The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) sparked a firestorm this week after it added several prominent parental rights groups to its annual “Hate and Extremism” report, including Parents Defending Education and Moms for Liberty, describing them as “hard-right” and “reactionary anti-student inclusion groups.”
According to the new SPLC report, schools “have been on the receiving end of ramped-up and coordinated hard-right attacks.”
After being “spurred by the right-wing backlash to COVID-19 public safety measures,” parental rights groups appeared to have “grown into an anti-student inclusion movement that targets any inclusive curriculum that contains discussions of race, discrimination and LGBTQ identities,” according to the SPLC, which has tax-exempt status from the IRS.
“Like many other hard-right groups, these reactionary anti-student inclusion groups are constantly painting themselves as an oppressed class, while vilifying those discriminated against,” the SPLC added.
The SPLC itself has faced a long history of allegations of discrimination while it simultaneously purports to be a “catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond.”
Despite its controversial past, the SPLC often partners with the federal government and is frequently cited as a reference by agencies at the state and federal levels.
For instance, the SPLC began partnering with the FBI in 2007 for its “Cold Case Initiative” seeking to identify racially-motivated murders committed decades ago, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ), and SPLC research and data analyst Zachary Mahafza was recently enlisted as a panelist who helped shape the administration’s “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights.”
1. The SPLC’s co-founder was driven from the organization and multiple other executives resigned following accusations of rampant internal racism and sexism
Founded in 1971, the Alabama-based SPLC gained prominence in the 1980s for winning several civil lawsuits on the behalf of Ku Klux Klan victims. However, with the exception of its co-founder Morris Dees, the SPLC’s entire legal staff resigned in protest in 1986 over a disagreement about the organization’s direction. They wanted to focus on civil rights while Dees wanted to continue targeting white supremacist groups like the KKK, AL.com reported in 2019.
In 1994, the Montgomery Advertiser published an eight-part series about the SPLC that went on to be a Pulitzer Prize finalist, examining the “litany of problems and questionable practices at the SPLC, including a deeply troubled history with its relatively few black employees, some of whom reported hearing the use of racial slurs by the organization’s staff and others who ‘likened the center to a plantation’” and “misleading donors with aggressive direct-mail tactics,” the publication’s former managing editor, Jim Tharpe, recounted in a 2019 op-ed for The Washington Post.
Tharpe’s editorial came soon after the SPLC fired Dees in March 2019 following accusations of unchecked internal racism and sexism. His ouster came after the SPLC faced two dozen employee complaints saying its workplace fostered an intolerable workplace environment, including mistreatment, sexual harassment and a lack of diversity based on race and gender.
The New York Times reported at the time that several employees were subject to “racially callous remarks” and that some on staff were sidelined because of their skin color – ultimately affecting their pay and advancement within the organization.
“As a civil rights organization, the SPLC is 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,” SPLC’s then-president Richard Cohen said at the time. “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.”
Cohen later stepped down from the organization amid the harassment and diversity allegations.
Amid the scandal, The New Yorker’s Bob Moser, who worked for the SPLC as a writer from 2001 to 2004, wrote a piece slamming the lack of diversity at the nonprofit.
“But nothing was more uncomfortable than the racial dynamic that quickly became apparent: a fair number of what was then about a hundred employees were African-American, but almost all of them were administrative and support staff—‘the help,’ one of my black colleagues said pointedly,” Moser wrote at the time. “The ‘professional staff’—the lawyers, researchers, educators, public-relations officers, and fund-raisers—were almost exclusively white. Just two staffers, including me, were openly gay.”
2. SPLC union members protested the organization’s ‘inequitable’ policies last year
The 2019 scandal prompted SPLC staff to unionize that December in an effort to enact more equitable policies. In March 2022, the union organized an employee protest, claiming there was a racial disparity in the nonprofit’s return-to-work policy.
“Black women, many of whom have been working at this organization for decades in positions with little or no opportunities for advancement are four times more likely to be denied telework and/or remote work than white women and are seven times more likely to be denied telework options than white men at the Center,” the SPLC Union wrote in a news release about the protest held in Montgomery.
The union said the event aimed to “protest management’s forcing mostly Black women employees to return to the office while allowing the option of remote work for white and higher-paid employees.”
The SPLC’s current president and CEO, Margaret Huang, defended the organization’s policies in a statement, saying the SPLC had created a flexible work model that allowed staff in certain, eligible roles to work entirely remotely.
“We have nearly 400 employees and have identified only 9% of employees whose positions require them to be in the office, performing activities such as processing legal mail and donor contributions,” Huang said at the time.
3. A D.C. gunman said SPLC’s ‘hate map’ motivated his attack on the Family Research Council
Critics have long accused the SPLC of falsely slapping the “hate group” label on non-violent groups that hold traditional beliefs about hot-button issues such as gay marriage and abortion.
One of those conservative Christian groups, the Family Research Council (FRC), was targeted in August 2012 by a gunman who said he was driven by the SPLC’s “hate map.”
A man named Floyd Lee Corkins II showed up to the FRC building in Washington, D.C, with a 9 mm pistol, multiple ammunition clips and a box of extra rounds.
Prosecutors said his mission was to “kill as many people as possible,” but one heroic building manager’s action was ”the only thing that prevented Floyd Corkins, II from carrying out a mass shooting.”
The shooter opened fire, striking Leo Johnson, an office manager who successfully tackled him until police arrived, preventing the intended massacre. The shooter, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges including terrorism, told the FBI that he found FRC on the SPLC’s “hate map.”
“Southern Poverty Law lists, uh, anti-gay groups,” Corkins told the FBI, according to interrogation footage. “I found them online — did a little research, went to the website, stuff like that.”
More than 10 years after the attack and the FRC is still listed as an “anti-LGBTQ” hate group by the SPLC, while other organizations that have openly carried out attacks on organizations across the country have not been included on its website. Jane’s Revenge, for example, has taken responsibility for dozens of attacks against pro-life and pregnancy centers from coast to coast since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but is not listed as a “hate group” on the SPLC website or even mentioned, according to a search of the site.
4. The SPLC maintains vast amounts of cash in offshore entities
Despite being based in Alabama, the SPLC has for years held vast amounts of cash in offshore accounts, which has led to criticism of its finances.
According to its most recent financial audit, the group reported $138 million in non-U.S. equity funds as of Oct. 31, 2022. The Washington Free Beacon previously reported its offshore money has included accounts in the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands.
The SPLC is a fundraising powerhouse and has pulled in substantial cash from the “hate” industry. The group reported $108 million in contributions and $723 million in total assets on its most recent tax forms.
Amid the 2019 scandal that led to Dees’ firing, a former staffer came forward, claiming that the SPLC used its “hate group” accusation to exaggerate hate in a fundraising scheme to “bilk” donors.
In 2000, nearly two decades before Dees’ firing, Harpers Magazine’s Ken Silverstein published a series characterizing the SPLC co-founder as a con man profiting off of white guilt, as most of SPLC donors were white, and accusing the organization of spending “most of its time – and money – on a relentless fund-raising campaign, peddling memberships in the church of tolerance with all the zeal of a circuit rider passing the collection plate.”
Gloria Browne, a lawyer who resigned from the SPLC in the early ‘90s, told The Montgomery Advertiser at the time that the organization was cashing in on “black pain and white guilt.”
5. The SPLC supports parents’ rights when it comes to gender-reassignment treatments and surgeries
Despite SPLC’s new decision to consider conservative parents’ rights groups “extreme,” it claims parental rights are at the heart of its fight for transgender kids to be able to access sex-change treatments and medical procedures.
In March, the SPLC Action Fund issued a statement condemning Georgia’s new law banning doctors from performing gender-reassignment surgeries or prescribing hormone replacements to Georgians under 18.
“Denying safe, effective medical treatment to transgender youth — based only on prejudice and political pandering — is inhumane,” the group said in March after the bill passed the state Senate. “The SPLC Action Fund urges Gov. Brian Kemp to leave personal healthcare decisions in the capable hands of parents, children, and their doctors by vetoing S.B. 140.”
6. The SPLC was ordered to pay $3.375 million after branding a reformed Islamist an ‘anti-Muslim extremist’
In 2018, the SPLC agreed to publicly apologize and pay $3.375 million in damages after branding British anti-extremism group Quilliam Foundation and its founder, Maajid Nawaz, “anti-Muslim” extremists.
“We’ve found that Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam have made valuable and important contributions to public discourse, including by promoting pluralism and condemning both anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamist extremism,” Cohen, the then-SPLC president, said in his apology. “Although we may have our differences with some of the positions that Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam have taken, they are most certainly not anti-Muslim extremists.”
7. The SPLC was forced to apologize and retract a 3-part series painting liberal journalists as Russian pawns
In March 2018, the SPLC was forced to retract and apologize for an article that falsely asserted several reporters were enabling white supremacists and Russia while labeling them as fascists and racists.
The SPLC published the misleading article by Alexander Reid Ross headlined, “The multipolar spin: how fascists operationalize left-wing resentment.” The story attempted to frame progressive journalists as pawns being used by the alt-right and made dangerous accusations in an attempt to fit its narrative.
The convoluted 2,500-plus word article was removed the following day after journalist Max Blumenthal, who was named in the article, expressed concern that he was falsely portrayed as being part of a nefarious plot by Kremlin-backed white supremacists to advance a fascist agenda. Several of the named reporters were minorities well-known for activism on the antiwar and antiracism fronts.
The SPLC published a lengthy apology and retracted the story, as well as the two other stories in the three-part series.
8. The SPLC apologized after labeling Ben Carson an ‘extremist’
In May 2016, the SPLC apologized to Ben Carson after placing the then-potential Republican presidential candidate on its “Extremist Watch List” — which is mostly made up of hate groups and white supremacists — for allegedly being “anti-gay.”
“In October 2014, we posted an ‘Extremist File’ of Dr. Ben Carson,” SPLC wrote on its website. “This week, as we’ve come under intense criticism for doing so, we’ve reviewed our profile and have concluded that it did not meet our standards, so we have taken it down and apologize to Dr. Carson for having posted it.”
Among the reasons the SPLC gave for initially putting Carson on the list included a March 26, 2013, interview on Fox News’ “Hannity.”
In that interview, Carson said: “Marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s a well-established pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Love Association], be they people who believe in bestiality — it doesn’t matter what they are, they don’t get to change the definition.”
Though the SPLC apologized for putting Carson on the list, it maintained that Carson “made a number of statements that express views that we believe most people would conclude are extreme” and said “we believe that his views should be closely examined.”
9. The SPLC works with students and educators on far-left ‘justice’ initiatives
The SPLC, through its Learning for Justice program, works with students and educators to push its far-left mission.
Learning for Justice, previously called Teaching Tolerance, seeks to be a “catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements and advance the human rights of all people,” according to its website.
The project pushes its mission through four core areas: culture and climate, curriculum and instruction, leadership, and family and community engagement. Its educational resources include articles, guides, lessons, films, webinars and frameworks to “help foster shared learning and reflection for educators, young people, caregivers and all community members.”
The project is currently taking action “to support LGBTQ+ youth in increasingly hostile school environments and in our communities,” its website states.
10. An SPLC attorney was arrested on domestic terrorism charges during the ‘Cop City’ attack
A Georgia-based SPLC staff attorney, Tom Jurgens, was arrested following the Georgia “Cop City” terror attack earlier this year.
Jurgens was one of nearly two dozen radical activists arrested for domestic terrorism after a protest of the proposed 85-acre Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, labeled by opponents as “Cop City,” turned into a violent assault on law enforcement. The individuals arrested conducted a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers at the site east of Atlanta, using large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks.
The SPLC rushed to the defense of Jurgens and the domestic terror suspects by shifting the blame to the police.
“This is part of a months-long escalation of policing tactics against protesters and observers who oppose the destruction of the Weelaunee Forest to build a police training facility,” the SPLC said in a statement.
“The SPLC has and will continue to urge de-escalation of violence and police use of force against Black, Brown and Indigenous communities — working in partnership with these communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements and advance the human rights of all people.”
The SPLC did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.
Fox News’ Brian Flood and Emma Colton, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.