Posts Tagged ‘Moonshot CVE’

Mark Potok Returns!

August 29, 2020

It was three years ago this week when we at Watching the Watchdogs first noted the departure of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s longtime Intelligence Director, Mark Potok, from the company that had made him rich and famous (and vice versa) over his twenty year career there.

We noted with astonishment, in 2017, that no formal press release of Mr. Potok’s departure from the SPLC had been issued nor had such a momentous occasion even been mentioned on the company’s website, which we monitor regularly.

It was simply incomprehensible that the media personality who had been the face and voice of the “nation’s leading civil rights organization” could vanish from the world stage after two decades of faithful and enormously lucrative service without so much as a “Fare-thee-well, Mark, and thank you for all you’ve done for us!”

In fact, while Potok’s professional biography blurb and his photo were still on the company website in February, 2017, by March his bio had been taken down and his photo airbrushed from the “Leadership” page. After 20 years, however, the SPLC couldn’t simply delete the hundreds of articles, papers and “reports” created by their star front man, so instead they changed his byline to “Mark Potok — Former Employee,” which didn’t bode well for a possibly amicable parting of the ways.

Potok Former Employee

For his part, Mr. Potok’s Facebook page bore only one stark line: “Left Job at Southern Poverty Law Center.” No mention of “retiring” or “exploring new opportunities.” Not even a “wants to spend more time with the family” fig leaf. After a brief exile from the SPLC website, Mr. Potok’s legacy was rehabilitated to the point where his biography blurb was returned to the site and his nonentity status has been upgraded to “Former Senior Fellow.”

Considering how many tens of millions of dollars Mark Potok brought into the SPLC’s coffers during his years of media interviews, print articles and especially through his magnum opus, the company’s annual “Hate Map” fundraising tool, the original “golden goose,” it was the very least the SPLC could do.

At the time, we wrote with great sincerity that we would very much miss seeing Mr. Potok at the SPLC, and we still do. Despite disagreeing with his opinions and tactics during more than a decade of research on the Hate Industry in general, and the SPLC in particular, we recognized that Mr. Potok is a self-made man who rose up from humble beginnings to control one of the most efficient public relations and fundraising machines of our day.

Few public relations practitioners have enjoyed such widespread and unquestioning access to the world media. The power and sheer rush of the experience must have been incredible. And then it was gone. The power, the prestige and the six-digit salary all evaporated overnight. Those of us who are only a very few years junior to Mr. Potok in age must wonder how you rebuild a career from scratch past the age of fifty. We commend his efforts.

One of the reasons Mark Potok was so important to our work at Watching the Watchdogs was his off-script candor, such as in 2011 when he freely admitted to us, on camera, that his insanely profitable annual “Hate Map,” the very keystone of all SPLC fundraising, was not the infallible document so often cited by the media, but instead was merely “anecdotal,” “a rough estimate,” and “an imperfect process.”

“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)

“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)

“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)

And from a 2008 interview with some visiting high school teachers at SPLC headquarters, which now resides on the Internet Archive:

“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.” (Mark Potok Interview, Track 1)

And the delightfully candid:

“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 Interview, Track 2)

When you study the Hate Industry for years and one of the captains of that industry steps up and admits that the vast majority of the claims made by his company are baseless, the feeling can only be described as exhilarating.

But Mark Potok did not go quietly into that good night. Just this week an opinion piece by Potok appeared on the Rantt Media website. In a fiery article about an otherwise obscure Alabama politician who even Potok describes as a “clueless” Republican, “…from the white-flight Montgomery suburb of Prattville,” as opposed to, you know, Mr. Potok’s inner city tenement flat, shown below.

Casa Potok

Casa Potok

All of the classic Potokian elements are there. The guilt-by-association associations, the anonymous source quotes, the non sequitur anecdotes. Like many of the obscure, one-man “hate groups” designated by Mr. Potok in earlier times, most people on the planet would never have heard about this hapless racist from Alabama if not for Mark Potok. It was a truly nostalgic moment.

According to the website, “Rantt Media launched in October 2016 with one goal in mind — to combat disinformation and to help create a more informed and politically active society.” Their plan for doing so is “to analyze the news, shed light on injustices, and tell the stories that matter to you.” Mr. Potok’s comments and articles about how “The DNC Gave America the Unifying Vision it’s Crying Out For,” and “The Forgotten Hillary Clinton Voter: A Profile of the Not-So-Silent Majority,” give a good idea of the content.

Apparently, Rantt Media, based in Washington, DC, wants to help create a more politically active society in the US, as long as that society supports the “correct” party.

Nowhere is this irony greater than in a recent article found on the website, “Media Literacy 101: How to Identify Fake News & Media Bias,” written by Christina Ballard.

This is a very well-written article that should be read by all. Ms. Ballard makes several extremely cogent points:

  • If you are not sure of a source’s credibility, think about why the information is there and when it was put there. Is the source trying to sell something, to persuade or just inform?
  • Think about if there is another way you can verify what you are seeing. Is this news also available on other sites? Is it written to a general audience or a more specific one?
  • Think about the language being used. Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion? Do you see a lot of “tagging” or “labeling?”[Such as “hate group,” “injustices,” “Radical Right,” perhaps? WtW]
  • Is the source using extremes when just the basics will do?
  • Media Bias happens when the media is reporting the news in a partial or prejudiced manner. This occurs when the media appears to be pushing a viewpoint rather than reporting the news objectively, or just the facts.

Merely brilliant, Ms. Ballard! Bravo!

Rantt Media relies on a $10-a-month subscription fee, and “partnered contributors,” which the site assures us that “Rantt Media may receive compensation from the partners we feature on our site. However, this in no way affects our news coverage, analysis, or political 101’s.Really? More on one of these major “partners” to follow below.

Rantt’s byline for Mr. Potok was obviously written by Mr. Potok and turns up in various venues around the internet:

“Mark Potok is an expert on the American radical right who was a senior official at the Southern Poverty Law Center civil rights organization for 20 years and is now a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right.”

Well, we know Mr. Potok is an “expert” because it says so on his website. As for calling the SPLC a “civil rights organization,” that’s how the company referred to itself for much of Mr. Potok’s tenure, until quietly morphing into “an advocacy group, focused on civil rights” sometime in 2014 (without mentioning the shift in focus to the donors). This brings us to the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR).

We had not heard of CARR before learning of Mr. Potok’s affiliation with the group. As the spelling of the name indicates, the “Centre” is a European organization which appears to be located in the UK, though we could not find any reference to an actual location on its website.

Rantt Media’s “About” page singles CARR out as an important sponsored partner, touting two dozen CARR articles published on the site.

The oldest blog posts on the CARR site go back to March, 2018, so it would seem to be a relatively young undertaking, and a review of its leadership bio pages show most of them to be fairly young academics, as opposed to the septuagenarian lawyers and public relations men who ran the SPLC.

The blurb on the website states that “The Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR) is the leading information aggregator and knowledge repository on the radical right, past and present,” which would, no doubt, rankle some of the older hands at the SPLC, who have claimed that title for the past 40 years.

The blurb continues with “Above all, CARR intends to lead discussion on the development of radical right extremism around the world,” which, if the organization’s name didn’t already spill the beans, indicates that CARR’s mission is anything but neutral on the subject. Like the SPLC, CARR seems to be another “advocacy group” whose purpose is to “advocate” for a “correct” view of the world.

Above all, CARR intends to lead discussion on the development of radical right extremism around the world.” What was it Christina Ballard said about Fake News?

Is the source trying to sell something, to persuade or just inform?

Is it written to a general audience or a more specific one?

Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion? Do you see a lot of “tagging” or “labeling?”

[Media Bias] occurs when the media appears to be pushing a viewpoint rather than reporting the news objectively, or just the facts.

Interestingly, the website also includes the boilerplate disclaimer that “Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR).” This is interesting because all of the views expressed on the site are handpicked by the group’s leadership prior to being published and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of space given over to alternative points of view.

We were also unable to determine CARR’s source of financing. Unlike the SPLC and many other multi-million dollar “non-profit” organizations in the US, CARR does not seem to rely on public donations to keep its digital doors open.

The site does list several “partners,” though, including Rantt Media and the very-deep-pocketed Southern Poverty Law Center (with more than half a billion dollars in unrestricted cash on hand) and a London-based organization calling itself “Moonshot CVE,” as in “Countering Violent Extremism.”

Moonshot’s byline on the CARR site states:

Moonshot CVE is a social enterprise working to disrupt and ultimately end violent extremism. From digital capacity building to counter-messaging campaigns, we use data-proven techniques to ensure our clients respond to violent extremism effectively all over the world.

As part of our global programming on the violent far right, we have deployed bots to counter hate on social media and identified and engaged one-on-one with white supremacists.

All of our work aims to reach people at risk of violent extremism and offer them an alternative path. Our work is rooted in evidence, ethics and the fundamental belief that people can change.

While all Wikipedia entries must be taken with a grain of salt, the entry for Moonshot claims that the group “receives funding from technology companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter,” and “engages in paid work on behalf of governments such as the UK, Canada and Japan.”

Wikipedia also claims that “Moonshot engages in campaigns to direct users attempting to access extremist material to alternative sources,” which is an admirable goal at face value, but begs the question as to who exactly determines what is “extremist material”? Google? Facebook? Twitter?

The CARR site also lists more than 90 Senior Fellows (including Mr. Potok), Doctoral Fellows and Policy and Practitioner Fellows, noting that “Our Senior Fellows are academics at universities holding a PhD and higher.”

According to Mr. Potok, he received a bachelor’s degree (A.B.) in Political Science in 1978 from the University of Chicago but has never pursued a master’s degree, much less a doctorate, and has never worked or taught at any institution of higher learning.

No doubt he should be listed among the Policy and Practitioner Fellows, who are “policy makers, practitioners, or researchers at think tanks or non-profits.”

So in the long run, while it is good to see Mark Potok back in the game again (he also turned up in an interview on “far-right extremism” as we were writing this post) his return also bolsters our claims that there is a definite “Hate Industry,” consisting of private companies such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, that make hundreds of millions of dollars peddling fear, outrage and “hate” to Progressive donors, and other networked players, such as CARR, Rantt Media and Moonshot CVE, who also manipulate the “far-right” narrative for purposes other than financial gain.

There are no conspiracies here. This is simply the age-old quest for wealth and political power. Unlike the players listed above, we do not ask anyone to take our word for anything. Take five minutes and read Christina Ballard’s superb primer on fake news. You won’t be sorry.

 


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