Posts Tagged ‘Southern Poverty Law Center’

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 — Cashing in on Charlottesville

August 19, 2017

While the violence and death at last week’s “Unite the Right” riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, was a national tragedy and a source of horror for most Americans, it follows as surely as the night follows day that the Southern Poverty Law Center would find a way to make money off it.

It was only a few weeks ago, in June, when the SPLC was writhing under some of the most negative media coverage it had possibly ever seen, in the wake of the GuideStar debacle. Reliable media allies such as Politico and the Wall Street Journal were openly criticizing GuideStar, a leading rating agency of non-profit organizations, for adding the SPLC’s spurious “hate group” label to dozens of its entries.

[The Politico article is one of the best exposés of the SPLC written in decades and well worth a read.]

Then came Charlottesville. The violent idiots on both sides of the fighting were right out of Central Casting and a godsend for the SPLC. Images of torchlight parades across the University of Virginia campus were tailor-made for the endless barrage of fundraising tweets, press releases, and, no doubt, fundraising letters. The cash has been pouring in ever since. The company will probably have to open several more off-shore bank accounts to house it all.

All of that paled in comparison to the tragedy of Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer’s death after being struck by a car that careered into a crowd on Saturday afternoon. Video footage of the incident gives little doubt that the act was intentional, and the driver of the car, James Fields, Jr., who was identified marching with white nationalists earlier in the day, is currently being held on charges of second-degree murder and several other counts.

Once Heyer’s name was released on the following day she was immediately canonized by the media and the Left, for their own financial and political purposes, but none of them could hold a candle to the Southern Poverty Law Center when it comes to monetizing murder.

Less than a week after Heyer’s death, the SPLC announced that it was “honoring Heather Heyer at Civil Rights Memorial Center.”

“Like the civil rights martyrs whose names are inscribed on the Civil Rights Memorial, Heather took a stand against hate and bigotry and made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Lecia Brooks, director of outreach for the SPLC, which built and maintains the memorial.”

Will Heyer’s name be immortalized on the SPLC’s “Martyr’s Monument,” a black granite disc designed by Vietnam Veterans Memorial artist Maya Lin? Well no, that monument cost the perpetually cash-strapped SPLC $5,000,000 in 1989 (nearly $10 million in today’s dollars.)

Instead, the SPLC is going to honor Heyer on its less-static and infinitely more economical “Wall of Tolerance.” Longtime Watching the Watchdogs readers may recall our 2016 investigation of the Wall of Tolerance fundraising scam. We found that, like the lucrative “Stand Strong Against Hate” map scam that preceded it, the Wall of Tolerance was little more than a fundraising tool designed to recruit new donors.

While invoking the names of the “civil rights martyrs,” the Wall of Tolerance scam is built solidly upon the age-old persuasion technique of “reciprocity,” in which an organization sends out free gifts to potential donors in the expectation that the recipients will feel obliged to make a donation. Many readers may remember receiving packs of return address labels from various veteran’s groups. It’s a simple, cost-effective method that has been around for decades.

In the Wall of Tolerance scam, prospective donors receive a suitable-for-framing certificate from the SPLC thanking them for joining the ranks of the civil rights martyrs by supporting the company in its never-ending “fight against hate.” In addition to the certificate, the recipient will be memorialized forever on the “Wall of Tolerance,” a 20-by-40-foot Jumbotron screen at SPLC headquarters, where hundreds of thousands of names drift autumn-leaf-like across the screen “as the gentle rain from heaven.”

Recipients, honored to be included among such auspicious company, feel obligated to send along a little something in appreciation. Others can add their names simply by passing along their personal contact information to the Fundraising Department.

As our report noted, at least one honoree, Marcus Epstein,  had the dual honor of having his own page on the SPLC website that denounced him as a racist. Oops!

SOFII, the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration, was hugely impressed by the elegant simplicity of the Wall of Tolerance:

SOFII’s view

The Southern Poverty Law Center, who launched this campaign, is a hugely impressive organisation with a long and well-deserved reputation for effective donor development.

Though we don’t have the results, we think we can presume that this direct mail capital appeal must have worked really very well.

Merits

This is one of the most moving and long-lasting donor involvement campaigns in the USA and represents some of the best that the direct marketer’s art can produce.

It cost the SPLC nothing to add Heather Heyer’s name to the Wall o’ Tolerance Jumbotron but the tax-free donor-dollars will be rolling in by the truckload for weeks and months.

Incidentally, Lecia Brooks, who is quoted above in the Heyer press release, holds two concurrent Directorships at the SPLC. One of the few African-Americans in the SPLC hierarchy, Double-Director Brooks has never been named among the company’s highest paid executives.

One wonders what Heather Heyer would have made of that?

 

SPLC — The Black Elephant in the Room

March 31, 2017

The Southern Poverty Law Center released its annual “Hate Map” fundraising tool in February and, as usual, it made a lot of claims without providing a lot of proof. One thing that immediately caught our eye, however, was this graphic on the company’s web site:

Active Hate Groups 2016 _ Southern Poverty Law Center

While the numbers given do add up to the 917 “hate groups” promised at first glance, as usual, closer inspection reveals that the SPLC cannot provide a known city or town location for 191 of them, or about one-in-five. When you strip out these homeless “hate groups,” especially from the “Big Four,”  you come up with significantly different numbers:

2016 Homeless

Nearly half of the groups attributed to the KKK, neo-Nazis, racist skinheads and white nationalists seem to exist only in the imagination of the SPLC’s Public Relations Guru and chief Hate Map cartographer, Mark Potok.

We know these homeless groups really, really exist because Mr. Potok tells us so, and that’s more than good enough for the media. Note that Mr. Potok can assign at least a city or town to nearly all of his alleged Black Separatist groups, but more on them in a moment.

The first graphic we showed you, giving the SPLC’s own breakdown of its “hate groups” by category, got little or no mention from the press. The one that really excited them was this one:

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

Most media outlets were only too eager to allow Mr. Potok to pontificate on the, Gasp!!, “197% increase in anti-Muslim” groups to pay much attention to the other numbers. We explained Potok’s anti-Muslim group scam in an earlier post and won’t rehash it here.

Oddly enough, nobody in the media seems to have noticed that the biggest number on Mr. Potok’s list refers to his 193 alleged Black Separatist groups, which is to say, the largest single category of “hate group” in the country, according to Mark Potok.

When you add in the eight Black Muslim “hate groups” Mr. Potok has tucked away under “General Hate” (tucked away even more deeply under the sub-category of “Other”), you come up with 201 Black “hate groups” in all.

Even without stripping out the homeless “hate groups,” Mr. Potok’s Black groups outnumber his KKK groups outright and his neo-Nazi, racist skinhead and white nationalist groups by two-to-one, respectively, and yet the media doesn’t find this particular piece of Potokian punditry to be newsworthy. Why not?

The media couldn’t regurgitate Mr. Potok’s claims of 101 anti-Muslim “hate groups” quickly or often enough, and yet when Potok claims that 89 of his Black “hate groups” are distinctly Muslim in nature, nearly a one-to-one ratio to the alleged anti-Muslim threat, all we hear from the media is crickets.

“Nothing to see here. Move along!”

The remarkable thing about this situation is that Potok’s numbers are right out in the open where anyone on the planet can see them. You do not have to dig through his website or even be particularly numerate to compare the numbers. Mark Potok says that “hate groups” are some sort of threat to the world and that the largest segment of that threat, by far, is Black and/or Muslim, and yet nobody in the media will take him up on it.

Either Mark Potok and the SPLC are your go-to “experts” on hate or they are not. You cannot pick and choose which dire threat du jour you are going to take their word for. And take their word you must, because the SPLC provides little or no evidence to back the existence of most of its alleged groups.

Some “experts.”

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 and “Disqualified Persons”

February 12, 2017

Is there a tax doctor in the house? Last week the Southern Poverty Law Center released its IRS Form 990 tax returns for Fiscal Year 2016. The Form 990 is always an informative read because it contains so much useful information.

Page 1, Line 15 notes that the company paid $20,291,678 in “salaries, other compensation, employee benefits,” (11% of which went to the top 9 execs, leaving the other 282 employees to split the rest for an average of $64,000 each.)

We get that. What we don’t get is the entry on Page 10, Line 6 that reads: “Compensation not included above, to disqualified persons.”

disqualified

Who exactly are these “disqualified persons” and are they being paid outside of the $20 million dollar pot listed on Page 1?

Naturally, the IRS website was virtually incomprehensible on the subject, but several other sources defined disqualified persons as:

  • “Disqualified persons” are those who are in a position to exercise substantial influence over the affairs of the organization, during the five years before the excess compensation was made.

  • “Disqualified persons” would include, for example, voting members of the governing body, and presidents, chief executive officers or chief operating officers, treasurers, and chief financial officers.

  • Also included as “disqualified persons” are certain family members of a disqualified person, and 35% controlled entities of a disqualified person.

  • Other people could also be considered “disqualified persons,” depending upon the relevant facts and circumstances that show substantial influence over the organization, such as a founder, substantial contributor, or manager of a substantial portion of the organization’s activities.

So, apparently, for a 501(c)(3) public charity like the SPLC, “disqualified persons” include founders, presidents, and other top executives, who are already got paid on Page 1, Line 15.

It can also include members of the Board of Directors, who, according to Page 10, receive no compensation for their efforts.

Or, it may include family members of all of the above.

Sadly, the Form 990 does not disclose the identities of the people who are receiving that $14.4 million compensation. Surely somebody has this information. Perhaps the Freedom of Information Act could help?

We ask these impudent questions because the SPLC has a habit of hiding expenditures from the donors. For example, the company routinely makes the claim that “During the last fiscal year, approximately 68% of our total expenses were spent on program services.”

History has shown that this figure relies on the use of legal but ethically dubious gymnastics on the part of the bookkeepers. For example, Page 1, Line 16b of the Form 990 states categorically that “total fundraising expenses” for the year came to $9,689,461, or 21% of expenses for 2016.

Page 10, Line 26, however, notes “joint costs” of $6,989,987. What are “joint costs”? According to the SPLC’s own auditor: “The Center incurred joint costs of $7,983,475 for educational materials and activities as part of fundraising appeals during the year ended October 31, 2016.” (p. 14) Note that the auditor’s figure comes in at nearly a million dollars more than the Form 990.

Translation: “Joint costs are fundraising costs assigned to other departments.” For example, “Management” spent $737,711 on postage last year. That’s more than 1.6 million first-class stamps. Don’t the employees have email? Who else would “Management” need to contact on such a scale?

As Charity Navigator notes on its website: “Although the use of this accounting “trick” is often perfectly in line with the accounting rules for the reporting of joint solicitation costs (AICPA SOP 98-2) these rules allow for many interpretations and judgments that can produce questionable results.”

Add the auditor’s joint fundraising costs to the fundraising costs listed on the Form 990, ($17,672,936) and we’re already looking at 38% of last year’s budget, not the 32% claimed by the SPLC.

As it turns out, compensation to disqualified persons is also spread out across several departments, including another $2 million to fundraising, not listed above. That brings Fundraising’s grand total to $19,834,444, or 43% of the budget, not the 32% claimed by the SPLC.

disqualified2

Long story short, if the Southern Poverty Law Center is willing to obfuscate its fundraising numbers to hide reality from the donors, why wouldn’t it use the same kind of accounting prestidigitation concerning what it pays its all-white executive suite?

Does anyone out there know how Watching the Watchdogs can obtain the names of these mysterious “disqualified persons”? If so, please contact us as soon as possible.

SPLC — 2017 Telemarketing Scam

February 4, 2017

The Southern Poverty Law Center has released its IRS Form 990 and Audited Financial Report for F/Y 2016, and as predicted, it was a very profitable year for the company.

Part of of that success comes from the SPLC’s use of third-party telemarketers who convince first-time donors that their money will be used to somehow “fight hate.” In reality, their money, and that of thousands of existing SPLC donors, will be used to fight poverty — for the telemarketers, that is.

As we’ve reported in years past, the SPLC pays these telemarketers far more than they raise over the phone. Last year the company paid telemarketers $2,266,887 donor-dollars to raise only $1,271,287 donor-dollars, for a net loss of $955,600 (p. 40).

2017-telemarketing-numbers

As usual, the big winner was Grassroots Campaigns who were paid $1.8 million to raise just over $600,000. Telefund only pocketed 62% of the $340,000 it raised, while Harris Marketing kept 83% of the $256,800 it took in.

Since 2011, the SPLC has paid Grassroots  $5,828,603 more than they received in donations. While it seems incongruous that a company like the SPLC, which is forever sending out fundraising letters, as “the need has never been greater,” would be able to survive such financial hemorrhaging, the truth is they’ll make a fortune from it.

In essence, the SPLC is paying the telemarketers for the personal information of thousands of proven first-time donors, which they will feed into their own uber-efficient in-house fundraising machine. They take a loss on the first year but make it up with years, or even decades of successive donations down the road, at a sweet 100% profit.

The company isn’t even taking that much of a hit, as all of the first-time donations go straight to the telemarketers and any deficit is made up out of the existing donor pot, without any of the donors being the wiser.

How many long-time donors does it take to make up a $955,600 “shortage”? At $100 a pop, just under 10,000 donors. At a more reasonable $25 donation rate, just under 40,000 well-meaning suckers.

Granted, the use of third-party telemarketers for such purposes is not illegal and is practiced by many of the largest non-profits in the country. It’s up to the potential donor to ask the solicitor how much of their money will actually reach the SPLC.

Since Grassroots is paid a flat fee, they can even tell Grandma with a straight face that all of her donation will go to “fight hate.” That the SPLC is only going to triple the amount and send it back to Grassroots is merely a minor detail.

We’ve only just made our first pass over the SPLC’s latest financials. Stay tuned for more information on where the money goes.

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

SPLC — Hoaxed Again!

December 22, 2016

In another ham-fisted fear campaign, the Southern Poverty Law Center has embarked on a series of unsubstantiated, unverified and largely anecdotal “reports” that claim hundreds of “hate incidents” (not to be confused with actual hate crimes) and over a thousand “incidents” have recently been reported across the country at large and hundreds more occurring within the nation’s school systems.

The undeniable cause of this effect? It could only be the hate-filled election of Donald Trump, right? What else could it be (that would still agitate the donors into forking over more money)?

As we have been reporting over the weeks since the election, neither SPLC “report” stands up to the slightest breath of fact checking. The company makes huge claims of receiving thousands of reports over a web page on their website where anyone in the world can “report an incident” and they themselves disclaim that their “Trump Effect” survey of “educators” is not scientific because the respondents were not chosen at random, there’s no mechanism to verify that the respondents were even “educators” and all of the responses were anecdotal.

The results of this survey are not scientific. The respondents were not selected in a manner to ensure a representative sample; those who responded may have been more likely to perceive problems than those who did not.

Opening her report on “election-related bias” in the elementary schools, Teaching Tolerance’s Maureen Costello makes the bizarre claim that:

“Every student, from preschoolers up through high school, is aware of the tone, rhetoric and catch-phrases of this particular campaign season.”

Really, Maureen? Every student glued to the debates, watching Meet the Press over their weekend Lucky Charms and Pop Tarts? Even kindergartners? Really? Costello peppered her report with anonymous quotes to prove that Hell’s hand-basket has arrived. [Caution: Some readers may find the following graphic content disturbing.]

One Muslim girl clung to her kindergarten teacher on November 9 and asked, “Are they going to do anything to me? Am I safe?” – Early Childhood Teacher, Tennessee

A lesbian student’s mother was telling her that life as we knew it was over, and she was quite distraught about her mother. Children are very worried about being deported or killed. – Elementary Counselor, Illinois

Pretty heart-wrenching stuff, no? It’s hard enough being a lesbian in the third grade without Donald Trump sending your mom over the edge, and let’s face it, Elementary Counselor — Illinois has never lied to us before.

On the national scene, more anonymous reports and more disclaimers that the anonymous reports were pretty much all anecdotal.

A Latina woman in Texas reported: I was walking my baby at my neighborhood park and a truck drove by with a male driving and a female passenger. The female yelled “white power” at us as they drove by and then sped away.

It doesn’t get much more Trump-related than that, or more undeniable. After all, it’s “anecdotal,” right?

November 15: “These incidents, aside from news reports, are largely anecdotal.”

December 16: “The SPLC made every effort to verify each report, but many included in the count remain anecdotal.”

 anecdotal
adjective

  1. (of an account) not necessarily true or reliable, because based on personal accounts rather than facts or research: ‘while there was much anecdotal evidence there was little hard fact’

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/anecdotal

The SPLC “reports” do include several media reports, and if the anonymous, anecdotal incidents were not proof enough, “Many harassers invoked Trump’s name during assaults, making it clear that the outbreak of hate stemmed in large part from his electoral success.”

This time, the SPLC got it right. A growing number of “incidents” really were directly tied to Trump’s election.

ten-days-after

And the suspect is…

andrew-mcclinton-arrested

Unlike the SPLC, we’re not going to jump to any conclusions because the authorities are still working through the case, and unlike the SPLC, we believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, not a court of public opinion.

The same goes for this gentleman:

philly

And him:

palmer

And this young “activist”:

volk

This young woman says she made her story up because she was late for curfew:

yasmin

Let’s be honest. A lot of hateful, ignorant things have been said before and after the election, with no shortage of them coming from Trump himself, and sadly, there is no shortage of knuckleheads who will commit hoaxes in accordance with the voices they hear in their heads.

One thing you can always count on, the SPLC will find a way to build a classic fearmongering campaign around them.

THIS JUST IN: A gay couple were removed from a JetBlue flight today for allegedly verbally abusing Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her family, who were flying commercial.

According to tweets by one of the men, his husband was upset to find Trump’s family on the flight and was “chasing them down to harass them.” [Who says one spouse can’t testify against another? Someone’s going to have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do when they get home tonight.]
ivanka

Finally, SPLC, a genuine “election-related hate incident” for your collection. Let’s see if it makes it onto the list.

SPLC — Doubling down on the “Trump Effect”

November 29, 2016

In February of this year, Watching the Watchdogs reported on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s thinly disguised attack on then-candidate Donald Trump that claimed that “election-related” harassment of immigrant and minority children was surging in the public schools due to Trump’s caustic rhetoric. They called the report “The Trump Effect.”

At that time we noted that the SPLC, like all 501(c)(3) nonprofits, was strictly prohibited by IRS tax regulations from promoting or denouncing political candidates during a campaign. The SPLC slid around that regulation by claiming that it had “collected 5,000 comments from 2,000 educators” who responded to an online survey created by the company’s “Teaching Tolerance” wing, which purports to promote diversity in the K-12 classroom.

See, it wasn’t the SPLC attacking Trump, they were simply repeating what they were told by the 2,000 respondents. Get it?

As usual, the Media obediently regurgitated the SPLC’s nonsense without performing even the most rudimentary fact checks, with many of them transmogrifying the company’s claim of “2,000 respondents” into “a survey of 2,000 teachers” and the term “harassment” into “hate crimes.”

What most media outlets conveniently ignored was the clearly stated disclaimer on the “Trump Effect” web page that:

“Our survey of approximately 2,000 K-12 teachers was not scientific. Our email subscribers and those who visit our website are not a random sample of teachers nationally and those who chose to respond to our survey are likely to be those who are most concerned about the impact of the presidential campaign on their students and schools.”

Not only did the SPLC publicly state that their “survey” was not scientific because the respondents were not chosen at random, they can’t even verify that the alleged responses came from actual “educators.”

The same document also notes that “Teaching Tolerance magazine is sent to over 400,000 educators, reaching nearly every school in the country,” and yet the entire “report” is based on only 2,000 anonymous, unverifiable responses?

Either 398,000 “educators” ignored the survey email or the SPLC cherry-picked 2,000 “reliable” people who would give the “right answers.”

Either way, given the widespread media coverage given the “Trump Effect” the reaction among the donors must have been fantastic.

Never one to let a good thing go, on November 28, the SPLC doubled down on its “Trump Effect” cash cow by releasing a new and improved version of the “report,” this time freed from any IRS election-related restrictions.

The new report now claims that “Over 10,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and others who work in schools have responded,” with “more than 25,000 comments.”

As if stung by Watching the Watchdogs‘ observation that all of the alleged responses in the first “report” were anecdotal, anonymous and completely unverifiable, the company made a point of claiming that:

“Nearly all respondents identified themselves by name, email address, grade level and state. More than 1,500 signified a willingness to go on record by giving permission for Teaching Tolerance to share their contact information with the media.”

Despite this apparent willingness to actually document their claims, the 2.0 version of the “Trump Effect” is accompanied by alleged claims by the anonymous likes of “High School Teacher, New York,” and “Elementary School Teacher, Minnesota.” There’s not a single claim backed up the willing 1,500 mentioned above.

And while the company buried its disclaimer a little deeper into the text this time, the song remains the same:

“The results of this survey are not scientific. The respondents were not selected in a manner to ensure a representative sample; those who responded may have been more likely to perceive problems than those who did not.”

Once again, the “report” duly notes that “Teaching Tolerance magazine is sent to more than 400,000 educators, reaching nearly every school in the country,” and yet only 10,000 “educators” allegedly responded.

It’s worth noting that the National Center for Education Statistics estimates that there were more than 3.5 million full-time teachers in the US in 2014, the latest statistical year, meaning that less than three-tenths of a percent of them responded to the SPLC’s open “survey,” anonymously or otherwise. You do the math.

In the long run, it really doesn’t matter. The Media is already regurgitating the SPLC’s “10,000 educator” claims as fact the day after the “report” was released. Even though the company clearly states that its numbers are “not scientific” and has yet to produce one single verifiable respondent, the Media will repeat every last claim as if it were true.

Well played, SPLC. No doubt we’ll see record-breaking donation figures in your next IRS Form 990, as well as much-deserved raises in the six-digit salaries your all-white executives are pulling down.

In the meantime, Watching The Watchdogs will continue to watch and to document your latest fundraising antics. You read it here first.

 


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