Thanks to the generosity of four decades’ worth of donors, many of whom—as SPLC president Richard Cohen himself noted in a telephone interview with me—are aging Northern-state “1960s liberals” who continue to associate “Southern” and “poverty” with lynchings, white-hooded Klansmen, and sitting at the back of the bus, and thanks also to what can only be described as the sheer genius at direct-mail marketing of Dees, the SPLC’s 76-year-old lawyer-founder, who was already a multimillionaire by the late 1960s from the direct-mail sales of everything from doormats to cookbooks, the SPLC is probably the richest poverty organization in the history of the world.
From its very beginning the SPLC, thanks to Dees’s talent for crafting multi-page alarmist fundraising letters, has not only continuously operated in the black, but has steadily accumulated a mountain of surpluses augmented by a shrewdly managed investment portfolio. Today the SPLC’s net assets total more than $256 million (that figure appears on the SPLC’s 2011 tax return, the latest posted on the organization’s website). That represented a more-than-doubling of the $120 million in net assets that the SPLC reported in 2000, which was itself more than a doubling of the $52 million in net assets that the SPLC reported during the mid-1990s. (…)
Cockburn was following on the heels of Ken Silverstein, who in 2000 wrote an article for the reliably liberal Harper’s magazine titled “The Church of Morris Dees.” Silverstein accused the SPLC of manufacturing connections between the “hate groups” that it highlighted in its numerous mailings—back then the groups on the SPLC list tended to be mostly fringe militia organizations—and the Columbine-style school shootings and a wave of black-church arsons during the 1990s that were a staple of the SPLC’s direct-mail panic pleas.
“Horrifying as such incidents are, hate groups commit almost no violence,” Silverstein wrote. “More than 95 percent of all ‘hate crimes,’ including most of the incidents SPLC letters cite (bombings, church burnings, school shootings), are perpetrated by ‘lone wolves.’
Even Timothy McVeigh [perpetrator of the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people], subject of one of the most extensive investigations in the FBI’s history—and one of the most extensive direct-mail campaigns in the SPLC’s—was never credibly linked to any militia organization.”