The Southerm Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok puts Michigan hate groups in context

    This evening, I had the occasion to speak briefly with Southern Poverty Law Center Senior Fellow Mark Potok. I’d reached out to Potok, who serves as editor-in-chief of the Center’s quarterly journal, the Intelligence Report, and its blog, entitled Hatewatch, as I hoped that he might be able to shed a little light on William Daniel Johnson, the candidate currently running to represent Michigan’s 11th congressional district in the House, who, several days ago, initiated a robocalling campaign asking several people in Canton if they were “concerned about the future of the white race.” Potok was kind enough to grant my request for an interview, and, thanks to Google Voice, you can hear the whole thing below.

    In addition to discussing Johnson, and his history as the head of the white supremacist American Third Position party, Potok and I discussed everything from the government’s flawed case against Michigan’s Hutaree Militia to the recent anti-government plot discovered within Georgia’s Fort Stewart Army base, and from Quran-burning, carpet-bagging pastor Terry Jones to the recent campaign being waged by the Family Research Council to push the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program from public schools. As you’ll soon discover, if you follow the link, I’m not at the top of my game, but Potok is incredibly insightful, and compensated for my lackluster performance beautifully. (I was getting into my car when he called, heading to Novi to interview Syed Taj, the Democrat running to represent Michigan’s 11th congressional district in the House, and I was a bit distracted.) At any rate, I’d highly recommend checking it out and telling your friends to do the same. Given the presence of people like Johnson and Jones in our community, I think you’d agree that, now, more than ever, we need to have an open, honest dialogue on hate.

    And I didn’t have an opportunity to transcribe the whole thing, but here’s just a little taste.

    POTOK: There is a real movement out there. It has grown explosively over the past three years or so. And it’s quite frightening… We have seen an absolutely tremendous growth in the number of militia groups, or so-called “patriot groups,” beginning in the year 2009. In other words, precisely when Barack Obama assumes the presidency. Just to give our listeners an ideas as to what I’m talking about, by our account, in 2008, there were 149 patriot groups, or militia groups. In 2009, that number was 512. In 2010, that number was 824. And, by 2011, the number had reached 1,274, from a mere 149 three years earlier. That kind of growth is something we haven’t seen here ever before. And, of course, it coincides precisely, as I said earlier, with the assumption of power by Barack Obama, our first black President. So, you know, I think what is driving the very rapid growth of these groups is… the changing racial demographics of this country… the idea that whites are losing their majority… will, by the Census Bureau’s prediction, lose their majority by the year 2050… and all of that as represented in the person of Barack Obama. He makes it graphic. He makes it real. A black man in the White House. Of course, at the very same time that Obama appeared on the scene, the economy collapsed. We saw the sub-prime (mortgage) collapse in October of 2008, and then all of the financial mess that followed that. So, you know, there’s a great deal of anger, fear, rage, frustration… those kinds of feelings… scapegoating… among people who are hurting, or who are very afraid for their financial future. So, that very much plugs into these other kinds of fears, and angers, and essentially what we’re living through is a kind of perfect storm right now in terms of favoring the development of these groups.

    Now here’s the interview:

    And, I didn’t mention it above, but we also get into a few areas which I know people in this audience have traditionally found of interest, such as the cross-pollination between hard-line libertarian groups and those hate groups that are monitored by the SPLC, the growing pervasiveness of right wing conspiracy theories (ranging from FEMA concentration camps to Mexican plots to retake the American Southwest), and the commonly held belief that, if not for the activities of federal agents, who are enabling the activities of home-grown terrorists, there would be no such thing as domestic (read non-Muslim) terrorism.

    It’s also worth noting, I think, that our conversation, while depressing, isn’t fatalistic. A good deal of time is spent reflecting on the fact that there have also been periods like this, full of violent backlash, in our past. And, those instances, as Potok notes, generally come when society finds itself on the brink of great, positive change. The Klan, as he noted, was most violent the year after slavery ended. I think that’s an important thing for us to keep in mind. The demographics in America are changing, and a backlash is inevitable, but, with any luck, those of us that survive will come out better on the other side of it.

    OK, if you liked this discussion between me and Mark, and have a few extra dollars in your pocket, I’d encourage you to follow this link and make a contribution, so that they can continue their important work. And, as Mark mentions in the interview, in addition to your financial contributions, they would also like to your tips. So, if you know of racist activity in your community, whether it be in Michigan (which, by the way, has 26 hate groups currently being tacked by the SPLC), or elsewhere, please drop Mark’s team a line and let them know. They rely on our tips bring these people into the light of day, where they belong.

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      32 Comments

      1. Rick Cronn
        Posted October 13, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

        Do you have a recording of Johnson’s robocall? I’d like to hear it.

      2. Rick Cronn
        Posted October 13, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

        Johnson’s robocall http://yourlisten.com/channel/content/16916836/Johnson_for_Congress_Robocall

      3. Posted October 13, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        While I’m sad that you couldn’t transcribe more of the conversation, it’s great that this happened.

        I have libertarian friends. Though they vehemently claim they are against racism, the conversation nearly always shifts to “the coming race war” and how we have to prepare for the emergence of a “charismatic leader” and how it’s a moral imperative to round up people based solely on their color or what language they speak.

        I try to think the best, and assume people have the best at heart, but it’s really difficult at times.

      4. Oliva
        Posted October 13, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

        Can’t listen right this minute, but I will asap, and I just have to say a giant thank-you to you, Mark, for following your impulse to reach out to Mark Potok. I hope you’re supremely proud of what you do here–and did in this particular case. And I do believe through this excellent post you will steer dollars toward the SPLC. Bravo and thank you again (actually way more than words can express).

      5. TeacherPatti
        Posted October 13, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        Here is a quote that I have on my Facebook page:
        Libertarians are, generally speaking, white men that never amounted to much, and live under the delusion that this is due to affirmative action, government regulation, or something else. They’ve also watched too many Dirty Harry movies.
        –Commenter on Mark Maynard’s blog.

        If anyone can remember who wrote it, please let me know and I will update to give proper credit.

      6. Posted October 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

        I think it is also important to note how many people are not even aware of the hate group shit going on ’round here (and elsewhere). I was on a field trip to Henry Ford (speaking of racists!) with a bunch of kids from Detroit…I think all were black but there might have been some Hispanic students as well. Anyway, I had to explain what the Klan robe was and then had to break it to them that there were still Klan groups around and fairly close by. They honestly had no idea about this stuff.

      7. Edward
        Posted October 13, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        As someone said yesterday about something completely different, “More of this, please.”

      8. alan2102
        Posted October 13, 2012 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

        “Watchdog” groups include the SPLC, the ADL, Berlet’s PRA, and others. They’re generally a slimy bunch of characters, for reasons that become evident to any intelligent person capable and willing to do a bit of research on them.

        Another kind of watchdog — Laird Wilcox — has been studying political extremism (both left and right) for decades, and has written extensively on the subject; several books. You can find his stuff at the UofM Labadie collection in the grad library.

        Herewith, the work of the watchdog watching the “watchdogs”…..

        http://www.rvfonline.co.uk/pdfs/TheWatchdogs.pdf

        THE WATCHDOGS: A CLOSE LOOK AT ANTI-RACIST “WATCHDOG” GROUPS
        Second Edition
        By Laird Wilcox
        lairdwilcox.com

        PAGE 39:
        In detailing the background of these Watchdog organizations I do not mean to imply their concerns are without merit, that they do not focus on groups and individuals that probably bear watching, or that they do not do valuable work in fostering improved interracial and inter-group relations. I have no quarrel with much of what they claim to stand for. A good example is the SPLCs position on capital punishment and prison reform, which I support wholeheartedly.
        What I object to in the “Watchdog” organizations are their tactics, their often hidden agenda, and their contempt for the rights of those who disagree with them. My hope is that they will reconsider their behaviors and “humanize” the Watchdog milieu. Also, as a writer I believe other writers and journalists need to be aware of the questionable validity of Watchdog groups as primary sources.
        Watchdog groups are agenda-driven special-interest groups, whose interests are economic as well as ideological, and not “experts” in the sense of objective and disinterested scholarship. Journalists, especially, need to be made aware of this. —Laird Wilcox

        PAGE 79-80:
        A good example of SPLC disinformation occurred in June 1998 when SPLC spokesman Mark Potok responded to a newspaper request for background information on three accused cop killers. According to news reports Alan “Monte” Pilon, one of the men suspected of killing a Cortez police officer and wounding three other officers, is a member of a local militia group linked to an extreme right-wing religion, a militia expert said Thursday.
        Pilon, 30, of Dove Creek, is a member of the Four Corners Patriots, according to Mark Potok, spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that monitors hate groups. The Four Corners Patriots is an underground militia linked to the Christian Identity religion, a faith Potok described as “viciously racist and anti-Semitic. 266
        Potok further claimed to have been tracking the group since 1995 and estimated the group had 25 members. These claims, along with this detailed information, clearly gives the impression that the SPLC knows what it’s talking about. Potok’s claims were picked up by wire services and repeated nationwide, including NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw One small problem: There apparently is no “Four Corners Patriots” organization. It doesn’t exist. Nobody in the broader militia and patriot movement had ever heard of them. 267
        My own efforts to pin down the organization were without success. Even local law enforcement couldn’t vouch for their existence and no evidence has developed that any of the suspects ever belonged to a militia organization.
        The interplay between the SPLC and the media that depends upon them for information is complex and corrupt. Potok, a former writer for USA Today, was a consistent public relations agent for the SPLC during his tenure at the newspaper. Apparently pleased by Potok’s performance, SPLC recruited him into their direct employ where he engages in an endless litany of “linking and tying” people with one infamous doctrine or another. Dees is the classic example of an opportunist waging a holy war against unpopular foes and profiting from it, both financially and ideologically. His primary talents have always been in the area of fundraising and promotion.

        [there is much more detail at the link; book-length pdf file]
        

      9. alan2102
        Posted October 13, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

        http://web.archive.org/web/20020618083800/http://www.deeswatch.com/industry.html

        The ‘Conscience Industry’ Says…
        By Alexander Cockburn
        From The Nation

        Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair wrote an article for the Nation critical of what they call the “Conscience Industry.” It included the following paragraph:

        “The problem here is that because there’s barely a left and certainly no politically left party, fake politics have taken over. Morris Dees has raised an endowment of almost $100 million with which he’s done very little, meanwhile frightening elderly liberals into ponying up contributions with the fantasy that the heirs to Adolf Hitler are about to come marching down Main Street, lynching blacks and putting the Jews into gas ovens. The fundraising of Dees offer a banefully distorted view of the American political landscape. There isn’t a public school in any county in the United States which doesn’t represent a menace to blacks a thousand times more potent than what remains of the KKK.”

        This article generated some defensive letters to which Cockburn responded in the somewhat abridged reply that follows.

        –DeesWatch

        Now we come to Leonard Zeskind. Is he a “tireless veteran of the antifascist movement,” as his chum Levitas proclaims, or a “richly rewarded terrormonger”? He’s both, the lucky dog! Northern liberals love to applaud anyone who makes a living beating up the rubes, whether it be Zeskind or Molly Ivins, who traded in a genteel education for the profitable activity of affecting a redneck style in which to attack rednecks and other demons circling liberal campfires. Why would the MacArthur folk shovel money by the sackload into Zeskind’s arms? Not for drawing maps of the nonprofit policy-making sector–MacArthur Foundation included–that keeps the capitalist social order in supple shape. No, Zeskind assists in the coarse enterprise of terrifying liberals with the myth that out there west of the New Jersey Turnpike and south of the Loop is a rural fascist movement on the verge of taking power. It’s the game Morris Dees has played for years, leading to an endowment at the Southern Poverty Law Center of nearly $100 million, with which he does little to fight poverty, the death penalty or other discriminatory applications of the law.

        Listen to the last sentence of Zeskind’s review of a Dees book, here in The Nation in 1996: “When the next generation’s D.W. Griffith shows a militia version of Birth of a Nation in the White House amid fond remembrance of how Christian patriots braved repression and calumny to restore US sovereignty, a few will turn for elements of the truth to…” a book by Morris Dees! “Assuming all the libraries will be purged by then,” Zeskind warns darkly, “find a safe spot for your copies now.” In other words, send Dees your fifty bucks! Beat back Kristallnacht for another month!

        The terrormongers, often better than their pals in the FBI, Justice Department and local enforcement agencies–remember the Anti-Defamation League’s collusion with torture cops in the 1980s and Chip Berlet’s subsequent defense of this–run these scams year after year and get lionized. But more successful recipes for social misery and class injustice have come out of the Rockefeller, Ford and Pew foundations in the past ten years than out of all the right-wing groups ever named by Zeskind and Dees. You won’t ever get richly rewarded for saying that. Not by liberals anyway.

        So liberals tremble at Morris Dees’s and Leonard Zeskind’s bulletins about the right-wing threat to America. They devour The Nation’s nervous blares about the Christian threat (will our covers ever make as much fun of the Lubavitcher Rebbe as they do of the poor Virgin? I think not). And all the while the effective enemy of freedom is given a rousing welcome. What, after all, would the rural posses actually do if they were in power? Let’s suppose they’d lock up the blacks. They’d throw out the browns. They’d fix things so that their jackbooted cops could stamp into our homes, scrutinize our reading matter. They’d jerk the single mothers off welfare. They’d…they’d…they’d throw up their hands in frustration when they found that Bill Clinton had done it all. Would a simple Klansman ever dream up so fine a scheme to incarcerate black people (and, as felons, permanently deny them the right to vote) as the 100-to-1 disproportion in sentencing between terms for crack and powder cocaine, ringingly upheld by Clinton and his Attorney General and first pushed through by then? Democratic House majority leader Tip O’Neill? Would a constitutionalist stomp on the Bill of Rights–particularly the Fourth and Sixth amendments–with the same ardor as Clinton, with those roving taps on any phone the target might be adjacent to, with his ravaging of habeas corpus in death penalty cases, with those denials of due process to immigrants both legal and undocumented?

        Liberals love the comforting landscape offered them on a weekly basis in The Nation: Battling Bernie Sanders in Vermont, courageous Morris Dees in Montgomery, Alabama; and yes, Bill and Hillary in the White House, sometimes off the mark, but in Eric Alterman’s last analysis, in the angels’ corner. It’s OK to hate Bob Barr and the Republican managers, but can’t we at least have a little realism and abandon the delusion that endless denunciations of David Duke constitute a vital service to freedom in America, to be rewarded by MacArthur genius grants and the gratitude of all those old folk Dees and Zeskind and the others have frightened, down the years, into dipping into their scant savings in order to keep the imagined beast at bay?
        

      10. alan2102
        Posted October 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

        “Dees and his hate-seekers scour the landscape for hate like the arms manufacturers inventing new threats and for the same reason: it’s their staple.
        The SPLC’s latest “Year in Hate” report claims that “in 2008 the number of hate groups rose to 926, up 4 per cent from 2007, and 54 per cent since 2000.” The SPLC doesn’t measure the number of members in the groups, meaning they probably missed me. Change that total to 927. I’m a hate group, meaning in Dees-speak, “one with beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people,” starting with Dick Cheney. I love to dream of him being water-boarded, subjected to loops of Schonberg played at top volume, locked up naked in a meat locker.”

        …………………….

        http://www.counterpunch.org/2009/05/15/king-of-the-hate-business/

        Weekend Edition
        May 15-17, 2009
        CounterPunch Diary

        King of the Hate Business

        By ALEXANDER COCKBURN

        What is the arch-salesman of hate-mongering, Mr. Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center doing now? He’s saying that the election of a black president proves his point. Hate is on the rise! Send money!

        Without skipping a beat, the mailshot moguls, who year after year make money selling the notion there’s been a right resurgence out there in the hinterland with massed legions of haters, have used the election of a black president to say that, yes, hate is on the rise and America ready to burst apart at the seams, with millions of extremists primed to march down Main Street draped in Klan robes, a copy of Mein Kampf tucked under one arm and a Bible under the other, available for sneak photographs from minions of Chip Berlet, another salesman of the Christian menace, ripely endowed with millions to battle the legions of the cross.

        Ever since 1971 US Postal Service mailbags have bulged with Dees’ fundraising letters, scaring dollars out of the pockets of trembling liberals aghast at his lurid depictions of hate-sodden America, in dire need of legal confrontation by the SPLC. Nine years ago Ken Silverstein wrote a devastating commentary on Dees and the SPLC in Harpers, dissecting a typical swatch of Dees’ solicitations. At that time, as Silverstein pointed out, the SPLC was “the wealthiest civil rights group in America,” with $120 million in assets.

        As of October 2008 the net assets of the SPLC were $170,240,129, The merchant of hate himself, Mr. Dees, was paid an annual $273,132 as chief trial counsel, and the SPLC’s president and CEO, Richard Cohen, $290,193. Total revenue in 2007 was $44,727,257 and program expenses $20,804,536. In other words, the Southern Poverty Law Center was raising twice as much as it was spending on its proclaimed mission. Fund-raising and administrative expenses accounted for $9 million, leaving $14 million to be put in the center’s vast asset portfolio.

        The 990 non profit tax record for the SPLC indicates that the assets fell by about $50 million last year, meaning that like almost all non profits the SPLC took a bath in the stock crash. So what was thr end result of all that relentless hoarding down the year, as people of modest means, scared by Dees, sent him their contributions. Were they put to good use? It doesn’t seem so. They vanished in an electronic blip.

        But where are the haters? That hardy old stand-by, the KKK, despite the SPLC’s predictable howls about an uptick in its chapters, is a moth-eaten and depleted troupe, at least 10 per cent of them on the government payroll as informants for the FBI. As Noel Ignatiev once remarked in his book Race Traitor, there isn’t a public school in any county in the USA that doesn’t represent a menace to blacks a thousand times more potent than that offered by the KKK, just as there aren’t many such schools that probably haven’t been propositioned by Dees to buy one of the SPLC’s “tolerance” programs. What school is going to go on record rejecting Dees-sponsored tolerance?

        Dees and his hate-seekers scour the landscape for hate like the arms manufacturers inventing new threats and for the same reason: it’s their staple.

        The SPLC’s latest “Year in Hate” report claims that “in 2008 the number of hate groups rose to 926, up 4 per cent from 2007, and 54 per cent since 2000.” The SPLC doesn’t measure the number of members in the groups, meaning they probably missed me. Change that total to 927. I’m a hate group, meaning in Dees-speak, “one with beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people,” starting with Dick Cheney. I love to dream of him being water-boarded, subjected to loops of Schonberg played at top volume, locked up naked in a meat locker. But the nation’s haters are mostly like me, enjoying their (increasingly circumscribed) constitutionally guaranteed right to hate, solitary, disorganized, prone to sickening relapses into love, or at least the sort of amiable tolerance for All Mankind experienced when looking at photos of Carla Bruni and Princess Letizia of Spain kissing.

        The effective haters are big, powerful easily identifiable entities. Why is Dees fingering militia men in a potato field in Idaho when we have identifiable, well-organized groups which the SPLC could take on. To cite reports from the Urban League, and United for a Fair Economy, minorities are more than three times as likely to hold high-cost subprime loans, foisted on them by predatory lenders, meaning the big banks; “all black and latino subprime borrowers could stand to lose between $164 billion and $213 billion for loans taken during the past eight years.”

        Get those bankers and big mortgage touts into court, chief counsel Dees! How about helping workers fired by people who hate anyone trying to organize a union? What about defending immigrants rounded up in ICE raids? How about attacking the roots of southern poverty, and the system that sustains that poverty as expressed in the endless prisons and Death Rows across the south, disproportionately crammed with blacks and Hispanics?

        You fight theatrically, the Dees way, or you fight substantively, like Stephen Bright, who makes only $11,000 as president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights. The center’s director makes less than $50,000. It has net assets of a bit over $4.5 million and allocates about $1.6 million a year for expenses, 77 percent of its annual revenue. Bright’s outfit is basically dedicated to two things: prison litigation and the death penalty. He fights the system, case by case. Not the phony targets mostly tilted at by Dees but the effective, bipartisan, functional system of oppression, far more deadly and determined than the SPLC’s tin-pot hate groups. Tear up your check to Dees and send it to Bright, (http://www.schr.org/) or to the Institute for Southern Studies (http://www.southernstudies.org.html) run by Chris Kromm, which has been doing brilliant spadework on the economy, on poverty and on exploitation in the south for four decades.
        

      11. Natalie Holbrook
        Posted October 13, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

        I found this paper by Kay Whitlock, Reconsidering Hate, to be absolutely amazing.  It may be an interesting read for folks in relation to this interview with Potok. This Reconsidering Hate analysis really gets at the problems with focusing on individual actions of hate and at times hate groups (though she does not totally write off watchdog groups, towards the end of the paper she indicates when they serve a purpose). The paper critiques the larger systems of power that are the players in the perpetuation of policies that reenforce hate, and looks at both individual acts of violence but also state violence.
        You can download the paper here:
        http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v27n3/PDF/HateFrames.pdf

        And here is a great quote from the paper, “While the hate frame may be powerful in terms of increasing awareness of and mobilizing opposition to the threatening, violent actions of individuals and small groups directed against targeted communities, it also, paradoxically, obscures the relationship of such violence to its systemic underpinnings.  That is to say, despite the good intentions of its many supporters, the hate frame focus on individuals and groups considered to be ‘extreme’ in their political views and actions actually draws attention away from structural inequalities, exclusions, and violence that are foundational to the ordinary workings of ‘respectable’ public and private institutions.  However, inadvertent, the result is that the punishment of individuals in highly publicized cases of hate violence often allows communities to avoid addressing state-sanctioned, institutional injustice and violence, and provides political cover for many.  It’s so much easier to place the blame for violence directed against entire groups on criminal misfits, loners, and crackpots than to challenge the unspoken public consensus that permits broader cultures and structures of violence to exist ” (2).

      12. dragon
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 1:01 am | Permalink

        The elusive promiscuous virgin defense. Well played Natalie.

      13. alan2102
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

        “highly publicized cases of hate… often allow communities to avoid addressing state-sanctioned, institutional injustice and violence, and provides political cover for many. It’s so much easier to place the blame for violence directed against entire groups on criminal misfits, loners, and crackpots than to challenge the unspoken public consensus that permits broader cultures and structures of violence to exist ”

        Yes, of course. It is a big ruse, and a sham, like the war on drugs and the war on terrorism, drawing attention away from real problems, and away from the illegitimacy of the whole (racist, kleptocratic, neo-feudal) system. It is the system’s conspiracy theory, designed to pin blame on (and, paradoxically, whip-up hatred toward) a few isolated figures of no import, while the real criminals — essentially all leading participants in the system — remain unidentified as such. In objective terms, Obama perpetrates far more mayhem against blacks and browns than 10,000 idiots in KKK robes. Except that there does not even exist 10,000. Maybe 300. And most of them can’t make trouble for blacks; they are too busy getting fitted for dentures.

        But urban yokels like MM lap it up. It helps them feel real warm and fuzzy and “progressive”.

      14. EOS
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        “…now, more than ever, we need to have an open, honest dialogue on hate.”

        O.K. I’ll take the bait. The SPLC reports a huge increase in hate groups because its existence is dependent on hate groups. Their definition of hate has been broadened to include groups who have never advocated violence of any kind. Merely holding viewpoints that differ from a liberal agenda is sufficient for a group to be placed on their hate list. The fact that they claim that the FRC is a hate group is where they’ve jumped the shark.

        The truth is FRC is a lobbyist group with offices in Washington D.C. They conduct Bible Studies for people working on the Hill. They hold an annual conference with Conservative speakers and encourage people to vote their values. Conservative Christians are motivated by love, not hate. The Bible considers hate to be the equivalent to murder and both to be sins against God and neighbor.

        The problem with all “hate crimes” legislation is that no one besides the individual can discern what motivates certain actions. The LGBT volunteer who walked into FRC headquarters and shot the security guard has not been charged with a “hate crime”. It would be ironic if he were, since FRC opposes “hate crime” legislation. In response to this violent, unprovoked attack, the FRC called for prayers for the victim, the perpetrator, and their families. Is this a reaction typical of a hate group?

        Additionally, although the growth of militia groups may correlate with Obama’s election it does not prove any causation. Obama’s election also correlated with a world-wide economic crisis which has led many to believe in the inevitability of financial collapse. Even Potok concedes most militia are not hate groups and most are not motivated by racial hatred.

        I disagree with the tactics of the SPLC because by broadening the label of hate groups they misdirect resources that should be focused on the real lunatic fringe – those who would consider using violence or terrorist acts to promote any political view.

      15. anonymous
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

        I’m not sure that I follow. Are people suggesting that there should not be a group that documents the activities of American hate groups? I can see how people might object to the salary of their director, and snarkily say that they benefit from an increase in domestic terrorist activity, but all of that seems secondary to me. The truth is that these activities are real, and that we need watchdogs. If you don’t like SLPC, that’s fine. But the work needs to be done by someone. And it doesn’t change the fact that everything Potok says is true.

      16. Oliva
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 7:23 am | Permalink

        Cockburn once upon a time was a mover/prodder of progressive ideas and action and had really valuable things to say. I loved his Village Voice column. Something happened to him, though. As James Fallows wrote in his obituary in the Atlantic: “He was less broadly influential in later years . . . because many of his views were not just contrarian but noxious.”

      17. Posted October 14, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        It’s great to see such a wide range of opinions on this post. Here are a few more hard facts about Mark Potok and the SPLC:

        Mark Potok is a highly paid public relations man. He has no legal or law enforcement background. The reason you found him to be so “insightful” is that he is working from a long-rehearsed script. If you actually take a look at Mr. Potok’s numbers, something no one in the media can bother to do, you find that they seldom add up.

        Immediately following the election of President Obama in November, 2008, Potok predicted “explosive growth” in the number of “hate groups” due to a black president and the tanking economy.

        At the end of 2009, the first year of the Obama Administration and the worst year of the current recession, Mr. Potok added six new “hate groups” to his Hate Map™ fundraising tool, for an “explosive growth” of just over one half of one percent, the lowest increase in SPLC history.

        In 2010, Mr. Potok added 70 new “hate groups” to his map, but at the same time, the number of homeless “hate groups,” those Mr. Potok cannot locate on any map, including his own, jumped by 99, for a net loss of 2.9%.

        Mr. Potok is losing his “hate groups” faster than he can designate them.

        In 2011, Mr. Potok added 16 more “hate groups” to his map, for an “explosive growth” of 1.6%. Of the 1,018 groups designated by Mr. Potok, something even the FBI does not, cannot do, fully 247 of them are homeless. They simply float out there in limbo padding the numbers. Mr. Potok has no idea where they are, but trust him, they’re out there.

        That’s 25% of the total right off the top!

        A perfect example is the state of Georgia. Mr. Potok announced that he had added 20 chapters of something he calls “the Georgia Militia” to that state’s Hate Map™, but he can’t seem to find 18 of them. There are 18 blank slots with “Georgia Militia” next to them. THIS is hard data?

        See it for yourselves: http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map#s=GA

        In the final analysis, the number of “hate groups” designated by Mr. Potok actually dropped by nearly 1% between 2008 and 2011. More of a damp squib than an “explosive growth.”

        In March, 2011, Mark Potok made the astounding announcement that “The Klan of today is disintegrated, impotent and irrelevant. There is NO Klan today!” Not the kind of thing you’d expect to hear during an “explosive growth” in hate. One would think that the KKK would be one of the prime beneficiaries of such an alleged surge in demand.

        http://wp.me/pCLYZ-9i

        In October, 2011, Mr. Potok admitted on camera that his “hate group” numbers were “anecdotal,” “a very rough estimate” and “an imperfect process,” yet he feeds these numbers to the Media as though they were rock solid facts. You can see the video here:

        http://wp.me/pCLYZ-bc

        In the long run, it really doesn’t matter what numbers Mr. Potok pulls out of his imagination because no one in the Media is ever going to vet a single one of his claims. They merely regurgitate Mr. Potok’s fundraising propaganda as “fact” and the donors respond accordingly.

        The proof of this strategy is made evident by the fact that donors sent Mr. Potok more than $106,000 donor dollars a day, each and every day last year, based on his bogus numbers. That’s more than $4,400 tax free dollars an hour, on top of the tens of millions generated by the SPLC’s quarter-billion dollar “Endowment Fund.”

        http://wp.me/pCLYZ-d3

        Sadly, there really is a lot of hate in the world today. Too much hate, by far. But citing the fundraising propaganda of one of America’s most profitable “non-profits” is a poor way to document it.

        Donors should think twice when deciding where to send their precious donor dollars. A $100 check would match the SPLC’s current revenue stream for just under 80 seconds. What could a local food bank, Women’s shelter or free clinic do with that same check?

      18. Mr. X
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

        Racism does not exist. It’s just a construct imagined by America-hating leftists who benefit financially from the notion that such things as racism and homophobia exist.

        Now where’s my “Put the White Back in the White House” shirt? I need it for tonight’s Romney/Ryan rally at the beer hall.

        http://www.inquisitr.com/362515/put-the-white-back-in-white-house-says-t-shirt-at-romney-rally-photo/

      19. JC
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

        Oliva: I think Alex was on a jihad against the self-satisfaction and piety of lots of soi-disant “progressives.” A pretty useful voice, I would argue, despite his occasional provocativeness. Also: trusting a James Fallows assessment of Cockburn is problematic, to say the least. Some of his views were obnoxious, but 99 percent of them were spot on.

      20. Oliva
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        I think AC made a huge contribution earlier in his career, got so cantankerous later (to put it gently), and I wonder if he was already getting sick by that point. (James Fallows was just one of the many voices remarking on his dramatic shift, so full of sometimes troubling fury that his good words lost their usefulness–to me anyway. It was disheartening because he did so much good earlier in his life. But in that obituary JF acknowledged that AC would have condemned him along with all the others.) Still, a very important voice–to be taken in bits and with many grains of salt by the end–as I see it.

        Separately, has anyone read Lanterns on the Levee by William Alexander Percy. There’s a great piece in there on the KKK and how Percy and his comrades chased the bad guys out of town and local government.

      21. alan2102
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        anonymous
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink
        “I’m not sure that I follow. Are people suggesting that there should not be a group that documents the activities of American hate groups?”

        No. People are not suggesting that. People are suggesting that the would-be watchdogs not be overpaid and possibly Stalinistic (in terms of some of their tactics) slimebags.

        To repeat:

        http://www.rvfonline.co.uk/pdfs/TheWatchdogs.pdf
        THE WATCHDOGS: A CLOSE LOOK AT ANTI-RACIST “WATCHDOG” GROUPS
        Second Edition
        By Laird Wilcox
        lairdwilcox.com
        PAGE 39:
        In detailing the background of these Watchdog organizations I do not mean to imply their concerns are without merit, that they do not focus on groups and individuals that probably bear watching, or that they do not do valuable work in fostering improved interracial and inter-group relations. I have no quarrel with much of what they claim to stand for. A good example is the SPLCs position on capital punishment and prison reform, which I support wholeheartedly.
        What I object to in the “Watchdog” organizations are their tactics, their often hidden agenda, and their contempt for the rights of those who disagree with them. My hope is that they will reconsider their behaviors and “humanize” the Watchdog milieu. Also, as a writer I believe other writers and journalists need to be aware of the questionable validity of Watchdog groups as primary sources.
        Watchdog groups are agenda-driven special-interest groups, whose interests are economic as well as ideological, and not “experts” in the sense of objective and disinterested scholarship. Journalists, especially, need to be made aware of this. —Laird Wilcox

      22. alan2102
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

        Oliva
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink
        “I think AC made a huge contribution earlier in his career, got so cantankerous later”

        By all means let’s focus on the man and his personality — leaving aside the objective points that he actually made.

      23. alan2102
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        Mr. X
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink
        “where’s my “Put the White Back in the White House” shirt? I need it for tonight’s Romney/Ryan rally at the beer hall.”

        Yes, put the White back in the White House: Support Obama! He has been, and is likely to continue to be, more effective, not only for perpetrating objectively racist policies, but for perpetrating all manner of regressive and execrable bullshit, domestically and internationally.

        As Cockburn wrote above: “The EFFECTIVE haters are big, powerful easily identifiable entities. Why is Dees fingering militia men in a potato field in Idaho when we have identifiable, well-organized groups which the SPLC could take on?”

        Why, indeed? Perhaps because that would mean that SPLC would have to develop and express some authentic progressive content, rather than just focusing on mostly trivial crapola at the fringes.

        It is a matter of effectiveness, or objective reality, versus (oft-illusory) appearance.

        ……………………

        http://blackagendareport.com/content/why-barack-obama-more-effective-evil

        Why Barack Obama is the More Effective Evil

        Glen Ford at the Left Forum

        Let me say from the very beginning that we at Black Agenda Report do not think that Barack Obama is the Lesser Evil. He is the more Effective Evil.

        He has been more effective in Evil-Doing than Bush in terms of protecting the citadels of corporate power, and advancing the imperial agenda. He has put both Wall Street and U.S. imperial power on new and more aggressive tracks – just as he hired himself out to do.

        That was always Wall Street’s expectation of Obama, and his promise to them. That’s why they gave him far more money in 2008 than they gave John McCain. They were buying Obama futures on the electoral political market – and they made out like bandits.

        They invested in Obama to protect them from harm, as a hedge against the risk of systemic disaster caused by their own predations. And, it was a good bet, a good deal. It paid out in the tens of trillions of dollars.

        If you believe that what Wall Street does is Evil, then Obama’s service to Wall Street is Evil, and there is nothing lesser about it.

        They had vetted Obama, thoroughly, before he even set foot in the U.S. Senate in 2004.

        He protected their interests, there, helping shield corporations from class action suits, and voting against caps on credit card Interest. He was their guy back then – and some of us were saying so, back then.

        He was the bankers’ guy in the Democratic presidential primary race. Among the last three standing in 2008, it was Obama who opposed any moratorium on home foreclosures. John Edwards supported a mandatory moratorium and Hillary Clinton said she wanted a voluntary halt to foreclosures. But Barack Obama opposed any moratorium. Let it run its course, said candidate Obama. And, true to his word, he has let the foreclosures run their catastrophic course.

        Only a few months later, when the crunch came and Finance Capital was in meltdown, who rescued Wall Street? Not George Bush. Bush tried, but he was spent, discredited, ineffective. Not John McCain. He was in a coma, coming unglued, totally ineffective.

        Bush’s bailout failed on a Monday. By Friday, Obama had convinced enough Democrats in opposition to roll over – and the bailout passed, setting the stage for a new dispensation between the American State and Wall Street, in which a permanent pipeline of tens of trillions of dollars would flow directly into Wall Street accounts, via the Federal Reserve.

        And Obama had not even been elected yet.

        “True to his word, he has let the foreclosures run their catastrophic course.”

        Obama put Social Security and Medicaid and all Entitlements on the table, in mid-January. The Republicans had suffered resounding defeat. Nobody was pressuring Obama from the Right.

        When the Right was on its ass, Obama stood up and spoke in their stead. There was no Evil Devil forcing him to put Entitlements on the chopping block. It was HIM. He was the Evil One – and it was not a Lesser Evil. It was a very Effective Evil, because the current Age of Austerity began on that day, in January, 2009.

        And Obama had not even been sworn in as president, yet.

        Who is the Effective Evil? I haven’t even gotten into his actual term as president, much less his expansion of the theaters of war, his unique assaults on International Law, and his massacre of Due Process of Law in the United States. But I want to pause right here, because piling up facts on Obama’s Most Effective Evils doesn’t seem to do any good if the prevailing conversation isn’t really about facts – but about intentions.

        The prevailing assumption on the Left is that Obama has good intentions. He intends to the Right Thing – or, at least, he intends to do better than the Republicans intend to do. It’s all supposed to be about intentions. Let’s be clear: There is absolutely no factual basis to believe he intends to do anything other than the same thing he has already done, whether Democrats control Congress or not, which is to serve Wall Street’s most fundamental interests.

        But, the whole idea of debating Obama’s intentions is ridiculous. It’s psycho-babble, not analysis. No real Left would engage in it.

        I have no doubt that New Gingrich and Republicans in general have worse intentions for the future of my people – of Black people – than Michelle Obama’s husband does. But, that doesn’t matter. Black people are not going to roll over for whatever nightmarish Apocalypse the sick mind of Newt Gingrich would like to bring about. But, they have already rolled over for Obama’s economic Apocalypse in Black America. There was been very little resistance. Which is just another way of saying that Obama has successfully blunted any retribution by organized African America against the corporate powers that have devastated and destabilized Black America in ways that have little precedence in modern times.

        “When the Right was on its ass, Obama stood up and spoke in their stead.”

        Obama has protected these Wall Streeters from what should be the most righteous wrath of Black folks. To take a riff from Shakespeare’s Othello, “Obama has done Wall Street a great service, and they know it.” He has proven to be fantastically effective at serving the Supremely Evil. Don’t you dare call him the Lesser.

        He is the More Effective Evil because Black Folks – historically, the most progressive cohort in the United States – and Liberals, and even lots of folks that call themselves Marxists, let him get away murder! Yet, people still insist on calling him a Lesser Evil, while he drives a stake through Due Process of Law.

        I have not spoken much about the second half of Obama’s first term in office. That is the period when the Left generally becomes disgusted with what they call his excessive “compromises” and “cave-ins” to Republicans. But that is a profoundly wrong reading of reality. Obama was simply continuing down his own Road to Austerity – the one he, himself, had initiated before even taking office. The only person caving in and compromising to the Republicans, was the Obama that many of YOU made up in your heads.

        The real Obama was the initiator of this Austerity nightmare – a nightmare scripted on Wall Street, which provided the core of Obama’s policy team from the very beginning. That’s why Obama’s so-called Financial Reform was so diligent in making sure that Derivatives were virtually untouched.

        The real Obama retained Bush’s Secretary of War, because he was determined to re-package the imperial enterprise and expand the scope and theaters of war.

        He would dress up the war machine head-to-foot in a Chador of Humanitarianism, and march deep and deeper into Africa.

        He would make merciless and totally unprovoked war against Libya – and then tell Congress there had been no war at all, and it was none of their business, anyway.

        And he got away with it.

        Now, that is the Most Effective Evil war mongering imaginable. Don’t you dare call him a Lesser Evil. Obama is Awesomely Evil.

        [snip... continues at the link]

      24. John Galt
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

        Everyone knows that only black people can be racist.

        http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20121014/POLITICS01/210140310

      25. Mr. X
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        Thank you, Alan. It hadn’t even occurred to me that the people wearing the “Put White Back in the White House” shirts were making a statement about institutionalized racism within the federal government.

      26. LisaD
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        While I love what they do, there is no amount of incentive you could give me to donate to SPLC. I made the mistake of sending them a $30 donation once, and they sent me requests for money at least EVERY THREE WEEKS. Not only that, but they were expensive request pieces – address labels, multiple color sheets, larger than average sizes, free booklets, etc. They must have spent $100 on these things over the next 2 years to get me to donate (until I called to ask them what they were thinking…). It didn’t net them more donations, just frustration that they would waste so much money unnecessarily on this instead of their mission (plus a desire to rant like this to whoever mentions them, clearly…)

      27. Oliva
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

        alan2102, I did mean his points, or the articulation of his views, through a body and self that was him.

      28. alan2102
        Posted October 14, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

        Oliva: Oh, OK. You seemed to be quite concerned about him being “cantankerous”, and mention his “troubling fury”, but did not mention the actual views that you found objectionable.

        To my eyes, being cantankerous, and expressing “troubling fury”, is a good sign. I would be concerned if he were NOT being or doing such things — there being so very much to be cantankerous and furious about. It is people who take the outrages in stride, and who remain polite and calm, as though nothing serious were happening, that are creepy.

      29. Oliva
        Posted October 15, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

        alan2012, for an example of the actual views to which I was referring, see your earlier comments (AC’s posted by you) above. (I get that name-calling and argufying are sports that some people enjoy, especially in comments sections, but I don’t. Call it polite; call it creepy!)

      30. anonymous
        Posted October 15, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

        I’ll have to go back through the archive and check, but I don’t recall any of you being upset about CEO pay in the past, which leads me to believe that it’s not the fact that Dees makes over $200,000 a year that you’re objecting to, but the fact that he draws attention to the terrorism perpetrated by white men.

      31. Mr. X
        Posted October 15, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

        And, this photo of witch doctor Obama is actually a nuanced statement about the availability of quality health care in the inner city.

        There is no racism. There are only good, honest, white men standing up for families of color.

        http://www.theroot.com/buzz/witch-doctor-obama-image-erected-nj?wpisrc=root_more_news

      32. anonymous
        Posted April 2, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        I’ve seen Mark Potok on TV a few times today, talking about the killings in Texas which appear to be the work of a white supremacist gang. Here’s a link to an article in the Guardian in which he’s quoted.

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/02/aryan-brotherhood-texas-prison-gang

      3 Trackbacks

      1. [...] on the subject of increased violence in our post-Tea Party world, I’d suggest listening to my interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok. This entry was posted in Michigan, Politics, Uncategorized and tagged gun violence, I-96, Kerry [...]

      2. […] to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok, who we spoke with not too long ago about the growing threat of the anti-government groups in Michigan, “Witnesses said that (the Millers) shouted ‘this is a revolution’ and draped the […]

      3. […] [If you'd like to know more about the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center, be sure to check out my recent interview with Senior Fellow Mark Potok.] […]

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