Were the SPLC to cease operation tomorrow, Family Research Council would still be a hate group. Tony Perkins would still be a vile bigot.

Tony Perkins
via YouTube/Fox News

Hate group leader Tony Perkins of Family Research Council has been on an anti-SPLC tear of late. I take this to mean that when the Southern Poverty Law Center deems an organization a hate group it has real consequences. Perkins is desperate to have the listing become meaningless; something that is highly unlikely to occur. It would be smarter to be introspective.

Wednesday evening, Perkins merged dishonest rhetoric with extreme vitriol and a shout-out to Senator Tom Cotton. Mr. Cotton has an enviable background welded, from time to time, with irrationality. His comments to Fox News were arguments from ignorance (I’ll get to those shortly).

You would think that the villagers are at the door of the SPLC with torches:

For Southern Poverty Law Center, who’s desperately trying to stay afloat now that the world knows about its culture of systematic racism and bigotry, a bad month just got worse. While SPLC is busy pretending nothing’s wrong (or worse, trying to fundraise off of what is), the story of the disgraced organization just took an interesting twist. While the liberal media is being forced to address SPLC’s lack of credibility, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is hoping to hit the group where it hurts: their wallet.

The Southern Poverty Law Center remains a highly credible, well funded organization on a solid footing. In addition to the now departed Mr. Dees, the SPLC employs over 300 people. Many of those are exceptional lawyers. The organization has admitted that it has a problem with its organizational culture and has taken positive steps to improve. The SPLC has been quite transparent in that regard, That begs a few of questions:

  1. What does any of this have to do with Family Research Council’s listing as a hate group?
  2. Rather than the ad hominem attack, what has Family Research Council done to encourage the SPLC to remove its listing as a hate group?
  3. The SPLC has fully explained why FRC is listed as a hate group. What specific errors have they made? What does the SPLC say that is incorrect?

There are 1.7 million federally tax-exempt nonprofit organizations in the United States. As of March 11, over 225,000 are readily identifiable as Christian (there are probably many more). 47 groups are listed by the SPLC as anti-LGBT hate groups.

Which brings us to Senator Cotton:

Tom Cotton would seem to have all the tools of an ideal legislator. Cotton has both a BA and JD from Harvard. He enlisted in the army in 2005, turning down opportunities to join JAG. Instead he chose to be an infantry officer. For his service he received a Bronze Star Medal. At 37 he is early in his career development. Cotton’s problem is that he is becoming increasingly irrational, possibly in service to future political ambitions.

Quoting Tony Perkins:

On Fox News to talk about the request, Senator Cotton pointed out just how shady the SPLC’s financial dealings have been. “I don’t know many [nonprofits] that send their endowment overseas. Charity Watch gives them an F rating. They have become a hate group themselves and use that to stigmatize opponents. There are plenty of groups on the Left I don’t agree with, but I don’t stigmatize them as a hate group and peddle that to CNN and the New York Times.” Not to mention, he went on, the horrible allegations of workplace misconduct. “Talk about misusing funds! The founder was paid $400,000 a year. They do nothing other than sexually harass young women working in the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

I can answer Cotton first question. For organizations filing a form 990 during 2017, with the exception of private foundations, there were 2,561 with assets over $300 million. Of those, 546 had offshore accounts. Those are all highly regarded charities including a number of Christian organizations. With the inclusion of private foundations there would obviously be many more (the IRS has not made the PF extract available). Thousands of charities with assets under $300 million have offshore accounts but I wanted to be fair.

Charity Watch, the smallest of the charity watchdogs, thinks that the SPLC’s reserves are too large:

This rating has been downgraded from “B” due to the charity having 6.60 years worth of available assets in reserve.

I agree in part that the SPLC could spend more of its income. The four-tier downgrade reveals some bias in my opinion. Family Research Council has no rating at all.

I am not sure why Mr. Dees’ salary is an issue. In 2017 he received $357,234 (to be accurate). That same year the (minuscule by comparison) Catholic League paid William Donohue $511,731. In 2016 (the latest year for which data is available) the Christian legal group, Alliance Defending Freedom paid Alan Sears (now retired) $389,598.

As for what the Southern Poverty Law Center does, here is part of a March 26 email:

My name is Bryan Fair. I’m an African-American professor of constitutional law. I’m also the chair of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s board of directors, and, like my fellow board members, I serve without compensation. I serve for one reason and one reason alone: I believe in the SPLC’s work. Because of your support, right now:

  • We’re suing in federal court to block a cruel Trump administration scheme that will strip Medicaid coverage from more than 100,000 low-income people in Arkansas and Kentucky.
  • We’re suing a private, for-profit prison company that’s fattening its bottom line by forcing detained immigrants to cook, clean, and maintain its prison for as little as $1 day.
  • We’re launching a new voting rights campaign to challenge racially discriminatory laws and to increase voter engagement in Deep South communities that have long been marginalized.
  • We’re in the middle of a multiyear legal battle against Alabama to stop the barbaric treatment of people in prisons who have mental illness and to ensure that all people incarcerated by the state have access to proper medical care.
  • We’ve launched multiple federal court challenges to the Trump administration’s immigration policies and its assault on our asylum system, including the policy of detaining children for long periods to use as bait to deport potential sponsors.
  • We’re fighting a series of cases to stop the shocking abuses of poor people who are being exploited in the justice system with excessive fees and fines.
  • We’re fighting to ban “conversion therapy,” a dangerous and discredited practice based on the false premise that being gay or transgender is a disorder that should be cured.
  • We’re providing free classroom resources to every school in the country to counter the increase in bullying and harassment, and the anxiety among students of color that teachers have reported to us since the 2016 election.
  • We’re providing educators and schools with grants to empower them to kick off projects that improve school climates and help students thrive in a diverse society.
  • We’re conducting face-to-face trainings across the country for teachers to help them implement anti-bias instruction in their classrooms.
  • We’re successfully pressuring Silicon Valley companies to remove far-right extremists from internet platforms that help them raise money, recruit members, and spread radicalizing propaganda that stokes violence — such as the attacks on Muslims, Jews, and others we saw on the eve of the midterms and in New Zealand.
  • We’re pushing back against the alarming increase in hate groups — now a record number — and the resurgent white supremacist movement in our country.
  • We’re launching a campaign to remove Confederate monuments — symbols of white supremacy — on public grounds and educate students about the continuing legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

We’re doing this work because countless people continue to face discrimination and exploitation.

So I have two questions for Senator Cotton:

  1. Why did you not ask the SPLC these questions? They are very easy to contact.
  2. Do you have any other questions which demonstrate how uninformed you are?

I would pose these question to Cotton’s office. However, he has reacted to questions and comments that he does not like by making complaints to the police.

Family Research Council has every reason to be designated an anti-LGBT hate group. When it comes to LGBT people they are rabid bigots who seek to marginalize their very existence. They rely on junk science to criticize LGBT people and to champion things like conversion therapy. FRC’s rhetoric is at odds with every mainstream medical and counseling professional organization. Were the SPLC to cease operation tomorrow, Family Research Council would still be a hate group. Tony Perkins would still be a vile bigot.

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By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.