origins, dynamics, and social and psychological impacts of terrorism.”

START was funded by an initial $12 million grant from DHS to complete projects in the research areas of terrorist group formation and recruitment, terrorist group persistence and dynamics, and societal responses to terrorist threats and attacks.”

All four academics associated with the JCCJ report are members of the START team and therefore dependent on the DHS for much of their funding.

Of the six reports cited by “Age of the Wolf,” five of them were co-authored by Chermak and Freilich of the START team and four of the reports cite the SPLC as a principle source of “hate group” data.

As for the other primary source of data for the JCCB report, the Extremist Crime Database (ECDB)it was created by START members Chermak, Freilich and Gruenewald. And who financed this impartial resource? “Part of this research was supported by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS)… and …[START].”

So, at the end of the day, we have Mark Potok’s “Age of the Wolf” fundraising screed, which cites multiple reports by several START researchers, who cite Mr. Potok’s “Hate Map” hogwash in their reports to the DHS, which is the primary source of funding for START.

Just as Mr. Potok’s “hate group” label is worth millions to the SPLC, it certainly appears that DHS funding is worth millions to START. What would happen to that funding if the START researchers determined that Mr. Potok’s numbers were lacking in credibility?

Impartial? You be the judge. Incestuous? Cue the banjos.


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