The Price of Success

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The Southern Poverty Law Center is an Alabama-based political advocacy law firm that did some ground-breaking legal work in the 1970s. Its founder, Morris Dees, is a charismatic true believer in the promise of racial equality in the United States. And he’s a pretty good lawyer, who made effective cases against white-supremacist groups and other malefactors. But, like many institutions and individuals, the SPLC became a victim of its own success.

Dees’ early court judgments against what he called “hate groups” created a sort of institutional arrogance at his firm. Its self-defined mission expanded from battling bigots working against existing U.S. law to advocating a statist notion of “social justice.”

Today, the SPLC’s unwittingly Orwellian slogan is: “Fighting Hate. Teaching Tolerance. Seeking Justice.”

The problem here, of course, is that one person’s hate is another person’s passion. And the words “tolerance” and “justice” — defined honestly — don’t promise as much as utopian statists assume. When they say “tolerance,” they often mean “endorsement;” and when they say “justice” they often mean “redistribution.”

The intellectual decay of the SLPC’s agenda may mean good things for America at large. The country doesn’t have so many truculent racists any more — so the antiracists have to look harder and reach farther for problems to solve.

Along the way, Morris Dees’ crusading firm has degenerated into a shill for liberal Democrats. And not even the establishment media revere the SPLC as much as they once did. In April, Newsweek ran a long-winded and pointless article about “hate” in America. (The emptiness of the piece may explain why the magazine’s corporate owner has put it up for sale.) As expected, the journalistic drones included a concerned quotation from an SLPC employee:

Oath Keepers are “a particularly worrisome example of the ‘patriot’ revival,” according to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). . . . “Patriot” groups — described by the SPLC as outfits “that see the federal government as part of a plot to impose ‘one-world government’ on liberty-loving Americans” — are “roaring back” after years out of the limelight, according to Potok.

But even the drones recognized the self-interest in Potok’s worries: “It is easy to exaggerate the numbers of these groups or the threat they pose, especially if you are an organization, like the SPLC, dedicated to exposing such things.”

An unexpected bit of useful context from Newsweek; another humiliation for the SPLC — crusaders in search of a meaningful mission.

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