The high-profile case of actor Jussie Smollett’s alleged hate-crime hoax shows that not all attempts to profit off of “oppression” and victimization are successful. One man, however, has shown that, if done correctly, opportunism in the guise of fighting racial and other forms of discrimination can pay off quite handsomely.
Morris Dees co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971. In a surprising development, he has been fired from the organization at the age of 82. But don’t feel sorry for Dees; he is laughing all the way to the bank. Under his direction, the SPLC became a fund-raising monster, with a reported half-billion dollars in assets and purportedly over $120 million in cash stashed away in overseas accounts as of late 2018.
“It was not my decision, what they did,” Dees told Alabama’s Montgomery Advertiser newspaper in a telephone interview after his firing. “I wish the center the absolute best. Whatever reasons they had of theirs, I don’t know.” The center apparently is facing inner turmoil at its workplace. The Los Angeles Times reports some two dozen employees sent a letter to management and the board of directors stating that “allegations of mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism threaten the moral authority of this organization and our integrity along with it.”
Regardless of the reasons for his dismissal, it is questionable how active the octogenarian Dees has been in the center’s day-to-day duties in recent years. With or without Dees, the SPLC has notably transformed itself into a financially powerful self-appointed watch group that places seemingly anyone to the right of Joe Biden on its “hate map.”
The Family Research Council is one of several conservative groups to sue or threaten litigation against the SPLC for defamation over such branding. The center settled out of court with the FRC for $3.4 million in 2018. “This massive settlement validates what we’ve been saying all along: the SPLC’s illegitimate hate map is motivated by its radical progressive political agenda,” FRC’s executive vice president, retired Lt. Gen. Jerry, Boykin said afterward. “The SPLC is a thoroughly disgraced organization that seeks to silence its political opponents with false and defamatory smears that endangers the lives of those targeted with it.”
Breitbart reported in 2018 that some 60 organizations were considering lawsuits against the center after it reached another expensive settlement with Maajid Nawaz, a British political activist whom the SPLC labeled a hate-monger because he spoke out against Muslim extremism. Nawaz happens to be Muslim himself and has declared that “Islam is a religion of peace.” Apparently, the SPLC’s targeting of Nawaz was too much even for the leftist Washington Post. Columnist Marc Thiessen led his opinion piece on the case by writing, “[a]fter years of smearing good people with false charges of bigotry, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has finally been held to account.”
Raking In the Dough
One suspects these missteps are merely water off a duck’s back for Dees. His activities over the years suggest that making money was the real cause that inspired his existence, with a trumpeted crusade on behalf of “racial justice” being nothing but a useful tool to achieve that aim. In a November 2000 article in Harper’s, Ken Silverstein reported on Dees’ life goals. “Morris and I… shared the overriding purpose of making a pile of money,” Dees’ business partner, a lawyer named Millard Fuller, said of their time together in the 1960s “We were not particular about how we did it; we just wanted to be independently rich.”
Dees proved to have such an outstanding talent for fundraising that he was inducted into the Direct Marketing Association’s Hall of Fame in 1988. Those who criticize the excesses of the SPLC today often claim that it did important work on behalf of civil rights decades ago. But even those activities were designed to build Dees’ mountain of cash above all else. Silverstein wrote of the SPLC’s successful suit against a Ku Klux Klan group in 1987:
“In 1987, Dees won a $7 million judgment against the United Klans of America on behalf of Beulah Mae Donald, whose son was lynched by two Klansmen. The UKA’s total assets amounted to a warehouse whose sale netted Mrs. Donald $51,875. According to a groundbreaking series of newspaper stories in the Montgomery Advertiser, the SPLC, meanwhile, made $9 million from fund-raising solicitations featuring the case, including one containing a photo of Michael Donald’s corpse.”
Perhaps this is the real legacy of Morris Dees: Cashing in on racial tensions made his life-long dreams to be “independently rich” come true. It also goes a long way in elucidating the SPLC’s recklessness in smearing anybody it can with the “hate group” label today. When combatting the so-called racists makes money pour in, there can never be enough dragons to slay.