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Major writer slams SLPC in article in New York Press News Team

The New York Press has joined a host of other major magazines and newspaper who have published scathing exposes on Morris Dees and left-wing fund raising hustle, the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Montgomery Advertiser ran an eight part expose on the SPLC which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

The article is written by Alexander Cockburn. He has written for the Nation, Harper’s Weekly, Los Angeles Times, Village Voice, Counter Punch, the Wall Street Journal and many other publications.

“Wild Justice” (published in New York Press)

I’ve long regarded Morris Dees and his Southern Poverty Law Center as collectively one of the greatest frauds in American life. The reasons: a relentless fundraising machine devoted to terrifying its mostly low-income contributors into unbelting ill-spared dollars year after year to an organization that now has an endowment of more than $100 million, with very little to show for it beyond hysterical bulletins designed to raise money on the proposition that only the SPLC can stop Nazism and the KKK from seizing power.

Gloria Browne, a lawyer who’s worked with Dees’ outfit, once told the Montgomery Advertiser that the Southern Poverty Law Center trades in “black pain and white guilt.” He’s the Jim and Tammy Faye Baker of the civil rights movement.

In fact, Dees began the 1960’s as an attorney in Montgomery, representing a Ku Klux Klan sympathizer, Claude Henley, who had led an attack on Freedom Riders at the local bus station. Dees has denied he was ever personally supportive of the Klan or Henley, but his former partner, Millard Farmer, has said, “We expressed openly our sympathies and support for what happened at the bus station.” For the rest of the 1960s Dees sat on the sidelines and got rich from marketing “Famous Recipe” cookbooks with Farmer; he built a tennis court, pool, high-quality stables and got a Rolls-Royce.

He founded the SPLC in 1971. In the end Dees and Farmer fell out, with Farmer (who later gave away most of his money and started Habitat for Humanity) saying bitterly, “If an issue isn’t bringing in money, he’s off to the woods. He may believe [in civil rights] but he’ll quit doing the work if it doesn’t make money.” Farmer says of the Southern Poverty Law Center that it’s “little more than a 900 number.”

Dees has always been alert to the paranoias of the hour. The center’s entire legal staff resigned in the late 1980s, in part because Dees was reluctant to take up legal issues of real importance to poor people. His obsession was the Klanwatch Project, a cash cow for the SPLC. Literature from the SPLC portrayed the Klan as poised to take over American and embark on an orgy of burning and lynching. This was at a time when the major danger to poor people was going to be welfare reform , a collusive project between the Gingrich Republicans and Clinton liberals, among the latter being many fervent supporters of Dees. Dees sits on a mountain of cash, but his courtroom forays are not profuse. In the early 1990s, when the center’s reserves were about half what they are today- $52 million in 1993- the center (between 1989 and 1994) filed only a dozen suits.

Recently Jim Reddin and Cletus Nelson sent CounterPunch, the newsletter I coedit with Jeffrey St. Clair, and interesting account of Dees’ latest twist in moneygrubbing. In its most recent Intelligence Report newsletter, the SPLC -in a “Special Report”- puts forth the preposterous theory that far from being a glorious renaissance of the radical spirit in American political life, the protest against the World Trade Organization, most in evidence in Seattle and in Washington, DC, at the start of last week, have been the nexus for a far-flung crypto-facist conspiracy comprised of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other shock troops of the far right. The SPLC’s anonymous writer confidently states that the anarchists, socialists, environmentalists and other left-wing dissidents who gathered in Seattle at the start of last December were secretly infiltrated by European-style “Third Position” fascists who mix racism with environmentalism. “Right alongside the progressive groups that demonstrated in Seattle- mostly peaceful defenders of labor, the environment, animal rights and similar causes- were the hard-edged soldiers of neofascism,” the newsletter excitedly warns.

No documentation is offered to substantiate this allegation. The newsletter doesn’t name a single right-winger who has infiltrated Direct Action, Food Not Bombs, Greenpeace or any of the other groups that organized the Seattle protests. Dees’ pretense is that he stands for civil rights, but of course the newsletter entirely ignores the civil rights abuses committed by the Seattle police against the protesters, even though the ACLU has filed a civil rights suit over the “no protest” zone” declared by city officials.

The attack on the anti-globalization movement marks a significant shift in the SPLC’s policies, suggesting to us that Dees sees material opportunity in attacking a popular radical cause. As part of its scourched-earth policy, the organization has declared war against grassroots environmental activists. “They pine for nations of peasant-like folk tied closely to the land and to their neighbors,” the newsletter observes disdainfully.

Some who’ve followed the FBI’s recent disastrous predictions about Y2K terror attacks from right-wing militias suspect that both the SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League (which helped fuel the FBI”s Y2K predictions) are hauling water for the bureau, essentially acting as subcontractors performing tasks of defamation that in the old COINTELPRO days would have been performed by the bureau itself. The worrying fact for fundraisers like Dees is that there is a distinct shortage of terrifying specters with which to coax the money out of the pockets of the suckers. How long can you raise the alarm about a fascist takeover, when the legions of the ultra-right are a few beleaguered platoons camped around Hayden Lake, ID?

The Nation, Mother Jones, and kindred liberal publications have the same problem. If the fascist/Gingrichian bogey isn’t out there in the darkness, prowling round the campfire, maybe people will start concluding that real enemy is all too unidentifiably roosting in Washington in the two-party system. So the new strategy of the Dees crowd, the SPLC and ADL, is to point tremulously to such signs of realignment as the conference, “Beyond Left and Right,” about which I reported a couple of weeks ago, and raise the alarm, saying -as the Dees Intelligence Report does- that the left is being duped and captured by the far right and that realignment is a neo-fascist strategy. And of course they’re strains in the anti-globalist, anti-free trade movement that can buttress such a charge. It’s not hard to go to a gun show and scoop up a pamphlet attacking the New World Order along with the UN, the big banks, and the WTO.

American, populist culture has crank patches, as do all political cultures. In American environmentalism there’s a Malthusian element that goes back to the racist speculations of Harvard professors a century ago. One task for us left greens has always been to identify this element and attack it. Going “beyond left and right” doesn’t mean abandoning basic positions on racism, Malthusianism and the like, it means trying to forge alliances on issues such as U.S. Interventions and wars, or on the Bill of Rights – and keeping one’s powder dry. The attack from Dees on the anti-WTO forces won’t be the last.