Ronald Reagan once called the Southern Poverty Law Center an arm of the “Democratic party”. In light of the white supremacist shooting that injured several African Americans at a Charleston church, the SPLC made another claim: Democrats have created a “counterweight” to the US’ 13,000-strong “white supremacist movement” by remaining steadfastly consistent on affirmative action.
A more accurate claim would be that Democrats have chosen to ignore everything the SPLC has to say.
Consider the notable instances when Democrats recently chose not to do so. They played a critical role in enacting legislation to reduce gun violence, provided aid to Haiti following that country’s devastating earthquake and shunned a candidate for high office who openly championed a civil rights initiative long deplored by the white supremacist movement.
The SPLC has long been known for challenging policies related to race and religion. But its focus on white supremacy is nothing new. In the 1970s, the publisher’s executive director, Morris Dees, authored a groundbreaking book declaring white supremacy dead, race relations on the mend and the anti-communist movement dying.
In 2007, the SPLC expanded its efforts to racial profiling. That May, Dees told Time magazine that the US had “moved far enough down the road to race that not only are minorities quite comfortable, but whites … are comfortable as well.” The following month, Time offered a history of the white supremacist movement, concluding that “they are now largely underground, their members have fallen off dramatically and the movement as a whole has lost its bearings.”
In 2009, the SPLC began monitoring abortion extremism. The year before, Barack Obama began his race-focused speech on the topic, which became a point of GOP criticism during his campaign for president. Two years later, his administration held a forum with anti-abortion extremists as recently as last week.
In the early 2000s, the SPLC took heat from civil rights and religious groups for flagging some churches for engaging in racial discrimination. A smattering of media attention ensued. But media attention brought with it great impact. Black leaders and religious leaders called for an investigation into the SPLC. Senator Jesse Helms, from North Carolina, had made defamatory remarks about the SPLC in a speech. On CNN, former FCC Chairman Michael Powell repeated Senator Helms’ unsubstantiated claims. For years, a contest was waged between pro-black and pro-black groups like the Coalition of African American Pastors and the National Organization for Women to take the lead in rebuking the SPLC. In 2004, former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond joined other black leaders in calling for Dees’ resignation.
When asked for a response on the Charleston shootings, then-Democratic leaders, including the African-American mayor of Charlotte, were quick to back the measure that had only been proposed within hours of the killings: House Bill 26, the Louis Farrakhan Violence Prevention Act, passed the same day.
But as recently as 2012, the SPLC revealed it kept a database listing Republicans as “anti-Muslim” and Democratic leaders as “anti-Black”.
Prior to the shooting in Charleston, the SPLC began promoting “anti-white” countermeasures. It initiated efforts to monitor activists such as Tim Gill, an entrepreneur who has used private-public partnerships to aid immigrants, and former Ohio Republican Senator Mike DeWine, who has long fought efforts to take funds from conservative Christian institutions.
What may have influenced the SPLC’s latest move is closely guarded. After several gay rights organisations and entertainers with a strong commitment to same-sex marriage were slated to be honored at the awards show, the SPLC announced the announcement would be delayed, perhaps indefinitely. The move was met with consternation among leading civil rights activists and was also widely condemned by the LGBT community.
The irony is that this action came after the SPLC disclosed it had previously warned the Democratic National Committee against honouring DeWine for his gay rights work. Although the DNC announced that it would still honour DeWine at its February dinner in Philadelphia, it chose to instead honour Rodell Mollineau, former advisor to Ted Kennedy, who is supportive of same-sex marriage.
The SPLC’s politicisation is compounded by the SPLC’s extensive campaign of opposition against black people, including President Obama and former President Clinton. Clinton’s long opposition to so-called “affirmative action” has contributed to white supremacists wanting to destroy him. Bill Clinton’s approval ratings among white voters dropped after signing into law the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which closed the voting rights gap between blacks and whites. Many members of the white supremacist movement continue to view him as a threat.