Posts Tagged ‘Privitere’

SPLC — Anatomy of a Marketing Ploy

January 26, 2014

As mentioned in an previous post, the master fundraisers at the Southern Poverty Law Center have targeted the LGBT community in their latest marketing scheme. A little digging, very little digging, reveals just how flimsy this campaign really is from the get-go.

Visit the SPLC’s homepage and click on the “LGBT Rights” link on the left.

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The LGBT Rights page makes the following claim: “Our work on LGBT issues spans decades.” Really?

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If the SPLC has been fighting the good fight for the LGBT community “for decades,” why did they not even have an LGBT Rights page until 2011? Certainly there must be dozens of important LGBT cases to which the SPLC can point with pride.

Fortunately, the SPLC keeps a meticulous list of all of their court cases which one can access easily from their home page.

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They even provide a handy drop-down menu that sorts the cases by type.

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Sorting by LGBT Rights returns a total of 8 cases, which seems rather skimpy for a civil rights law firm that has been in business for nearly 43 years. Scrolling down to the oldest case, Hoffburg v. Alexander, we do indeed find that this case goes all the way back to 1980. Hoffburg, it turns out, wasn’t even the SPLC’s own case. It was an appeal filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Glancing up, however, we find that the next time the SPLC went to bat for the LGBT community was in 2011!

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Apparently, there were no cases of anti-LGBT civil rights violations worthy of the great institution’s note for 31 years!

In this case, the SPLC threatened to sue a high school if it didn’t allow two female students to march in a pep rally as the school’s Snow King and Queen. Fighting the good fight doesn’t come much harder than that.

Scrolling up the list, we find that it was only a few months after the pep rally case that the SPLC threatened to sue the same school district.

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The SPLC claims it was contesting a “gag policy” that prevented teachers from discussing LGBT issues in the classroom. The actual policy read that teachers could discuss LGBT issues at an age appropriate level, if the subject was germane to the class work and remained entirely neutral on the subject, neither endorsing or denigrating it.

Neutrality wasn’t good enough for the civil rights center, and so, having as much spare cash on hand as any other public school system facing a multimillion dollar law firm, Anoka-Hennepin simply gave in. Another hard fought legal battle that never went to court.

Higher up the list, we find Hill v. Public Advocate, the simple copyright infringement case of a New Jersey gay couple whose engagement photo was used in a Colorado political flier without their permission, or that of their photographer, who holds the copyright. None of the plaintiffs are indigent, the case is being handled by one of the premier intellectual property law firms in the business and the term “civil rights” never appears once in the complaint.

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Soon after Hill, the SPLC jumped on another non-civil rights case, Ferguson v. JONAH. In this case, a group of gay Jewish men in New York City are suing an organization that promised to “cure” their homosexuality.

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This is a classic fraud suit, no different than thousands of similar suits filed every day, and the case is being brought forward by one of the best fraud law firms in NYC, none of the plaintiffs are poor and, once again, the term “civil rights” never appears once in the actual complaint.

If there are no civil rights issues in these otherwise cut-and-dried civil suits that are being handled by some of the best lawyers in the business, what exactly does the SPLC bring to the table?

In a word: Publicity.

In return for this free publicity, the SPLC’s master Public Relations Guru, Mark Potok, can claim that his outfit is out there fighting for gay rights.

The most recent case, as of this writing and described in a previous post, is a perfect example of Mr. Potok’s cynical marketing ploy.

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In this case, Mr. Potok and Co. are suing a poor, mostly Black junior high school where a 16-year old 8th grader named Destin Holmes claims she was verbally and mentally abused because she is a self-described lesbian.

Let’s be crystal clear here, nobody, in any of these cases, deserves to be subjected to any form of discrimination by anyone at any time or any place. Those of us who have been through junior high are still all too well aware of the juvenile stupidity that goes on in those institutions, by both the students and the staff, and that in no way explains or justifies it.

Obviously, this is a bad situation that demands immediate investigation, but is bringing a federal law suit against one of the poorest performing schools in one of the poorest performing states the best way to fix the system?

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Or is it little more than another classic Potok-ian publicity stunt?

Ironically, the complaint against Magnolia Junior High makes no mention of the fact that, while 78% of the student body is non-white, and both the principal and assistant principal, who have been named as defendants, are African American, Ms. Holmes is white.

Can anyone imagine the SPLC overlooking those facts if the races were reversed?

Again, no one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, but when you look the SPLC’s paltry LGBT cases, almost all of which only date back to 2011, how much bang are the donors getting for their donor bucks?

There was one major anti-gay organization that appeared to have flown below the SPLC’s radar for over a decade. In 2000, the Boy Scouts of America went to the U.S. Supreme court to protect their right to actively discriminate against gay Scouts and Scout Leaders (Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale), something it had done since its inception in 1910.

In 2002, the BSA issued a press release reaffirming its belief that “an avowed homosexual” lacked the “moral character” to be a Scout or Leader.

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The Southern Poverty Law center completely ignored this blatant anti-gay discrimination for over a decade. You will find no mention of the BSA’s discrimination on the SPLC’s web site until 2012, and, even then, that has to be possibly the most tepid response to a genuine “hate-group” in the SPLC’s entire history.

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SPLC co-founder Joe Levin was wheeled out of retirement to announce that “Twelve years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center stopped participating in the Montgomery, Ala., United Way Campaign because the organization chose to fund the Boy Scouts of America.”

That was it? One of the “largest youth-serving organizations in America,” whose primary mission is to build the characters and mold the minds of millions of American boys, actively discriminates against gay men and boys for a century, and the best the SPLC, that bastion of LGBT rights, can come up with is to stop donating to the United Way and say absolutely nothing about it for twelve years??

But wait… it gets even better… Joe Levin continues:

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“DOESN’T INTEND TO ENCOURAGE BIGOTRY”??? Mr. Levin, the BSA took its case to the Supreme Court of the United States precisely to preserve its perceived right to discriminate. It doesn’t get any more intentional than the US Supreme Court!

Notice the softball language Mr. Levin uses when dancing around the hard facts: “Embraces anti-LGBT prejudice” and “Doesn’t intend to encourage bigotry.” Where is the SPLC’s patented “Hate Group” brand? The term never even appears in Mr. Levin’s pathetic apologia. Where was the SPLC’s multimillion dollar public relations machine for all those years? Can you imagine the pressure that could have been brought to bear against the BSA’s blatant discrimination?

[Update: On May 15, 2014, Joe Levin explained to MSNBC why the SPLC still doesn’t designate the Boy Scouts as a “hate group”:

“We don’t list the Boy Scouts (as a hate group,)” said Levin. “We only do that if we have a group that’s propagating known falsehoods associated with a particular person or group – in this case, the LGBT community. The Boy Scouts haven’t really done that.”

Of course not, Joe. Apparently, the BSA simply smeared all gays as immoral by accident.]

As it turns out, the BSA did reverse itself on its gay Scout policy effective Jan. 1, 2014. That decision was made based entirely on the protracted negative publicity campaign carried on by dozens of real LGBT support groups and major media outlets. The BSA’s Supreme Court decision still stands, but they finally gave in when public opinion turned on them and said that enough was enough. It was a movement in which the Southern Poverty Law Center’s role was precisely and exactly nothing.

And yet the SPLC has been fighting for LGBT rights “for decades,” right?

Well, not so much. Thanks to the magic of the Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine,” anyone can wander back in time to view millions of websites as they appeared in the past, going back to the year 2000. It can be slow, and sometimes cantankerous, but it’s always free and a little patience can pay off big dividends.

In 2009, the SPLC issued a downloadable version of its latest “Hate Map” fundraising tool (Note: the “Hate Map” always reflects the previous calendar year):

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A closer look at the icon key reveals an astonishing fact. There were no anti-LGBT “hate groups” as late as 2009. Not one.

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In fact, the first anti-LGBT “hate groups” do not appear on Mr. Potok’s all-encompassing “Hate Map” until 2011, forty years after the SPLC opened for business.

Furthermore, while the Hoffburg case appears chronologically on the latest version of the SPLC’s case docket list, right between Brown and Wilkins

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Thanks to the Wayback Machine, we find Ms. Hoffburg’s case, the case that allows the SPLC to crow that its “work on LGBT issues spans decades” is conspicuously absent from the 2010 case docket!

2010 Case Docket

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Hoffburg never made the case docket list in more than 40 years because the SPLC didn’t even consider it worthwhile.

Once the white millionaires who run the SPLC decided to target the LGBT community though, Mr. Potok had to come up with something to show that they had not totally ignored the issue since opening shop in 1971. Hoffburg wasn’t much, but no one in the media will follow the simple steps outlined in this post, so no one would ever know the difference.

Well-meaning donors sent Mr. Potok more than $40 million donor dollars in 2012 because they believe him when he cries “hate group” and they believe him when he says how dedicated the SPLC has been to fighting anti-LGBT discrimination “for decades.” As usual, some simple, primary fact-checking of the SPLC’s own documents proves, once again, that Mr. Potok’s claims are meaningless.

Yet again, nobody should suffer discrimination due to their orientation, and any effort is better than none, but suing poor public school districts over pep rallies and yearbook pictures is pretty low-hanging fruit for an alleged “civil rights” law firm with nearly a quarter-billion dollars in cash on hand.

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If you want to contribute to a non-profit that has truly been in the fight against LGBT discrimination you need only do a little homework and ignore Mark Potok’s latest fundraising ploy.

SPLC — “There’s No Trial Like a Show Trial!”

December 7, 2012

**** UPDATE – 1/4/13 **** Once again, the best source of information on the SPLC’s ham-fisted fundraising tactics is the SPLC’s own website. Under the “Docket” tab on the SPLC’s home page you can find the actual complaint against JONAH, again, something that no Media outlet could bother to do.

According to the 28-page document, the actual lawyers handling the suit are Lite DePalma Greenberg of Newark, NJ, who bill themselves “…as the pre-eminent New Jersey firm for litigation of complex class actions in the areas of securities fraud, antitrust, and consumer fraud.” Sounds like they know what they’re doing.

The SPLC is listed on the complaint as having requested pro hac vice status, which “refers to the application of an out-of-state lawyer to appear in court for a particular trial, even though he/she is not licensed to practice in the state where the trial is being held.”

Now, why exactly would New Jersey’s pre-eminent fraud attorneys require the assistance of an Alabama civil rights law firm, who are not licensed to practice law in the Garden State, especially when you consider that the term “civil rights” does not even appear in the 28-page complaint??

(The same question can be asked of Faegre Baker Daniels, the law firm handling the copyright infringement case filed in Denver on behalf of the New Jersey gay couple. FBD is one of the highest ranked Intellectual Property law firms in the country, and again, the term “civil rights” appears nowhere in the actual legal complaint.)

The short answer, the blindingly obvious answer, is that neither law firm requires the services of the Southern Poverty Law Center of Montgomery, Alabama.  The SPLC brings nothing to these cases except publicity, and since that publicity is a) highly favorable to their clients’ lawsuits, and b) absolutely free, (The SPLC would never accept a dime in legal fees…), any sharp lawyer would take full advantage of the opportunity.

What’s in it for the SPLC? According to the American Bar Association, the application fees for pro hac vice status run to a maximum of $186 dollars a year in New Jersey, and $250 in Colorado. All of the attorneys assigned to the two cases are already on the SPLC payroll, and even if the pro hac vice fees apply to all four of them you’re looking at a cost of just $808 dollars.

Now Google the term SPLC gay lawsuit (the search works even better if you enclose it in parentheses) and see how many hits you get. We came up with 299,000 hits, but since Google tailors its results to specific users your results may vary. Check out who’s carrying the stories: “mainstream” media outlets like ABC, CNN, Twitter, as well as hundreds of local newspapers and television station web sites. Not surprisingly, the stories have been picked up by countless LGBT web sites and even a number of prominent Jewish sites, due to JONAH’s Jewish origins.

You try buying that much publicity for $800 bucks…

If you notice a certain “sameness” in the “reporting,” that’s just because almost every site is simply regurgitating the highly polished press releases issued by the SPLC’s Public Relations chief, Mark Potok. And all of them claim that the SPLC is somehow “fighting hate” by associating itself in these simple civil suits. The LGBT community includes a lot of financially well-off, Progressive-leaning members who are no more or less prone to investigating the SPLC’s claims than anyone else.

In short, they are the perfect demographic for Mr. Potok and his fundraising minions. The SPLC won’t take a dime in legal fees because they’d probably have to pay taxes on that income, but donations are exquisitely tax-free.

Vaya con dinero!

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[Original post] More “mission creep” from “the nation’s leading civil rights organization.” In October, we at WTW noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center was taking on the case of a New Jersey gay couple whose engagement photo had been appropriated by a conservative political group who used the image in campaign ads in Colorado.

The facts in that case are pretty straight-forward: The political group used the photo without the permission of the couple or the photographer, who holds the copyright to the photo.

It’s a copyright infringement case. Nothing more. The plaintiffs are not indigent and there is no shortage of qualified attorneys in New Jersey.

Fast forward to December and the SPLC are back in New Jersey, this time, going after a non-profit group that claims it can “cure” gay Jewish men of being gay. According to SPLC attorney Sam Wolfe, the group Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), deliberately duped a number of gay Jewish men into believing that their homosexuality was a mental aberration that could be “cured” through therapy. Wolfe made his case by stating:

“We found our plaintiffs’ experiences with JONAH to be compelling and even shocking in terms of the types of techniques and misrepresentations the defendants were luring these men into their programs with.”

Wolfe continues:

“People are paying for these services under false pretenses. They are believing and trusting that these counselors know what they are doing, but in fact, they don’t.”

What exactly does “the nation’s leading civil rights organization” propose to do for the plaintiffs in the case? Under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act, Wolfe is “…seeking triple monetary damages to cover the cost of “legitimate therapy” and attorneys’ fees.” A case worth thousands of dollars, maybe tens of thousands.

So, were anyone’s civil rights violated here? Not so much. All of the plaintiffs enrolled in the JONAH program of their own free will. In at least two cases, the adult plaintiff’s fees were paid by their mothers, so these were not the isolated victims of some secretive cult. Again, none of the plaintiffs are indigent.

No civil rights violations. Can you call “antisemitism” when all the parties involved are Jewish? What you have is a cut-and-dried fraud suit, or possibly a malpractice case, but at the end of the day, there is no “hate” going on here, and damn little poverty.

So what does the Southern Poverty Law Center bring to this case and the copyright infringement suit? Publicity. Nothing more. As noted above, there is no shortage of qualified fraud attorneys in New Jersey. The SPLC brings in the publicity and their ace Public Relations guru, Mark Potok, will spin that publicity into gold. Donor gold.

Does the SPLC run any risks by suing a Jewish organization, considering how many of its top donors are Jewish? Again, not so much. JONAH is operated by conservative Orthodox Jews, who are far less likely to donate money to the SPLC than their progressive coreligionists. The rest of the donor base, especially wealthy gay donors, will see this as a gay issue first and a Jewish issue second, if at all.

SPLC founder Morris Dees made his first fortune in direct-mail marketing in the early 1960s. The Maestro, who was inducted into the Direct Marketing Association’s “Hall of Fame” for his fundraising prowess, knows an opportunity for cheap publicity when he sees it. Truly, there is no trial like a show trial for gulling the gullible donors.

Another SPLC Show Trial?

September 27, 2012

The Blogosphere is all a-buzz with the latest news that the Southern Poverty Law Center is filing a federal law suit on behalf of a New Jersey gay couple whose engagement photograph was used in an anti-gay political flier, without their knowledge or consent.

By now, most people have seen the photo of Brian Edwards and Thomas Privitere holding hands and kissing in a park overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge, so we won’t reprint it here. Apparently, the photo was picked up by a group called Public Advocate of the United States, who replaced the Manhattan skyline and iconic bridge in the background with evergreens and snow, to be used in a political flier in Colorado.

Public Advocate did not obtain permission to use or alter the photo from Edwards and Privitere or the photographer, Kristina Hill, who holds the copyright to the photo. The flier was distributed in Colorado as part of a campaign against State Senator Jean White because of her support for upcoming gay marriage legislation in that state.

This much we know. What we don’t know is what this has to do with the Southern Poverty Law Center? What are the actual legal issues in this case?

Was the photographer’s copyright violated by the unauthorized use of the photo? Absolutely and without a doubt.

Was Messrs Edwards’ and Privitere’s privacy violated by the unauthorized use of the photo? Most likely, though no doubt a good scuzzy lawyer could water down that argument in court.

Did Sen. White lose her primary race because of the fliers? She says she did, but the gay union bill wasn’t a major issue in the campaign.

Does any of the above add up to a ‘hate crime” worthy of the attentions of “the nation’s leading civil rights group”? Not so much.

When you get right down to it, the actual crime here is a simple copyright infringement case. The SPLC could go through the motions of making claims of libel, since the couple’s image was used in a derogatory fashion that clearly goes against their core beliefs, but libel cases are notoriously difficult to win in this country.

Undoubtedly a sleazy ploy by Public Advocate, even by political campaign standards, but “hate” it ain’t.

Will the SPLC play up this simple copyright infringement case in their never-ending fundraising propaganda as “proof” that they are “fighting hate” by “bringing these anti-gay bigots to their knees”? You betcha!

Will this dubious claim prompt the SPLC’s self-described Liberal donor base to send in millions of donor dollars over the course of the case? It’s always worked in previous SPLC show trials. Why wouldn’t it work again?

Will the New Jersey couple see one red cent of that money? Not a dime. They may receive some damages from a finding against Public Advocate, as will photographer Hill, but it will pale in comparison to the huge, tax-free windfall the SPLC is likely to gull from their gullible donors.

Time will tell.


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