The South Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to securing equal justice and opportunity for all people. They have founded a blog to monitor hate groups called “Hatewatch” that tracks the development, activities, criminal enterprises, and prosecution of extremists and other hate groups in the United States.
“Founded by civil rights lawyers Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr. in 1971, the SPLC is internationally known for tracking and exposing the activities of hate groups.” (SPLC) Based in Montgomery, Alabama, with offices in Atlanta, Ga., New Orleans, La., Miami, Fla., and Jackson, Miss., the SPLC wages war against hate and extremism through litigation and advocacy on behalf of minorities, children, immigrants, LGBT and other rights.
According to Hatewatch, there are currently “939 known hate groups operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others.” (SPLC) The SPLC exposes the activities of these groups to law enforcement and the public through Hatewatch, the Intelligence Report and a quarterly journal.
They have prosecuted hate groups for violent acts, including murder, most notably in the case of Donald v. United Klans of America, an incident in which two Klan members beat 19-year-old Michael Donald, a black man, cut his throat, and hung him from a tree on a Mobile, Alabama street. The 1981 incident led to the arrest and conviction of two Klan members and a successful wrongful death suit by the SPLC brought on behalf of Donald’s mother which resulted in a $7 million verdict against the killers in 1987. “The verdict marked the end of the United Klans, the same group that had beaten the Freedom Riders in 1961, murdered civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo in 1965, and bombed Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963.” (SPLC)
With an increase in hate groups in the U.S. of 56% since 2000, there is good cause to maintain a vigilant watch against the kind of rhetoric and criminal activities that have taken on a new face, and with the failure to pass any meaningful gun regulation, a new urgency, in this country. Americans have come to expect a violent confrontation every week as a result, and the SPLC, operating from the birthplace of the modern civil rights movement, has a long history of investigating extremists and their organizations.
At a time when immigration has become a hot-button issue and the economy fuels fear and anger at immigrants seeking jobs and a better life, splinter groups are appearing on the national radar at an increasing pace. So-called “patriot” groups are also increasing as fear and hatred are at an all-time high, with politicians and media figures capitalizing on the chaos to promote their own agendas.
However, the venue of the SPLC is the courtroom. Using the courts to wage war against hate groups, lawyers for the SPLC accept no legal fees and operate solely on donations from their supporters. The group also funds a Teaching Tolerance program that works with educators to teach children acceptance of all people and provides curriculum guides and other materials. In addition to its work with law enforcement, the SPLC offers training to police officers in order to assist them in recognizing hate crimes and providing information on handling investigation into the incidents.
In their enthusiasm to investigate and prosecute hate groups, SPLC members have become targets of these extremists. The SPLC headquarters in Montgomery has been firebombed (1983) and plots against Morris Dees or the SPLC have resulted in arrests and convictions of hate group members. There are numerous lawsuits currently pending that are monitored on the group’s website. The SPLC also publishes a variety of publications on different hate groups, conspiracy theorists, anti-gay propaganda, anti-immigrant legislation information, as well as educational materials for teaching tolerance.
In the wake of the numerous shooting incidents in this country by extremists, the Hatewatch blog offers updates on the affiliations of some of the perpetrators of these heinous acts. A litany of hate-filled posts and subversive threats usually proceeds some of these incidents, and Hatewatch acts as a bellwether, hoping to warn law enforcement and the country before some incendiary event occurs.
The SPLC’s website is a fascinating (albeit frightening) look into the nightmare world of American hate groups and the devastation they create, as well as the devastation they engender. The SPLC admits they can’t achieve equality through their efforts alone; they offer up the hope that the young people of America will rise to the task and discourage the spread of these detrimental organizations and bring an end to the cancer of hatred growing in this country.
Southern Poverty Law Center, “Hatewatch,” http://www.splcenter.org/what-we-do/hate-and-extremism