How did the SPLC become the default journalistic resource on purported hate speech, racism and extremism? Morris Dees, still the SPLC’s chief trial attorney, founded the organization in 1971 along with Joseph Levin Jr. , now an emeritus board member. In its early years, the SPLC made a name for itself by winning some high-profile cases against the KKK and other white-supremacist groups. But over time its mission changed. In recent years it has focused on “tolerance education,” hate-group tracking (including an online “hate map”) and fundraising.
Although the SPLC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and therefore statutorily prohibited from engaging in partisan politics, even a cursory review of its website belies its nonpartisan status. During the 2016 election, the SPLC posted “Margins to the Mainstream: Extremists Have Influenced the GOP 2016 Policy Platform” and “Here Are the Extremist Groups Planning to Attend the RNC in Cleveland.” The Democratic platform and convention received no such scrutiny.
An SPLC post titled “Electoral Extremism” ostensibly profiles “a dozen 2014 candidates, including Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, independents and others.” Only a single Democrat is profiled, along with five Republicans and five third-party candidates. All of those listed are considered “right wing” or conservative, including the third-party ones. Even the Democrat on the list formerly belonged to the Constitution Party.
Last August SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok tied Donald Trump to David Duke, whom Mr. Trump had denounced. “Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see the denunciations [of Mr. Duke] are not sincere,” Mr. Potok told the Huffington Post. “The sad reality is that David Duke and Donald Trump are appealing to precisely the same constituency.” Not quite. Mr. Trump took 58% of the vote in Louisiana. Mr. Duke, running for U.S. Senate on the same ballot, managed only 3%.
The SPLC reflexively plays down threats from the left. This February Mr. Potok wrote that in the 1990s “the American radical right” was “deprived of the bogeyman of communism.” Even when condemning far-left groups, the SPLC shows an odd deference. Describing black separatists, the SPLC avers that “much black racism in America is, at least in part, a response to centuries of white racism,” and “the racism of a group like the Nation [of Islam] may be relatively easy to understand.”