Exposing the Southern Poverty Law Center
Charities face a structural tension that might be called the March of Dimes Problem. Founded in 1938 to fight polio, the March of Dimes grew aggressively until 1955 when it faced a catastrophe: a polio vaccine.
What does a non-profit do when it achieves its stated goal? Declare victory and go home? Of course not. Rather than disband its 3100-chapter fundraising machine, it pivoted to birth defects, which seemed less vulnerable to being solved. Today it's "leveling the playing field" for moms and babies, a vague enough mission to provide it plenty of open doors.
So it was for the SPLC. Founded as a civil rights law firm in the wake of the Civil Rights Act, the South had plenty of honorable civil rights cases to fight, and the SPLC boasts many victories. Since then it has grown to a $100M per year business, and its stated mission has crept to "fighting hate, teaching tolerance, and seeking justice."
What exactly does that mean? It's less benign than it sounds.
The Hate Detectors
The SPLC publishes a hate map of nearly a thousand so-called hate groups in the US.
The obvious problem with such a map, for anyone interested in sorting fact from propaganda, is that hate is a state of mind. We can't read other people's minds. Hate or any other motivation we ascribe to someone else is necessarily a projection from us onto them. The SPLC's hate labels tell us at least as much about them as about the groups they list.
There's certainly some significance to their choice of ideological groupings. Virtually all the "hate" categories suggest political conservative or traditionalist points of view. In three decades of scouring the country for hate, the SPLC hasn't managed to find any on the left. How hard could that be in these days of bitter political acrimony, the rivers of toxic tweets just a click away, and now left-wing mobs beating people in the streets? Their hate meter seems curiously selective.
What the hate meter really measures is how the people at the SPLC feel about these groups, rather than how these groups feel about others. They're not fighting hate, they're distributing it.
The tolerance gap
The SPLC has been teaching tolerance through school programs since 1991.
At least, they call it tolerance. Here's what they mean:
"Educating children to be active participants in a diverse society."
"To challenge prejudice and learn how to be agents of change in their own lives."
"To prevent the growth of hate."
The dictionary defines tolerance as "sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own." It's passive rather than active. It's not about challenging other people's views but about restraining your impulse to challenge them. The SPLC is describing the opposite of tolerance.
Practicing tolerance starts with granting the good intentions of people you disagree with. If I ascribe ill will to thousands of people I've never met based on my uncharitable readings of their beliefs, and then I denounce them in a "hate map," I'm doing tolerance wrong.
I'm also doing it wrong if I justify my intolerance as a proactive response to your intolerance. We need not litigate whether my reading of you is fair or who was intolerant first, because the word simply doesn't depend on that. Perhaps you're in fact a terrible person, and my opposing you is a virtuous act. It's still not the virtue of tolerance.
Whatever words the SPLC puts in front of children, its actions model exactly the opposite of tolerance. They're not creating a more tolerant society but an army of missionaries for the evangelical left, spreading the gospel of woke intolerance.
If you're an SPLC supporter, you may be tempted to gloss over the gap between what they say they represent and what they're actually doing. Every organization is entitled to some marketing spin, right? If what they call anti-hate and pro-tolerance don't quite align with the dictionary definitions, isn't that overly pedantic? After all, their hearts are in the right place.
I can't read the SPLC's hearts any more than their thoughts. What I can read is their website, and they're not just not-quite-living-up to their marketing, they're doing the opposite. Their "anti-hate" work palpably encourages everyone to fear and hate the same people they do. Their "tolerance" is aggressively intolerant.
How worried should reasonable people be about, say, the White Aryan Resistance, just to pick a scary-sounding group at random from the hate map? Although that was an active group three decades ago, all that remains today is one 92-year-old guy and a five-page website.
How many of the "hate groups" have even a $250 budget? The SPLC doesn't offer any such perspective. You can't raise $100M a year by putting fears in perspective.