- - Friday, March 28, 2014

Something called the Southern Poverty Law Center sounds like a harmless do-good organization of idealistic young lawyers out to make life better for poor folks in the South, most of them likely black. Who wouldn’t want to make life better for poor folks?

But looks can be deceiving. The poverty law center, known by its initials SPLC, is actually a money-making scheme — some have called it a “scam” — of an Alabama lawyer who set out years ago to get rich on the backs of the poor and the duped.

The lawyer, Morris Dees, once defended Ku Klux Klansmen accused of beating up a black reporter covering the Freedom Riders, later raised money for George Wallace and then for George McGovern, and one day had an epiphany, or at least a profitable idea.

“I felt the anger of a black person for the first time,” he later said of that case, “I vowed then and there that nobody would ever again doubt where I stood.”


Where he stood was a place where he could parlay the good will of the unsuspecting into great riches. Mr. Dees and a partner, Millard Fuller, practiced law and ran a direct-marketing business. He made a good living, but he wanted to get rich.

Morris and I … shared the overriding purpose of making a pile of money,” the partner once told Harper’s magazine. “We were not particular about how we did it. We just wanted to be independently rich.”

With his conscience in tatters, Millard Fuller sold his share of the business to Mr. Dees, gave the proceeds to charity, moved away and founded Habitat for Humanity, building houses for the poor.

Morris Dees stayed in Alabama and built a 200-acre estate with tennis courts, a swimming pool and stables for his horses, and instead of doing good, did well.

“Poverty” quickly became enormously profitable. He was soon collecting millions and paying himself a salary far in excess of those paid to the heads of such advocacy groups as the ACLU, the Children’s Defense Fund and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

The director of the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights, which defends poor defendants in death-penalty cases, once told Mr. Dees he was “a fraud and a con man” because of “your failure to respond to the most desperate needs of the poor and powerless despite your millions upon millions, your fundraising techniques, and the fact that you spend so much, accomplish so little, and promote yourself so shamelessly.”

Mr. Dees and his “center” continued to slander the innocent and raise money from the unsuspecting, warning in fundraising appeals of “a firestorm” of hate that would soon “engulf the land.”

The SPLC never identifies the hate groups about to engulf the land, who they are or where they are assembling their regiments of engulfers. With the Ku Klux Klan shrinking to insignificance, the SPLC, which is thought to be sitting on a treasury of a quarter of a billion dollars, has lately turned its lurid appeals to prosperous but frightened gays.

“Hate crimes” by SPLC definition now include Christian opposition to same-sex marriage.

This week it emerged that the FBI, which has included SPLC data as “a resource,” has finally severed its link with the organization and dumped SPLC from the bureau’s Hate Crime Web page.

The FBI offered no explanation of why now, but the dumping follows appeals of 15 family groups to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and FBI Director James B. Comey to sever the connection. We think that was a good day’s work.