Morris Dees fired from the Southern Poverty Law Center

March 15, 2019 • 1:30 pm

I’ve posted a fair amount about the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which at one time was a great organization fighting segregation and pushing for civil liberties (see my posts here).  But, as civil rights became national law, the organization started changing its mission, which largely became fighting “hate speech.” That is not necessarily bad, but the SPLC became so social justice-y that they started making “hate lists” that included people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz who featured on a list of “anti-Muslim extremists” (Nawaz is a Muslim, for crying out loud). Further, they also went after “cultural appropriation” of Cinco de Mayo, pretty close to a victimless crime for these people. Finally, it was revealed by several outlets, including Politico, that the founders and top lawyers of the SPLC made huge and unconscionable salaries, and that they even stashed a lot of the organization’s money in offshore accounts for reasons that aren’t clear.

I was thus pleased when Nawaz sued the SPLC and won a $3.4 million settlement as well as an apology, and when the SPLC removed that “hate list” from their site.  Now, according to the NYT and other venues, the founder and big macher in the whole shebang, Morris Dees, once an effective and admirable civil-right litigator, has been ousted from the organization after nebulous charges of “inappropriate conduct”. That conduct isn’t clear yet, but may include, ironically, poor treatment of women and blacks. The NYT story is below:

From the article:

The group’s president, Richard Cohen, did not give a specific reason for the dismissal of Mr. Dees, 82, on Wednesday. But Mr. Cohen said in a statement that as a civil-rights group, the S.P.L.C. was “committed to ensuring that the conduct of our staff reflects the mission of the organization and the values we hope to instill in the world.”

“When one of our own fails to meet those standards, no matter his or her role in the organization, we take it seriously and must take appropriate action,” Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Cohen’s statement suggested that Mr. Dees’s firing was linked to workplace conduct. He said the center, which is based in Montgomery, Ala., had requested “a comprehensive assessment of our internal climate and workplace practices” in a bid to ensure that the organization was a place where “all voices are heard and all staff members are respected.”

Note that Dees denies the charges vehemently; the tweets below were posted by Josh Moon, who writes for The Alabama Political Reporter:

Some of the reporting, including the first tweet above, intimates that another factor in Dees’s firing could have been the change in mission of the SPLC from a genuine civil rights group to a social-justice enforcement group:

Mr. Dees and the S.P.L.C. have been credited with undermining the influence of the Ku Klux Klan and extremist groups. But in recent years, the center has come under scrutiny for its classifications of “hate groups,” and whether the organization has abused that label in pursuit of a political agenda or increased donations.

The center has tracked extremist activity and hate groups throughout the country since the 1980s. Its 2018 Intelligence Project reportidentified 1,020 hate groups, its largest number ever. Conservatives have accused the group of unfairly including right-leaning organizations on the list.

. . .“I am glad to see Dees leave S.P.L.C., whatever the reason,” William A. Jacobson, a professor at Cornell Law School and an outspoken critic of the group, said on Thursday.

“S.P.L.C. long ago focused on combating the Ku Klux Klan, but then abused the reputation it earned for those efforts by demonizing political opponents through the use of hate and extremist lists to stifle speech by people who presented no risk of violence,” Mr. Jacobson said.

I’m glad to see hm go, too. It’s time for fresh blood and a rededication to the original mission of the SPLC, fighting genuine oppression and bigotry. As the Montgomery Advertiser reports, an outside group will be examining the group’s direction:

“Today we announced a number of immediate, concrete next steps we’re taking, including bringing in an outside organization to conduct a comprehensive assessment of our internal climate and workplace practices, to ensure that our talented staff is working in the environment that they deserve — one in which all voices are heard and all staff members are respected,” [SPLC President Richard] Cohen said.

This group has about half a BILLION dollars in assets, and that dosh can be used to do real good rather than making up “little lists.”

32 thoughts on “Morris Dees fired from the Southern Poverty Law Center

  1. As an outsider I first heard of the SPLC in connection to calling Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz hateful Islamophobes. Not a good start. And then I heard about the millions stashed in offshore bank accounts, not a good segue. only later I learned they actually did some positive work too.
    [Talking about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, how much better would it have been if she, instead of the odious Ilhan Omar would have been the Somali rep in the House…]

          1. Well, if Hirsi Ali got elected in a red district, that would make her the only black woman, one of only two blacks overall, the only non-Christian, and one in a shrinking number of women in the Republican congressional caucus.

  2. Article is on pg. 19 of hard-copy. Don’t know what the headline is online, but in hard-copy it’s “Co-Founder of Advocacy Organization Is Dismissed”. (As opposed to a much more clearly and immediately identifying headline, say, “SPLC Co-Founder Dismissed”?)

  3. I want to know more. The first thing that struck me was that it was weird to “dismiss” and octogenarian founder who doesn’t appear to be actively involved. House-cleaning, or power struggle?

    1. My thoughts exactly and I would bet it is a power struggle. The question is whether he was fighting to revive the old, good SPLC or whether he led them down the SJW rabbit hole.

      My guess, with absolutely no information, is that he was against the SPLC’s SJW attitude and they are preemptively discrediting him before he speaks publicly.

      1. It would have been very ill-advised for them to settle IF Nawaz’s case had no merit (it did). They’ve got a lot of people on a lot of lists, and they’d ruin themselves settling disputes with all of them, not to mention issuing numerous retractions and apologies to actual hate groups.

        No, if they’d thought they were a lock to win, it would have made sense to fight it out.

        1. I accidentally posted this in response to the wrong comment. It should be in reply to Curtis’s post below #6.

  4. Nawaz did not sue the SPLC. He simply stated he might do so, and they settled with him before anything was ever filed.

    Something that’s still mysterious to this day, given how defamation works.

    1. When you have $480 million in the bank, it makes sense to pay $3 million to prevent bad publicity. This is true whether Nawaz had a good case or not.

  5. Morris Dees was an inspiration figure back in the early days of the SPLC, when he was fighting the death penalty on behalf of indigent defendants. I was still on the SPLC’s side in the 1980s when it turned its sights on suing the Klan and other racist groups using the RICO statute (which has civil and criminal provisions), even though it started making law that that was detrimental to some of my clients. But then the SPLC lost its way out on the SJW veldt. And it looks like maybe Morris lost his way, too. Shame it worked out that way.

    1. Or perhaps he stood in the way of making more money? I have no views on the truth of the matter although I have read of several well known charities in the UK that have segued from doing good works to doing good(!) politics (and paying good salaried fos people with ‘scarce’ abilities).

      I have a theory that any organisation that lasts more than approximately 70 years changes into an organisation with different aims – and should be torn down an relaunched. This would, of course, discomfort many people who have found their place in ‘old’ organisations and lead to fierce resistance.

      1. You mean we need to rewrite the Constitution every century? No nation can exist for more than 99 years?

        I think your plan needs just a bit more work!

        1. If the Constitution (or any other similar document) was written long enough ago then the world has moved on. The USA Constitution has had to adopt several amendments because of ‘events’ – and I’m sure you will find some people who think gun ownership/gun control is an example of a document no longer being fit for purpose.

          I mention this, even though I was thinking of organisations rather than documents or countries.

          1. Governments (countries0 are organizations.

            Exactly how do you distinguish which organizations are required to re-establish themselves under your program? And why is 100 years the magic number. Why not 50 or 80? Or 20?

            1. You’re just hairspltting GBJ (and I think you know it)

              I can see a lot of sense in A C Harper’s point, that organisations morph over time and their environment changes, and they end up radically different from what they were when they started.

              It happens most obviously with revolutionary movements, who – if successful – always get subverted when they become the establishment.


    2. Skip ahead from the 80’s to September 2000. Morris Dees brought a lawsuit against the Aryan Nations complex in Hayden ID. They were terrorizing North Idaho’s non-white residents. Dees won the suit, bankrupted the compound and they disbanded. So far, no charges against Dees seem significant. Young me-too women often overlook history. Elephants are smarter, they value experience.

  6. “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Where have we heard that before? I worked with the SPLC years ago after I did civil rights legal stuff in Mississippi in 1971. It just got too big and was trying to be all things to all folks. Good time for younger, fresher, talented people to get some of that $$$ for their work.

    1. It’s sad that Dees had to be ousted this way. Surely they could have let him go with some dignity after the good he did way back when?

      I suspect there’s something else going on here, and I doubt we’ll ever find out the truth.

    2. “Good time for younger, fresher, talented people to get some of that $$$ for their work.”

      The problem with that admirable sentiment is that so many younger, fresher, talented SJWs are in the ascendancy now and would naturally gravitate to an organization like the SPLC, especially one that has already been infected with deep-end SJW philosophy.

  7. Sad that his tenure saw the SPLC go from a noble organisation that genuinely fought against racists, to one that became befuddled and regressive, with too much money and too much power.

    When Muslim reformers such as Majid get slurred by this outfit, amid claims they get “advice” from groups such as CAIR, then the rot really set in.

    I fear those who will fill Dees’ place are far more regressive than he is. Everything that I have seen of them, doesn’t fill me with confidence.

  8. I am not surprised and I believe the victims. Victims may take a long time, or never, to speak up about sexual misconduct from an “elder statesman” who was respected and powerful but also a bigot and sexual molester. As a victim you don’t speak up for fear of your job and reprisal. I’ve seen it and been there. I have been employed in Alabama for over 30 years and with a state agency for over 20 of them.

    1. “I am not surprised and I believe the victims.”

      Even though you know absolutely nothing about the case… ???


      1. As far as I can tell, the SPLC itself hasn’t even said that those are their charges against him! This whole “believe any allegation of sexual misconduct against a man” thing has gone way too far. We should treat any allegations with respect, not automatically believe them. But saying that everyone should automatically believe them and immediately calling anyone who makes such claims “victim” makes such allegations a superweapon, one that can be used to destroy people you don’t like, undermine people, increase one’s own position of power, make one’s statements and actions unquestionable, etc. Holding one particular charge (or one particular sex) to some new standard that we apply to nothing else is dangerous and insane.

    2. Well, if you’ve seen it a few times, it must be true every time such an allegation is made. After all, nobody has ever been proved innocent of such conduct in the face of allegations. It simply never happens. Any time there’s an allegation (but only of this one particular thing; allegations of murder, robbery, and anything else should not automatically be believed, apparently), we should immediately believe them and condemn the person alleged to have committed them. Yes, this sounds like a just and sound way of doing things. Ideas like providing evidence and whatnot are stupid anyway.

      And which victims are you talking about? Has anyone even stepped forward to make such claims against Dees yet? Or are we already at the point where even the possibility that there might be such charges now sufficient to destroy someone’s reputation, career, and life?

  9. Hang on a second …

    Further, they also went after “cultural appropriation” of Cinco de Mayo

    Doesn’t the US celebrate May Day? Evidently not, or not under the auspices of celebrating international worker’s solidarity. Probably the baleful influence of citizen Kane ^H^H^H^H Hearst.

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