Posts Tagged ‘Mark Potok’

Challenge Your Area’s SPLC “Hate Group” Designation

September 11, 2017

Two recent news events have brilliantly demonstrated just how unreliable and deceptive the Southern Poverty Law Center’s lucrative “Hate Map” really is. The SPLC releases this annual fundraising tool every February or March, to enormous media fanfare and the donor-dollars flow faster than the company can spend them.

Two small towns that were falsely smeared with “hate group” designations, Amana, Iowa, and Gurnee, Illinois, recently fought back and got the SPLC to rescind its spurious claims, though with very different results.

In the Amana case, the “town” is actually a collection of seven small villages known as the Amana Colonies. These villages were settled by German farmers in the 19th century and today the Colonies are on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. People take their families there to see the old farms, blacksmith shop and grist mill. Think: Colonial Williamsburg or Plimoth Plantation.

So how does a tourist destination like Amana get listed on the “Hate Map”? Simplicity itself. Someone at the SPLC found a single troll posting on the Daily Stormer website saying that several neo-Nazis got together on a single afternoon in an Amana coffee shop as a “book club” and they haven’t been back since.

There’s no indication of how many people actually showed up at the coffee shop, but the SPLC’s definition of “group” can mean one or fewer individuals.

Amana officials fought back, demanding that the SPLC’s new PR Guru, Ryan Lenz, remove the phony “hate group” designation from their town. Lenz, who replaces veteran SPLC “Former Employee” Mark Potok, initially refused. A local TV news team, KCRG out of Cedar Rapids, did the unthinkable and followed up on Amana’s complaint. You can see the report here (after a 30-second ad spot). On August 28, Lenz and the SPLC eventually relented and agreed to remove the hate group designation… sort of.

What Lenz did was to simply relocate the alleged Daily Stormer site from Amana to “Statewide.” “Statewide” is where the SPLC puts “groups” they cannot locate on any map, including their own. There are currently 191 “Statewide” groups on the most recent “Hate Map,” or nearly one-in-four. The SPLC provides no information whatsoever about the alleged groups and the media say “sounds good to us.”

Iowa still has four “hate groups,” (three of which are now “Statewide”), and the national “hate group” count remains at 917 for 2016.

In 2011, long before he was unthinkably kicked to the curb, we had the opportunity to ask Mark Potok directly about these phantom “groups.” At that time, Potok could not account for 262 of his 1,002 alleged groups, and though a small number of them were marked “Statewide” on the map, the vast majority were simply empty slots with no location whatsoever, other than a particular state.

After acknowledging that the question “was not illegitimate,” Mr. Potok sputtered along, making several astounding admissions, such as the “Hate Map” was based largely on anecdotal reports, was “… a very rough measure,” and “an imperfect process,” which is hardly the impression the SPLC gives in its annual “Hate Map” press releases.

In the end, Potok stated, “What those basically are, those are state-wide units… that’s what those groups are…” And with that, the interview was pretty much ended, but it confirmed Potok’s high standards for inclusion on the lucrative “Hate Map.”

On March 25, 2009, Potok had told the San Luis Obispo (CA) Tribune that “…inclusion on the [hate group] list might come from a minor presence, such as a post office box.”

On July 6, 2009, Potok told the Appleton (WI) Post-Crescent that, “…the [hate group] report relies on media, citizen and law enforcement reports, and does not include original reporting by SPLC staff.”

With such high standards and scrupulous research methods as that, it is a wonder that any “hate group” could wind up on the “Hate Map” in error, but this year it happened, twice. Or not.

The second location to fight back against the “hate group” smear was the village of Gurnee, Illinois. On September 8, 2017, the local paper, the Lake County News-Sun reported that:

“Gurnee police and village officials said they have been told by the law center that the village was included after the center found that someone who listed his address as Gurnee had registered on a KKK website.

Gurnee police said an investigation into the name concluded there is no record of anyone by that name having been a Gurnee resident.”

Once again we see how the SPLC spins any microscopic link it can scrape up into a full-fledged “group.” And despite being contacted by the mayor and local police on the scene, the SPLC made the demonstrably false claim that:

“Nonetheless, officials said they were told by a representative of the Law Center that they only review and revise the map once a year, and it will be reviewed again in January.”

It was less than two weeks earlier that the SPLC actually DID revise it’s “Hate Map” tool for Amana, sort of, so why won’t the company do the same for Gurnee? The simple fact of the matter is that they can’t.

The annual “Hate Map” is a fundraising tool, and, as shown above, has very little connection with reality (Mr. Potok’s “very rough measure”). Each winter the six-digit-salary executives at the SPLC come up with a “hate group” count upon which they will build all media and fundraising claims for the following year. Once a number is fixed, someone like Mark Potok or Ryan Lenz will get busy finding enough “groups” to match the prescribed quantity.

As we have noted in the past, the SPLC’s “Hate Map” tool is static. You can move a few deckchairs around, as they did with Amana, but you cannot change the magic number. As we pointed out in August, 2016, even though the SPLC announced that the rag-tag group “White Lives Matter” posed an immediate existential threat, they would not add them to the “Hate Map” for another six months.

(The company eventually conjured up three “White Lives Matters” “groups” for the 2017 map, all of which are… “Statewide.”)

In an age where any elementary school child can update a website in seconds, this makes no sense whatsoever, unless the “Hate Map” is a sham.

While Mr. Lenz can hide nearly 200 “groups” under the “Statewide” label, in the Gurnee case, he assigned a chapter of the Ku Klos Knights of the KKK to that location in addition to a second, “Statewide” iteration of the group to Illinois overall.

Even by SPLC standards, having two “Statewide” entries for the same “group” in the same state stretches credulity. Therefore, the village of Gurnee is stuck with it’s “hate group” until next year.

This brings us back to the point of of this post. The mayor of Gurnee is rightfully dissatisfied with the SPLC’s “tough luck” reply: “We’re going to continue to pursue it,” Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik said. “There is no reason to shame a whole community like that for no reason.”

Mayor Kovarik is completely in the right. There is no reason why any community or state should have to suffer the SPLC’s spurious “hate group” fundraising label. It unfairly smears the entire community based on nothing tangible whatsoever. The elected officials of Gurnee, Amana and every other locality falsely smeared have the reputation of their towns to protect and need to stand up against these unsubstantiated claims.

“Statewide,” governors, state and federal Senate and House members have the same, if not greater obligation to call out the SPLC and demand evidence. Serious claims require serious proof.

In 2015 the SPLC assigned 40 “hate groups” to New Jersey, (a state that doesn’t get enough negative publicity as it is…), giving that state the fourth highest total in the land and causing Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League to publicly denounce the SPLC’s bogus counts.

“According to Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the SPLC has a habit of counting single individuals as groups or chapters, which can give a skewed impression of hate groups in any given state.”

“The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list is wildly inflated,” said Pitcavage. “They list skinhead groups in places where there are no organized groups, but instead it’s just a couple of individuals.”

After being publicly outed by the ADL, the SPLC slashed New Jersey’s count from 40 to 21 on the next “Hate Map,” which was not issued until a full fundraising year later.

If the ADL can call the SPLC out for its “wildly inflated” “Hate Map,” so can local, state and federal representatives. Millions of people swallow the SPLC’s annual “hate group” numbers each year and few in the media will challenge the claims.

Huge corporations like Apple and Google are already making business decisions based on these bogus numbers. What legitimate company would build a new plant in a state with record numbers of “hate groups”? Why would skilled workers move their families to such “hate-ridden” states to work there?

While the SPLC rakes in tens of millions of dollars each year from its fraudulent “Hate Map,” the consequences for local and state economies could run into the billions.

Hold the SPLC responsible for its claims. Demand to see the proof.

 

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SPLC — Whither Mark Potok?

August 31, 2017

It is a dark day at Watching the Watchdogs. A short while ago we were reading an article about a black musician who was fighting racism by befriending white nationalists when we read the following words: “Mark Potok, an expert on extremism formerly with the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

FORMERLY with the SPLC? WHEN did that happen? HOW could that happen? And why wasn’t it a major news item? For millions of people, Mark Potok has been the public face and voice of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the brains behind the insanely lucrative annual “Hate Map” fundraising tool for nearly two decades.

It would nearly impossible to estimate how many millions of donor-dollars Mr. Potok has brought into SPLC coffers over the years.

And now he’s gone? Without so much as a “So long, Mark. Thanks for everything!” from Morris Dees or Richard Cohen?

We immediately turned to our favorite sleuthing tool, the Internet Archives’ cantankerous Wayback Machine to see if we could pinpoint Mr. Potok’s untimely departure.

As of February 20, 2017, Mr. Potok was still listed as a “Senior Fellow” on the SPLC website.

Mark Potok _ Senior-Fellow-Feb-20-17

As of now, Mr. Potok’s biography page, if you can find it, refers to him as “Former Employee.” No “Former Senior Fellow,” or “Senior Fellow Emeritus,” as SPLC co-founder Joe Levin and the late SPLC celebrity spokesman Julian Bond got upon their retirements.

Potok Former Employee

Potok was still listed on the “Leadership” circle page on the site in February.

Feb-22-2017-Leadership _ Southern Poverty Law Center

Today, his picture has been removed from the page with all of the subtlety of an old-time Pravda airbrushing.

8-31_14-Leadership _ Southern Poverty Law Center

In fact, Mr. Potok’s bylines on the hundreds of hit pieces he wrote for the company now refer to him as “Former Employee.”

Potok-byline

Potok’s Facebook page has one cryptic note from March: “Left Job at Southern Poverty Law Center.” No mention of “retiring” or “exploring new opportunities.” Not even a “wants to spend more time with his family.”

Potok Left SPLC

Twenty years of faithful, profitable service and the man is kicked out without so much as a thank you or a Fare-thee-well. What happened?

Apparently Mr. Potok has his own website now, where he is offering his “expertise” on the open market. “I’m an expert on the radical right who spent 20 years at the SPLC.”

Potok Keynote Speaker

While there is no denying that Mr. Potok was a master craftsman of fear-mongering and the smear while at the SPLC, it seems unlikely that he will find another gig that pays anything near the six-digit salary Dees and Cohen have paid him for years.

Potok990

Potok’s website includes several testimonials regarding his career, but the only one from the SPLC comes from retiree Joe Levin. There is no sign of Dees or Cohen to be found anywhere.

Potok Testamonials

What a sad end to a brilliant career. Here was a man who could find unfettered access to every form of media and every leading news outlet with the snap of his fingers. Cut down in his prime at the very dawn of the company’s Golden Era.

With Donald Trump in the White House and Nazi-wannabees holding torchlight processions in Charlottesville, Mr. Potok’s best material ever would have all but written itself. The money is pouring into the SPLC so fast these days that there will no doubt be fat raises for all of the white millionaire proprietors.

Just last week alone, Mo Dees found a way to cash in on the death of Charlottesville protester Heather Heyer. Every tragedy has a silver lining at the SPLC.

It only goes to show the extent of the SPLC’s transformation from “civil rights organization” to “advocacy group.” There are tens of millions of donor-dollars at stake and it’s quite possible that veteran Mark Potok is no longer the “face” of the company that will best appeal to fickle Millennial donors. Maybe he was back-stabbed by ambitious co-workers or somehow crossed his overlords.

For now, we’ll just have to wait until somebody spills the beans. If anyone knows the story, and that includes Mr. Potok himself, please let us know.

There is an old German term, Schadenfreude, which translates more-or-less to “joy or happiness felt at someone else’s misfortune.” Let the record show that we at Watching the Watchdogs take no pleasure at Mark Potok’s departure. While we have spent much of the past decade chronicling his various fear and fundraising campaigns, as a life-long student of communication, rhetoric, persuasion and propaganda, you just have to admire the man’s mastery of the arts.

Though we’ll never agree on much, unless Mr. Potok has a tell-all book up his sleeve, we sincerely tip our hat to a true legend of the art of persuasion.

The man deserved better.

Even if your former colleagues have abandoned you, Mark Potok, we offer you a heartfelt “Fare-thee-well” and we look forward to writing about your work in the future.

“I think a lot of people feel, ‘Oh, groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, they find, you know, the two hundred Nazis running around the country, they build them up into great big groups, they make a big deal about it and then ask for your money,’ right? In other words, it’s kind of a scam. You hype up this little tiny threat into something scary, uh, and then go and try to make money off of it.”

Mark Potok speaking to Bill Holiday in 2008, Track 2.

 

SPLC — The “Anti-Muslim” Scam

February 22, 2017

The Southern Poverty Law Center released its latest “Hate Map” fundraising tool a couple of weeks ago and its “Senior Fellow” Mark Potok has been making the usual media rounds and making the usual empty claims.

The “Hate Map” is a highly lucrative fundraising tool that claims to track the number of SPLC-designated (there is no legal definition for the term) “hate groups” in the country for the previous year. As such, the most recent 2017 map refers to the U.S. in 2016.

Here are some of the highlights from the latest map, according to Mr. Potok:

197-percent-hate-map-_-southern-poverty-law-center

We’ll be breaking down some of the other “hate group” claims in future posts, but let’s have a closer look at the big news for 2017:

“Anti-Muslim Groups have exploded by 197%!!”

Ah, Mr. Potok does love his percent sign. It makes the most mundane figures pop with alarm and that brings in the donor dollars. Mr. Potok has been breathlessly announcing that anti-Muslim groups have “nearly tripled” in the past year, by growing from 34 alleged groups to 101, but shies away from the actual details in his media interviews.

We’re not shy at Watching the Watchdogs. We’ll be happy to flip the flat rock and see what scurries away.

The vast majority of Mr. Potok’s alleged explosion, (69% in Potokian terms) comes from one single source. In 2015, Potok added one single instance of something called “ACT for America,”from Virginia Beach, Va., to his Hate Map.

For 2016, Potok counted ACT 45 times! A Potokian increase of 4,400%!!

The group itself has been around since 2007, though Potok only discovered it in 2015. Even more amazing is that the ACT website boasts of more than 1,000 chapters nationwide. That’s a huge discrepancy that Mr. Potok seems eager to avoid.

Another ten groups arrived for the first time in 2016 in the form of “The Soldiers of Odin,” an apparent American offshoot of a Finnish anti-Muslim outfit founded in 2015. Of the ten chapters claimed by Potok he can only put a known city or town to two. The other 80% is part of the 191 “groups” Mr. Potok cannot locate on any map, including his own. Instead, he papers them over with a catch-all label of “statewide.”

We know all 191 of those groups are really, really out there because Mark Potok tells us so.

Most of the remaining “groups” are a rag-tag collection of one-off, one-man websites, something Potok claims he doesn’t count, except when he does, which is frequently, such as the “Sultan Knish: A blog by Daniel Greenfield” “group,””Islamthreat.com” and a couple of yahoos peddling pork-tainted anti-Muslim ammunition online.

It is with great sadness that we witness the passing of our all time favorite Potokian “hate group,” Casa d’Ice Signs, which was actually an Italian restaurant and bar in a K-Mart strip mall on the outskirts of Pittsburgh.

It’s not that we agreed with the crude messages that owner Bill Balsamico would put on the marquee sign outside his bar each week, but Casa d’Ice was the ultimate poster child for just how far Mr. Potok would go to stretch his definition of “hate group.”

The good news, according to Daniel Greenfield, is that Balsamico sold the business and retired, undefeated.

In all fairness to Mr. Potok, though, he never claimed that Balsamico was guilty of anything but “wrong thoughts.” As the stalwart Senior Fellow has proclaimed on man occasions:

“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.”

And so, there you have it. The suits at the SPLC decided that anti-Muslim “hate groups” were going to be the featured flavor for 2017 and instructed Mr. Potok to show “explosive growth” thereof for fundraising purposes and overnight one “group” becomes 45.

Some may remember that last year Potok swore that “the Klan had more than doubled in size!!” in 2015 by claiming it had grown from 72 chapter to 190 overnight. Potok failed to mention that he himself had slashed his Klan count from 163 to 72 the year before.

This year, as the graphic above notes, the Invisible Empire shrank by 32% to a mere 130 chapters, 30 of which Potok cannot find. And as usual, nobody in the media called him on it.

The graphic does include one truly astounding number, besides the spurious “197%” malarkey. Mr. Potok claims there are 193 Black “hate groups” in the country today, far outnumbering the KKK and every other category, respectively, and he knows where every one of those chapters are but two.

But that’s a topic for our next post.

SPLC — One-Man”Groups”

January 6, 2017

More evidence of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s quiet transformation from “nonprofit civil rights organization” to “advocacy group” turned up today, serendipitously, as is so often the case.

A recent story in the Ashland (Oregon) Daily Tidings reminded us of the SPLC’s boilerplate claim that its lucrative “Hate Map” fundraising tool did not include one-man “groups” (or “one-person” groups, if you will). The legend on the 2015 map included the same standard phrase the company had used for over a decade: “Websites appearing to be merely the work of a single individual, rather than the publication of a group, are not included in this list.”

Thanks to the Daily Tidings piece about Radio Rense, a one-man online radio “network” run by Ashland resident Jeff Rense, we went to the latest iteration of the “Hate Map” to revisit the disclaimer, only to find it missing from the map’s legend.

We did find one last mention of the claim on a related “Active Hate Groups” page on the site, but the claim is no longer part and parcel of the “Hate Map” tool:

“Entities that appear to exist only in cyberspace are not included because they are likely to be individual Web publishers who likely to falsely portray themselves as powerful, organized froups [sic].”

Just before the November 2016 elections, SPLC Public Relations Guru Mark Potok admitted in  Esquire magazine that The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website and long-time “Hate Map” alumnus, was the “work of a single individual” and “existed only in cyberspace”:

“The Daily Stormer is mostly Andrew Angelin, his dog, and his computer,” says Potok.”

As usual, even the most casual perusal of the “hate group” list reveals several one-man bands at first glance, and would no doubt give up more at the hands of an actual journalist, if any still survive.

websites2

When conservative blogger Daniel Greenfield, owner, operator and Chief Cook and Bottle Washer of the clearly labeled “Sultan Knish – A blog by Daniel Greenfield” realized that he had become an SPLC “group,” he was initially confused:

“My first response on finding out that I was now a hate group was to look around to see where everyone else was. A hate group needs the group part and one man and a cat don’t seem to be enough.”

Greenfield surmised that his “group” was found to be “active” because “I jogged a few miles yesterday…” Eventually, Greenfield came clean, throwing the rest of his “group” under the proverbial bus: “Even when the cat is a well known bigot who hates mice, birds, car alarms that go off in the middle of the night, the plumber and sudden noises.”

Our personal favorite “hate group,” (if such phraseology does not doom us to one-man groupdom), is Casa D’Ice, an Italian restaurant on the outskirts of Pittsburgh run by a curmudgeonly old crank who leaves idiotic and often outright-bigoted messages on the marquis sign outside his place.

Casa D'Ice

The threat to the nation has seldom been greater.

Of course, the SPLC has been padding its list with one-man bands for decades. As Laird Wilcox, one of the most respected researchers on the Hate Industry, noted nearly 20 years ago:

“What [the SPLC] apparently did was list any group they could find mention of, including groups only rumored to exist. These included the large number of “post office box chapters” maintained by Klan and skinhead organizations. Some Christian Identity “ministries” consist only one person and a mailing list and many “patriot groups” consist of but three or four friends.”

More recently, in 2015, Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League repeated Wilcox’s findings in the South Jersey Times:

According to Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) the SPLC has a habit of counting single individuals as groups or chapters, which can give a skewed impression of hate groups in any given state.

“The [SPLC’s] list is wildly inflated,” said Pitcavage. “They list skinhead groups in places where there are no organized groups, but instead it’s just a couple of individuals.”

Clearly, the removal of the one-man disclaimer releases the SPLC from any expectation that the “hate groups” they designate, for they are the sole designator of the term, will actually be composed of two or more individuals.

After all, why drag accuracy into the discussion and why leave good money lying on the floor?

Ironically, if it were not for the SPLC shining a nation-wide spotlight on these one-man “groups,” the vast majority of humankind would have no idea these websites even existed. Of course, that would include the almighty donors and so an existential threat is born.

We first noted the SPLC’s dropping all pretenses of being an organization with the mission of protecting civil rights as early as June, 2015. At the time, we noted that this move would free the SPLC to chase any headline grabbing law suit without having to go through the motions of pretending it was doing actual civil rights work, such as the copyright infringement case involving a gay New Jersey couple whose engagement photo was used in anti-gay fliers in a Colorado State Senate campaign in 2012.

Was the image used without the permission of the couple or the legal copyright holder, photographer Kristina Hill? Absolutely.

Does the SPLC have any legal experience whatsoever in pursuing copyright infringement cases? None whatsoever. The company isn’t even licensed to practice law in Colorado and so the suit was handled by local law firm Faegre Baker Daniels.

Were there any civil rights issues involved in the case? Apparently not. While the photo was doctored to make it appear it had been taken in snowy Colorado and included anti-gay commentary, the term “civil rights” appears nowhere in the complaint. Instead, the SPLC was claiming “mental distress and anguish” and “reputational harm.”

While we have no doubt that the couple did indeed experience anguish and reputational harm, there was no real need to “make a federal case” in U.S. District Court. The only thing the SPLC brought to the case was publicity, which it milked in its fundraising materials for more than a year.

In the end, the Federal Court threw out the couple’s “pain and anguish” claim and awarded photographer Hill $2,501 for the unauthorized use of her photo.

In short, the entire proceedings could have taken place in small claims court, and without any input from the Southern Poverty Law Center, but how would the donors ever hear about the case under those circumstances?

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s move to from civil rights organization to advocacy group is perfectly logical. There just aren’t enough Klansmen or neo-Nazis goose-stepping around to make a decent living anymore. As Mark Potok explained to Arlene Levinson of the Associated Press back in 1999:

“The numbers are absolutely soft,’ said Mark Potok, a Southern Poverty Law Center spokesman. ‘We are talking about a tiny number of Americans who are members of hate groups – I mean, infinitesimal.”

As an advocacy group, just like the National Rifle Association, Mr. Potok’s hands are untied and he can make any guilt-by-association allegations he deems profitable without regard to anyone’s civil rights, and of course, nobody in the media will bother to check out his claims. That might involve journalism.

And just like the NRA, Potok can “advocate” for his highly lucrative industry just like the Gun Lobby does. No wonder his company forgot to mention the change of mission to the donors. No sense is upsetting the blue-haired dears over semantics. They have enough to do just writing the checks

Morris Dees: Confessed Felon on the Lam

September 16, 2016

Here’s an interesting tidbit regarding Southern Poverty Law Center Co-Founder and sole owner, Morris Dees. According to Dees’ own words, the man has openly confessed, twice no less, to having committed a violent felony under Alabama law in 1983 and is still at large.

The link to this confession came to us through none other than Dees’ long-time Public Relations Guru, Mark Potok. In 2008, Potok was giving a group of Vermont high school teachers and students a personal tour of SPLC headquarters in Montgomery. During the hour-long interview, the audio file for which can be found here on the Internet Archive, Mark Potok relates the details of an event where a Klansman named Jeff Berry gives an interview to a television news crew, then, thinking better of it, demands the tape of the interview from the crew at shotgun-point. Potok says the police did nothing in response to the reporter’s complaint and so the SPLC stepped in.

“About a year later… well, we sued very quickly… well, it was shortly after that, and we easily won a judgment against Berry. You know, this was absolutely false imprisonment, right? I mean, it was a felony crime.”

Absolutely false imprisonment… A felony crime…

This passage got us to thinking about another anecdote we remembered about someone else holding someone at shotgun point. On page 101 of his 1991 autobiography, A Season For Justice, Morris Dees brags about holding a shotgun to the head of his good pal, and best paying Klan client, Claude Henley.

(Interestingly, Mr. Dees repeats the claim on page 101 of his second autobiography in 2003, A Lawyer’s Journey: The Morris Dees Story, which was a page-for-page reprint of Season, with one additional chapter tacked on the end. Most authors would refer to such a reprint as an updated or revised edition of the original title, but Mr. Dees opted to resell the same book under a different title.)

In both autobiographies, Dees writes of inviting friend Henley to his law office after an arson attack on the first SPLC headquarters, which Dees believed was committed by the United Klans of America (UKA). When the unsuspecting Klan thug shows up, Dees dials up Henley’s boss, UKA Imperial Wizard Bobby Shelton, on the speakerphone.

Below is Dees’ account of what happened next. Granted, we only have Dees’ word for it, but why would he lie to us? Twice? CAUTION: Mr. Dees has a fondness for expletives:

shotgun

Admittedly, we know even less about the law than even Mark Potok, but if Jeff Berry holding reporters at shotgun-point is a no-brainer felony, why isn’t the exact same act a felony crime for Morris Dees?

“Ah, well,” some may say, “this is ancient history from 1983 and surely the statute of limitations has long since expired.” In other words, Dees is bragging and making crude little jokes because they can’t touch him, right?

Au contraire! Under Alabama state law, (Statute: AL § 15-3-1 et seq, to be precise), while most felonies have a mere 3-year statute of limitations, “Any felony involving the use, attempted use, or threat of, violence to a person” has NO such limitation.

Clearly, Morris Dees bragging that he threatened to blow Henley’s head off its stump, in thousands of published books, no less, is every bit as viable a felony as if Dees had actually pulled the trigger all those years ago.

The confessed felon has been at large for more than thirty years now. It’s time for the squeaky Wheels of Justice to pull up in front of the Poverty Palace in Montgomery and get this violent individual off the streets.

Is there a real lawyer in the house?

By the way, the Potok interview is even more interesting for some of the other claims he makes, which ought to give any intelligent donor pause.

“In the 70’s… “poverty law” was actually the phrase… it was a phrase used that just applied to… essentially… civil rights law… to kind of human rights legal actions.”

“I know a couple years ago there was a big discussion internally [at the SPLC], ‘Should we change our name to something else?’ People think, you know, that it’s all about, sort of, defending poor people, and that’s not really, exactly what our mission is. By that time, people knew the name so well that, you know, we made, I think, the obviously right decision not to change the name.”

“People think, you know, that it’s all about, sort of, defending poor people, and that’s not really, exactly what our mission is.” Interesting.

“I think a lot of people feel, ‘Oh, groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, they find, you know, the two hundred Nazis running around the country, they build them up into great big groups, they make a big deal about it and then ask for your money,’ right? In other words, it’s kind of a scam. You hype up this little tiny threat into something scary, uh, and then go and try to make money off of it.”

You hype up this little tiny threat into something scary, uh, and then go and try to make money off of it.” Let us count the ways… here, here, here, here and here, and the list goes on and on.

“I don’t know if that answered your question. We did a lot of different kind of cases that were all over the, kind of, civil rights map. There was a lot of death penalty defense work done here in the early years. We don’t do that, really, any more, because, basically, a lot of other lawyers got good at it and now do that work.”

“We don’t do that, really, any more, because, basically, a lot of other lawyers got good at it and now do that work.” And how many of those lawyers have a $302 million-dollar cash reserve, Mr. Potok? Mo Dees got out of the civil rights business because he wanted Mo’ Money.

And most telling of all:

“We see this political struggle, right? And it’s very different from what Teaching Tolerance does, right? I mean, we’re not trying to change anybody’s mind. We’re trying to wreck the groups, and we are very clear in our head, this is… we are trying to destroy them. Not to send them to prison unfairly or not take their free speech rights away… but as a political matter, to destroy them.”

“We don’t want to take their free speech rights away… we just want to destroy them,” for expressing their free speech opinions, regardless of how offensive some may find them, Mr. Potok? We may not like what they have to say, but if a private fundraising company like yours has the power to “destroy” people for “thought crimes” then what’s holding you back? Oh yeah, that whole Dead-White-Guy Constitution thing.

Well, consistency was never your strong suit, Mr. Potok. Here’s a thought, turn in your felonious boss and collect the reward.

 

SPLC — Hate Map 2016 — Incredible… Literally

March 16, 2016

It’s March again, meaning that the Southern Poverty Law Center has released its latest “Hate Map” fundraising tool, and as always, Watching the Watchdogs is ready to have a look at the numbers, something nobody in the Media or government seems to want to do.

First, the usual warnings, definitions, provisos, etc.

  1. When the SPLC releases its Hate Map fundraising tool it refers to the alleged count for the previous year. In short, the 2016 Hate Map reflects the totals claimed for 2015.
  2. There is no legal definition for “hate group,” meaning that even the FBI does not, cannot designate “hate groups,” but somehow a private “advocacy group” can, and does, at will.
  3. Even the SPLC doesn’t have an actual definition for “hate group,” beyond the claim that “All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”In other words, “Hate groups say mean things about other groups.”

     

  4. The SPLC makes no linkage between “hate groups” and hate crime. Mark Potok, the company’s Public Relations guru has gone on the record repeatedly to say that “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.

That being said, let’s dig into the 2016 Hate Map. Fresh tripe, anyone?

All good things must come to an end and it is true of the Hate Map’s recent downward trend. Over the past few years the “hate group” count has been on a steep and steady decline, despite Mr. Potok’s dire predictions of “explosive growth” in the number of “hate groups” due to the election of President Obama and the tanking economy.

Hate Groups 2015

Source: SPLC

Initially, we attributed the drop to Mr. Potok’s successor at the helm of the Hate Map, Dr. Heidi Beirich, who is no doubt wise enough to realize that Potok’s ludicrous claims of ever-increasing “hate groups” were due to collapse under their own ridiculous weight. The recent rise, however, may point to other causes.

Endowment 2015

According to the SPLC’s most recent IRS Form 990, the company’s cash-on-hand Endowment Fund, which enjoyed an increase of 94% since the election of President Obama and despite the tanking economy, went flat last year, showing the first loss since Bernie Madoff moved into public housing.

It seems that the $8 million-dollar “non-profit” the company enjoyed last year, over and above operating costs, was nearly entirely consumed by an $8 million-dollar investment loss on the Endowment Fund, which actually contracted by a few thousand dollars.

What to do when profits are down? Goose the Golden “hate group” Goose, maybe? It has always brought home the bacon in the past, as the graph indicates.

We’ll speculate more on the Endowment Fund in an upcoming post. Let’s get back to the Hate Map.

Of the 892 “hate groups” the SPLC is claiming for last year, it provides exactly no information a journalist or researcher could use to verify the data. We know these groups are really, really out there because Mr. Potok tells us they are out there. Honest.

In fact, Potok and Beirich haven’t even bothered to come up with a location for 175 of the alleged groups, or 20% of the total. This embarrassing gap of “hate groups” unaffiliated with any known city or town is merely the latest in a very long history.

In 2011, 247 of Potok’s 1017 alleged groups were not affiliated with any known city or town, or 22% of the total. In 2012 it was 195 out of 1007, (19%), and 137 out of 784 groups in 2013, (17%). In 2014, 194 of the 734 alleged groups could not be located on any map, (26%). 

And yet, friends, the Media and the government swallow these “hard facts” as fast as Mr. Potok can whip them up.

And Mr. Potok doesn’t deny it. He doesn’t have to. When Watching the Watchdogs had the opportunity in 2011 to ask Mr. Potok directly about the accuracy of his “hate group” numbers, on camera, the he was amazingly candid in admitting that his figures were “anecdotal,” “an imperfect process” and “a very rough estimate.”

Speaking of rough estimates, last year Potok attributed 40 “hate groups” to New Jersey, giving it the fourth highest total in the country and leading Mark Pitcavage, Mr. Potok’s opposite number at the Anti-Defamation League, to tell the newspapers that “The SPLC’s counts are wildly inflated. They claim groups where there are none, or just one or two individuals.”

It’s pretty sad when you own brother-in-arms calls you a liar, Mr. Potok.

But numbers don’t lie. Or do they? After being publicly outed by the ADL, Mr. Potok magically reduced New Jersey’s “hate group” total from 40 to 21 overnight, mostly by simply erasing 14 out of 15 chapters of the “AC Skins” off the chart with his shirtsleeve.

AC Skins

Not to worry. Mr. Potok loses “groups” all the time. In 2015, his Hate Map warned us that 8 chapters each of the Free America Rally and the White Boy Society were out to get us, not that he could identify a single city or town where these threats to society were lurking. By 2016, not so much.

Free America

Sixteen desperate “hate groups” magically disappeared overnight.

The Council of Conservative Citizens had a rough year, losing more than half of its chapters with the click of a mouse. Fortunately, St. Louis is still conservative enough to keep two distinct chapters up and running.

CCC

And while the number of known chapters of the Aryan Strikeforce “exploded” by a phenomenal 100% last year (from 1 to 2!!), the number of unaffiliated chapters dropped by 39%, from 18 to 11.

2016 Strikeforce

A similar tale for the Aryan Terror Brigade. “Explosive growth” of 100% in known locations (from 0 to 1), but “terror”-izing shrinkage in the number of unaffiliated groups from 16 to 2. A drop of 88%!!

2016 Terror

Things are a little better for the National Socialist Movement (though we still can’t get this one all in a single image). While the number of known chapters has dropped by three, the number of unaffiliated chapters is holding rock steady at 29.

NSM1

NSM2

Seriously, folks. Mr. Potok cannot locate 29 out of 46 alleged chapters of the NSM, that’s nearly TWO OUT OF THREE, friends, and yet Potok still counts ’em and the Media, and more importantly, the donors, still believe it.

In the same online interview in which Mr. Potok talks about ideology (linked above), he makes this comment:

“I think a lot of people feel, ‘Oh, groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, they find, you know, the two hundred Nazis running around the country, they build them up into great big groups, they make a big deal about it and then ask for your money,’ right? In other words, it’s kind of a scam. You hype up this little tiny threat into something scary, uh, and then go and try to make money off of it.”

Well, Mr. Potok? YOU’RE the guy who put a chapter of the NSM in nearly every state but cannot locate two-thirds of them on your own map. What are rational people supposed to think?

This is the same interview where Mr. Potok makes this telling statement:

“People think, you know, that it’s all about, sort of, defending poor people, and that’s not really, exactly what our mission is.”

Well, gee, Mr. Potok. Where in the world would people get that idea? It definitely didn’t come from us.

 Obviously, you can’t rack up loss after loss and still claim “a 14% increase” for this year, so let’s see where some of this growth occurred.

While Mr. Potok mislaid six of the Original Knight Riders chapters he had located previously, he made up for it by adding twice as many empty slots to the count.

Original

Thirty-one chapters of the United White Knights made their debut this year.

United

And the Texas Knights picked up 21 new chapters.

Texas

Interestingly, 13 communities picked up one of each. Maybe the Klan is getting into franchising. You open a McDonald’s on one street corner and before you know it, someone is building a Burger King across the street.

Both

Speaking of franchises, while the Blood and Honour skinhead organization took an 80% hit last year…

BloodAndHonour

…Thirteen chapters of the Blood and Honour Social Club popped up out of nowhere. Actually, it looks like 12 of those new chapters are still nowhere. Still, a “social club” has a real franchise chain ring to it, like an Applebee’s or a Hooters.

BandHSocial

The list goes on and on and these incredible gaps and gaffes are right out in the open where anyone with an interest can find them. All we did was copy the data from the Hate Map webpage and dump it into a spreadsheet. Rocket science this is not.

We’ll leave you with one last factoid that gets dutifully buried in every new iteration of the Hate Map fundraising tool, the breakdown of the threats to the nation by category:

BlackSeparatist

As we have noted here over the past few years, when you break the largest groupings down by category and strip out the unaffiliated phantoms, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the biggest category of “hate group” in the nation is once again Black.

How many donors realize that when they send in their money?

Not only do Black “hate groups” significantly out number every other category, respectively, according to Mr. Potok’s numbers, but 80 of those chapters are from the Nation of Islam, a decidedly Muslim organization, meaning that Muslim “hate groups” outnumber Anti-Muslim groups by more than two to one.

And if you look at Mr. Potok’s rag-tag bunch of Anti-Muslim groups they are almost entirely one-man websites, something the SPLC claims it doesn’t count. The one notable exception, and our personal favorite, is Casa D’Ice… which is actually an Italian restaurant on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. “Oh, the humanity!”

SPLC 2016 – Celebrating 45 Years of “Whites Only” at the Top!

March 4, 2016

Spring is in the air, which means it’s time to have a look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s latest financial reports.

While there have been some significant events surrounding the company’s bloated Endowment Fund, (to be examined in a future post), and the usual deck chair shuffling on the “Hate Map” fundraising tool, (also to be explored shortly), Watching the Watchdogs has determined that, once again, the Senior Executive Staff of the SPLC is all white, just as it has been every single year since the company opened for business in 1971.

Not a lot of other multi-million dollar companies can claim an unbroken 45-year streak of whites at the heights. Even the NBA and NFL had to give in eventually.

So, according to the SPLC’s tax return for the fiscal year ending October 31, 2015, its IRS Form 990, posted on the company’s website, here are the senior execs for the year:

2015 Execs

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If they look vaguely familiar, it’s because these are the same people from the previous fiscal year. The only thing that has changed are their salaries:

2016 Salaries

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Looks like a little something extra for everybody, except poor David Utter, for some reason.

A couple of minor notes are in order. Wendy Via is enjoying her fourth consecutive raise in the $19,000 to $20,000 range. It seems that Development (read: Fundraising) is as good as ever.

Jerri Katzerman and Lisa Sahulka are newcomers to the company, as we mentioned last year, and so they are being eased into their actual salaries gradually.

Ms. Sahulka in particular only pulled down $53,000 in her first year as Chief Operating Officer, a fraction of her predecessor’s pay. Michael Toohey earned $148,000 that year as COO, and $234,000 the year before that. Not bad for a guy who quit the company the year before! Expect Ms. Sahulka to get another generous pay bump this year.

Last year marked the debut of Heidi Beirich into the ranks of the company’s highest paid officers, though she has been with the company as long as Public Relations Guru Mark Potok, doing pretty much the same job. Wonder why his raise was $5,000 more than hers?

And we’ve included Maureen Costello for the second year, even though her salary is unknown and she is not listed on the Form 990 as one of the highest paid execs. Ms. Costello heads up the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance department, which purports to promote diversity in the K-12 classroom.

In 1994, two reporters from the Montgomery Advertiser, the SPLC’s hometown newspaper, noted that not only were there no minority executives at the Center, but that Teaching Tolerance was staffed entirely by whites at that time. You can read the full text here.

Equal treatment

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Though the staffing at Teaching Tolerance has hopefully diversified over the decades, the leadership has remained completely white, except when Lecia Brooks was allowed to sit in temporarily as a caretaker until Ms. Costello could be hired, a position not even mentioned on Ms. Brooks’ company bio page.

With nearly 300 employees, more than $54,000,000 in revenues for each of the past two years, and more than $302,000,000 in cash-on-hand, what possible excuse can Messers Dees, Levin and Cohen make for keeping minorities out of the company’s Executive Suite for FORTY-FIVE consecutive years running?

We can only think of one reason, and it stinks…

Employees

 

SPLC — 2015 “Hate Map” — Nothing Adds Up… As Usual

November 20, 2015

 

“Better late than never,” we always say. While the folks at the Southern Poverty Law Center released their annual “Hate Map” fundraising tool right on schedule last March, we at Watching the Watchdogs are just now getting around to having a peek under the hood. As usual, nothing adds up.

2015-Hate Map _ Southern Poverty Law Center

Longtime Watching the Watchdogs readers may want to scroll down to the numbers section of this post, but at this juncture, a recap for the benefit of new readers is in order:

There is no standard or “official” definition for “hate group.” There is no legal definition, which is why the FBI doesn’t designate “hate groups.” Even the SPLC doesn’t have a firm definition for the term, and what boilerplate language they do attach is contradictory and/or flat out false, and this, friends, is entirely intentional. Here’s what the company has to say on the subject:

“The Southern Poverty Law Center counted 784 active hate groups in the United States in 2014. Only organizations and their chapters known to be active during 2014 are included.

All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.

This list was compiled using hate group publications and websites, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports.

Hate group activities can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing. Websites appearing to be merely the work of a single individual, rather than the publication of a group, are not included in this list. Listing here does not imply a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity.”

Let’s take a moment to unpack this content systematically.

“The Southern Poverty Law Center counted 784 active hate groups in the United States in 2014. Only organizations and their chapters known to be active during 2014 are included.”

It should be noted that when the SPLC releases its annual “Hate Map,” usually in the month of March, it refers to the count for the previous fiscal year (with the accent on fiscal). For the past decade, the “Hate Map” tool was the work of the SPLC’s Public Relations Guru, Mark Potok, but in recent years the map has alluded to another hand at the wheel, Mr. Potok’s successor, Dr. Heidi Beirich.

Why the map should be static in the Age of the Internet has always been a mystery. For example, if a hundred new “hate groups” should spring up like mushrooms on April 1, the donors and the world at large would not know of the dire threat for an entire year.

There is no good reason why an online map cannot be dynamic, showing up-to-the-minute information every time you visit the website, other than the fact that the entire purpose of the “Hate Map” is not to inform, but rather, to persuade.

As for “only organizations and chapters known to be active,” we’ll have a look at that claim shortly.

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

This statement is as close as the SPLC comes to an actual definition for their lucrative “hate group” brand, as it is also as far as the company is willing to stick out its neck. The term “attack or malign” is deliberately vague and subjective, and pretty much what you’d expect coming from a company run by lawyers. The phrase is deliberately subjective, meaning whatever the SPLC intends it to mean, depending on the audience at hand.

And when you come right down to it, the SPLC’s entire “hate group” definition boils down to little more than “People who say mean things about other people.” It seems like a pretty slender thread upon which to hang a multi-million dollar operation, but the numbers don’t lie.

It’s worth noting that when the SPLC refers to entire classes of people as “right-wing,” “radical” or “extremist,” they are not attacking or maligning, merely informing.

“This list was compiled using hate group publications and websites, citizen and law enforcement reports, field sources and news reports.”

Mr. Potok’s “hate maps” have never been what one could call “academically rigorous.” For the most part they seem to be the work of interns and paid newspaper clipping services, which is not nearly as problematic as one might imagine, as nobody in the Media has an interest in performing even the most rudimentary fact checks on Mr. Potok’s claims, even when he comes right out and undermines the maps’ credibility himself:

“Mark Potok, who has directed the SPLC’s Intelligence Project for 12 years, said the report relies on media, citizen and law enforcement reports, and does not include original reporting by SPLC staff.” (www.postcrescent.com, July 6, 2009)

“Potok acknowledged that some of the groups may be small and said it is impossible for outsiders to gauge the membership of most of the groups.” (David Crary, Associated Press Online, March 10, 2008)

“Potok says inclusion on the list might come from a minor presence, such as a post office box.” (www.sanluisobispo.com, March 25, 2009)

“The numbers are absolutely soft,” said Mark Potok, a Southern Poverty Law Center spokesman. “We are talking about a tiny number of Americans who are members of hate groups – I mean, infinitesimal.” (Arlene Levinson, “Hate Groups, Crimes Said Rare in US,” Associated Press, July 8, 1999)

Easily the most disturbing claim Mr. Potok has made over the years is:

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

Back in the days when the SPLC was promoting itself as a “non-profit civil rights organization” it was incomprehensible how anyone could conflate six of the most fundamental, First Amendment civil rights with “criminal acts” and “hate group activities.”

Now that the company has dropped all pretenses of being a civil rights organization, the ploy makes perfect sense.

“Websites appearing to be merely the work of a single individual, rather than the publication of a group, are not included in this list.”

Even the most casual glance at the “Hate Map” shows how patently false this claim is:

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Above is just a partial list of one-man/woman websites, t-shirt and flag vendors and other “groups.” Daniel Greenfield has a field day on his one-man blog explaining “How I Became a Hate Group,” noting that, in all fairness, he often writes with the assistance of his cat, who admits to “hating” mice, birds, and the like.

Our personal favorite “group” is Casa D’Ice, an Italian restaurant and bar near Pittsburgh, famous for its marquee signs.

Casa D'Ice

Obviously, friends, the threat to the Republic has never been greater. Donate to the SPLC, early and often.

The final blurb on the “Hate Map” legend speaks for itself:

“Listing here does not imply a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity.”

In fact, the whole point of the entire “Hate Map” marketing tool is precisely to imply that the people in the “hate groups” are doing something illegal. Otherwise, what interest would a “law center” possibly have in groups of people engaging in protected, though admittedly often offensive, free speech?

As Mark Potok has said on many occasions, and is quoted here from a 2008 interview available on the Internet Archive:

“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.

You’re not going to raise tens of millions of dollars a year defending the civil rights of the unpopular, but if you can turn it into a war of ideologies the donors will beat a path to your door.

Now that we’ve reviewed the “facts,” let’s have a look at the figures.

For as long as we’ve been reviewing Mr. Potok’s annual “Hate Map,” it has consisted of a pretty straight-forward map with numbers purporting to identify the number of “hate groups” in any particular state.

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It was a fairly clean design that was easy to read and just as easy to analyze. Sometime over the summer of 2015 the company came out with a new-and-improved website that deliberately obfuscates Mr. Potok’s numbers so that the readers and donors won’t ask a lot of questions. Behold the improved “Hate Map”:

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Much better, no? Fortunately, while the map itself is now completely incomprehensible, the company still provides a “list of active hate groups” that can be dumped into a spreadsheet and sorted, so that the donors can see first hand the number of “hate groups” in their home states.

If you are of a mind to create such a spreadsheet, the first thing you notice is that the latest “Hate Map” only contains 735 alleged “groups,” as opposed to the 784 advertised. A little “bait and switch” tactic, perhaps? Or, more likely, more blundering from the SPLC’s inept webmaster.

Even if we use the higher figure, it is worth noting that the totals haven’t been this low since 2004, dropping 27% in just the past three years. Since the SPLC is the sole arbiter of the lucrative “hate group” label, and since no one in the Media will ever vet their claims, why wouldn’t the numbers, and there for the perceived threat, continue to increase year after year?

The most logical answer is that it was becoming harder and harder to keep up the ruse in the Age of the Internet. The spurious “Hate Map” is simply collapsing under its own bloated weight. Now that Dr. Beirich is taking over as “Intelligence Director” she may have elected to do a little much-needed housekeeping.

Still, as with every “Hate Map” in the past dozen years, the spreadsheet reveals an embarrassing phenomenon with one simple fact that ought to tip off any thinking person. Of the 784, (or 735), alleged groups on his map, Mr. Potok cannot locate 195 of them in any known city or town. That’s 25% of the total right off the top.

Mr. Potok claims he knows of 22 chapters of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK, but can’t locate 18 of them, or 82% of the total.

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Of the 49 chapters of the National Socialist Movement Mr. Potok warns of, 29 are floating about in limbo, or 59%.

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The National Socialist Freedom Movement: 11 out of 12 are homeless, or 92% of the claim.

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Aryan Nations Ohio, 80% phantoms.

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Creativity Alliance: 14 out of 15.

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Every single chapter of both Free America Rally and the White Boy Society, or 100% of the total.

Really… 100%.

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White Boy

And the insanity goes on and on, for a grand total of 195 homeless “hate groups.” And yet the Media and the donors gobble it all down as “fact.”

As for the other groups, Potok provides nothing that researchers could use to verify his claims. In 1998, respected investigative journalist Laird Wilcox, who describes himself as a Liberal, pointed out this lack of verifiable evidence in his seminal work, The Watchdogs.

When the SPLC releases their list, either in print or on the Internet, it fails to contain actual addresses that might be checked by journalists or researchers. Several listings refer to “unknown group” and the name of a city or town.” — The Watchdogs, p. 79

 

Again, such incongruities would normally present obvious credibility issues for any other group making these claims, but Mr. Potok and the SPLC get a free ride from the Media and researchers year after year.

Except from us.

Sorry for the delay. We promise to be more on top of things when the next installment of the insanely lucrative “hate map” comes out next March.

SPLC — Where Have “Potok’s Pinheads” Gone?

October 30, 2015

As part of our ongoing effort to “track” the public relations and fundraising tactics of the Southern Poverty Law Center it has recently come to our attention that one of the most cynical and dubious features of the company’s website is conspicuously absent.

We first reported on the SPLC’s “Stand Strong Against Hate” map in November, 2009, the brain child, no doubt of the company’s Senior Fellow and Public Relations Chief, Mark Potok.

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In exchange for nothing more than your first and last name, zip code and email address, you too could become a digital pinhead on Mr. Potok’s map, “adding yourself as a voice of tolerance.”

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What Mr. Potok has yet to explain is how turning over all of your contact information to him fought “hate” whatsoever. Not to worry, even if Mr. Potok couldn’t use your information to “fight hate,” no doubt the boys in the Fundraising Department could.

Please note the handy button on the lower right that would allow you to “report” any suspicious activities anonymously, right after you enter your name, zip and email info.

We reminded readers of Mr. Potok’s cynical data-mining in a post about the SPLC’s $8 million dollar telemarketing racket as recently as January 2015, where the “Stand Strong” map was still standing strong and welcoming new pinheads with outstretched hands.

A recent review of the SPLC’s revamped website, however, failed to turn up any trace of this blatant fundraising tool. Clicking on the original URL takes one to the company’s home page. The Internet Archive’s cantankerous marvel, the Wayback Machine, hasn’t seen the “Stand Strong” map since September, 2015.

Granted, it’s only October, as of this writing, and maybe the map will turn up again. We’d like to see it returned, as it has served exquisitely as a visual aid for the SPLC’s fundraising tactics. Even the most devoted Potok-o-phile is always at a loss to explain just how giving up your private information “fights hate,” and in an age where even the most secure websites are vulnerable to hackers, what could a real “hate group” do with that information?

More likely, though, the “Stand Strong” map is yet another reminder of how the SPLC is rebranding and retooling to meet the fundraising realities of the 21st century. The precipitous decline of the Mr. Potok’s longtime flagship, the infamous “Hate Map,” is the most obvious sign that marketing ploys that once worked so well and for so long with the company’s original blue-haired donor base cannot stand up against the Age of the Internet and the scrutiny of web-savvy donors.

This is, no doubt, the reason why the SPLC dropped all pretenses of being a “non-profit civil rights organization” in February, 2014. The real money, in this day and age, is in “advocacy,” where no correlation between civil suits and civil rights is required.

The SPLC’s revamped website has been a bit of a mess lately, so if anyone should locate the “Stand Strong Against Hate” map later on, please pass the info along to us. A watchdog couldn’t ask for a better bone to chew.

We miss Mr. Potok’s Pinheads already.

SPLC — Confederate Commodification

September 12, 2015

The recent controversy surrounding the Confederate flag merely adds more evidence to the theory that the Southern Poverty Law Center has yet to meet a tragedy it could not somehow spin into gold. While the company is sticking to its tried-and-true methods of appealing to its largely progressive donor base’s sympathies, this most recent marketing campaign is part of a bigger shake-up that has been in the works for the past few years.

In the aftermath of the mindless murders of nine people in Charleston in June, a media frenzy ensued demanding the removal of the Confederate flag from all public property across the country.

Naturally, the professional fundraisers at the SPLC saw an opportunity to appeal to their largely progressive donor base by hopping on the media bandwagon.

One of the savvier moves was to set up an online “Erasing Hate” hot-line where people can report sightings of the flag, schools and streets named after Confederates, etc., so that, in the words of SPLC founder Morris Dees, the company could “put pressure on” local governments.

It comes as little surprise, though, that there is no option to report the offending sites anonymously. Just as with the company’s cynical “Stand Strong Against Hate” map, the ultimate goal is to add the names and addresses of potential donors into its enormous fundraising database.

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Otherwise, you could have all kinds of anonymous practical jokers submitting the names of locations that couldn’t possibly be verified, except, maybe, by Google…

The SPLC doesn’t need “tipsters” to compile a comprehensive list of Confederate-themed locations any more than they would for a list of Winn-Dixie grocery stores or MoonPie distributors, but the list isn’t the point of the exercise.

While this kind of marketing ploy is pretty standard by SPLC standards, the company appears to be undergoing a major re-branding in the hopes of mining new sources of revenue.

Watching the Watchdogs has previously documented the collapse of the bloated Hate Map “hate group” count, which simply could no longer stand up to close inspection in the Age of the Internet. Someone in the Head Office, (we surmise it was Heidi Beirich), began an ambitious campaign to thin out some of the more obvious “hate group” padding, reducing the spurious count by 27% over the past few years.

The company has even redesigned the layout of their lucrative Hate Map to further obfuscate their spurious numbers, but they still have a lot of fat left to trim. For example, of the 22 alleged chapters of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan listed, only four are affiliated with a known city or town. The rest merely float about in limbo, padding the count.

Perhaps the most astounding move occurred early in 2014, when the SPLC actually dropped the descriptor “non-profit civil rights organization” from its website and fundraising materials. It now refers to itself as “an advocacy group.”

This is a huge sea change for the company, which would no doubt alienate it from many of its traditional, blue-haired donors, (which is possibly why the SPLC has neglected to publicly announce the change), but the benefits going forward are manifold.

By re-branding as an advocacy group, the SPLC no longer has to tie any of its actions to actual civil rights. Now they can freely pursue such cut-and-dried civil suits as the copyright infringement case involving a gay couple’s engagement photo. No civil rights were violated, or even mentioned in the complaint, but the SPLC was able to lend publicity to the case as part of its ham-fisted marketing campaign aimed at the LGBT market.

The recent Confederate flag flap apparently got someone in the SPLC’s Advancement Office (read: Fundraising) to think more proactively. “Instead of passively waiting for the donor-dollars to roll in, what can we actually sell people?”

The answer was brilliant. On September 10, 2015, the SPLC issued a press release stating:

“Singer-songwriter Steve Earle has partnered with the Southern Poverty Law Center to take a stand against the Confederate battle flag and is urging Mississippi to remove the emblem from its state flag with the release of his new song, “Mississippi It’s Time.”

No doubt the term “has partnered with” actually means “was commissioned by,” which accounts for the next line in the release, which is obviously the most telling:

“The song is available for streaming here and for download on iTunes beginning Friday, September 11. All proceeds will go to the SPLC.”

And there you have it. The SPLC has found the perfect way to commodify, that is, to turn a buck from, the Confederate flag controversy.

If this scheme pans out, you can expect more commissioned songs, to be followed by t-shirts, books, smartphone apps and video games. “All profits will go to the SPLC.”

As we pointed out a week ago, the SPLC posted a $12 million dollar “non-profit” last year, over and above the $22 million in tax-free interest generated by its $302 million dollar cash endowment fund.

The SPLC needs more funding like a Mississippi catfish needs ugly lessons.

It’s probably no coincidence that the company chose to release its product on September 11, as they seldom miss an opportunity to cash in on symbolism.

Speaking of symbolism, however, nowhere in the actual text of the press release, (though there is a photo of the album cover), does the SPLC mention the name of Mr. Earle’s band… the Dukes.

No doubt the fundraisers wanted to avoid any potential association with former KKK leader David Duke, or more likely, those other, hate-filled, Icons of Evil…

Click Image to Enlarge

Click Image to Enlarge

Whatever the reason, we’re obviously witnessing a major change in the way in which the Southern Poverty Law Center makes money. This bears watching and we at Watching the Watchdogs are more than happy to do so.

Stay tuned, y’all…


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