Watching the Watchdogs readers of a certain age may remember actor Steve Martin’s 1979 debut film, The Jerk. In one memorable scene, Martin’s character, the naive country boy, Navin Johnson, is ecstatic to find his name listed in the local telephone directory.
“The new phone book is here! The new phone book is here!!” shouts Navin, as he wildly leaps and prances about. Navin’s boss, played by deadpan comic Jackie Mason, observes, “I wish I could get that excited about nothin’.”
Navin counters breathlessly, “I’m somebody now! Millions of people look at this thing every day! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity… your name in print… that makes people!!”
The parallels between this classic comedy scene and the latest iteration of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual “Hate Map” are manifold: Spontaneous publicity. Your name in print. Millions of naive people looking at this thing and getting excited about nothin’.
For the benefit of new Watching the Watchdogs readers, let’s take a moment to recap the key facts about the Hate Map that need to be understood before delving into what is, to borrow a phrase from another classic comedy, ” … a show about nothing.”
1. The Hate Map is compiled each year by the SPLC’s master Public Relations chief, Mark Potok, and purports to identify the number of “hate groups” across America on a state-by-state basis. Mr. Potok’s maps always refer to the previous calendar year.
2. There is no legal definition for “hate group,” which is why even the FBI does not, cannot, designate “hate groups,” yet somehow a private fundraising outfit can?
Mr. Potok has no legal or law enforcement background and admits that all of his data are second hand, at best, and that his infamous Hate Map “does not include original reporting by SPLC staff.” The SPLC is a private fundraising group run by white millionaires. It has no mandate, receives no outside oversight and has no authority, legal or moral, to designate anything.
In short, the SPLC has no more authority to designate “hate groups” than does the SPCA.
3. Mr. Potok provides absolutely NO evidence to prove that the groups he is designating actually exist. In many cases, Mr. Potok cannot even provide the name of a city or town where the alleged group is supposed to reside. Investigative journalist Laird Wilcox pointed out this lack of hard evidence as far back as 1998, in his seminal exposé of the SPLC and other so-called “civil rights” groups, The Watchdogs.
What [the SPLC] apparently did was list any group they could find mention of, including groups only rumored to exist. These included the large number of “post office box chapters” maintained by Klan and skinhead organizations. Some Christian Identity “ministries” consist only one person and a mailing list and many “patriot groups” consist of but three or four friends.
They also listed many groups whose actual affiliation is neither KKK nor neo-Nazi and who would argue with the designation of “white supremacy.” In short, they misleadingly padded their list. When the SPLC releases their list, either in print or on the Internet, it fails to contain actual addresses that might be checked by journalists or researchers. Several listings refer to “unknown group” and the name of a city or town. — The Watchdogs, p. 79
Mark Potok admitted as much a decade later:
“Potok says inclusion on the list might come from a minor presence, such as a post office box.” (www.sanluisobispo.com, March 25, 2009)
4. As noted, in many cases, Mr. Potok does not even bother to provide a physical location for his alleged groups. Last year, 247 of his 1,017 alleged “hate groups” were homeless, or about one in four. This year, 195 of his 1,007 alleged groups are phantoms, or about one in five.
In 2011, Watching the Watchdogs actually got to ask Mr. Potok in person about these missing groups. As the video clip below shows, Mr. Potok was startled by the question at first, as no one apparently has ever bothered to vet his numbers before, and he then proceeds to stammer out that his “hate map,” the keystone of all SPLC claims and fundraising rhetoric, is “anecdotal,” “a very rough measure” and “an imperfect process.”
Sadly, the tens of thousands of well-meaning people who sent Mr. Potok and the SPLC more than $40 MILLION tax-free dollars in 2012, (that’s more than $4,600 dollars every single hour of every day) didn’t realize that his Hate Map numbers were just a wild guess. Those trusting folks took Mr. Potok at his word that his data were sound.
So now that we’ve established Mr. Potok’s credentials and the accuracy of his data, let’s take a closer look at his actual numbers, which again, is something no professional news outlet seems willing to do.
In Point 4 above, we skimmed quickly over a monumental and wholly unprecedented event: For the first time in SPLC history… the number of “hate groups” designated by Mark Potok… actuallyDECLINED!
Yes. You heard it here first, folks. Something we never thought we’d see has come to pass and gives a very strong indication that the days of Mr. Potok’s primary fundraising tool, his much-lauded and oft-quoted Hate Map, are numbered.
This turn of events comes as a complete surprise, as Mr. Potok is the sole arbiter of the “hate group” label, and since no one ever checks on his numbers, why didn’t he just pad the numbers a little more as he has always done in the past?
Every March, Mr. Potok releases his new “hate group” numbers in the Spring edition of his flagship “Intelligence Report” publication. Mr. Potok ignored the fact that his numbers actually went down for the first time in history, “…the number of hate groups remained essentially unchanged last year…,” choosing to focus on his newest marketing ploy, evil “militia” groups. We’ll have a look at those numbers in a minute.
Potok provides a bar graph to illustrate his claim that the number of “hate groups” has increased by 67% since 2000:
It’s worth noting at this point that the SPLC’s bloated “Endowment Fund” has increased by 147% in just the past decade, from $99,000,000 to over $245,000,000.
Comparing the two charts, a case could be made linking the increase of cash in the Endowment Fund to the increase in “hate groups.”
Or maybe it’s the other way around…
Purely a happy coincidence, no doubt, but it must be getting tougher to sell “poverty” to the donors when you’ve got nearly a quarter-BILLION dollars in cash reserves. Last year, the Endowment Fund generated more than $18 MILLION dollars in tax-free interest.
In November, 2008, immediately after the election of President Obama, Mr. Potok predicted “explosive growth in hate groups” due to “… the tanking economy and a Black man in the White House. Mr. Potok is still singing this same tune in 2013, but now he says it’s the evil militias that are upset:
Capping four years of explosive growth sparked by the election of America’s first black president and anger over the economy, the number of conspiracy-minded antigovernment “Patriot” groups reached an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012…
According to Mr. Potok’s own bar graph above though, we see that for 2009, the first year of the Obama Administration and the worst year of the current recession, the number of “hate groups” only rose by 6, or 0.6%. Until this year, that half a percent “explosion” was the smallest increase in SPLC history.
Mr. Potok added 70 new “hate groups” in 2010, as if to make up for his anemic performance the previous year, but at the same time, the number of homeless “hate groups,” those Mr. Potok can’t seem to locate on any map, including his own, jumped by 99, which really represents a net loss.
Mr. Potok was losing his “hate groups” faster than he could designate them.
In 2011, Mr. Potok’s list grew by only 12 new groups, for an increase of just over 1%. That year he added 20 chapters of something he called “The Georgia Militia” to that state’s Hate Map, but he couldn’t seem to locate 18 of them, so he simply added 18 empty slots marked “Georgia Militia” to pad out his numbers. No one in the Media ever called him on it.
In 2012, the number of “hate groups” actually dropped by 1%
Mr. Potok’s “explosive growth” has turned out to be a damp squib…
As for the Georgia Militia, Mr. Potok has revised his figures down to 14 chapters, one of which allegedly resides somewhere in Camden County, one is simply labeled “statewide” and the other 12 are nowhere to be found. Must be all that camouflage gear those good ol’ boys like to wear:
In all, 17 of the 53 “hate groups” Mr. Potok has assigned to Georgia are invisible. That’s one in three. No doubt the rest of Mr. Potok’s “militia” numbers are at least as accurate.
While we’ve already packed a lot of information into this one post, let’s crunch Mr. Potok’s numbers just a little more to see what his figures actually say.
Once again, when you strip out all of Mr. Potok’s homeless “hate groups” you arrive at the surprising conclusion that, according to Potok’s carefully researched data, the largest segment of “hate groups” are Black, outnumbering the KKK, Neo-Nazis, Racist Skinhead and White Nationalist groups respectively.
Who knew? Mark Potok knows.
The Southern Poverty Law Center made its fortune by going after “hate groups” in the South, and Mr. Potok is always nattering about evil white Christians, who tend to live in the South, but according to his latest numbers there was a distinct drop in the number of these alleged groups last year:
Mr. Potok also issues regular alarums about how the Northwest is a magnet for “radical white nationalists” but, once again, his numbers have dropped:
Ironically, (we use that term a lot when dealing with Mr. Potok’s fundraising rhetoric), the traditionally more liberal Northeast actually showed a 6.25% increase in “hate groups” last year.
And finally, Mr. Potok has always claimed that the Republican Party is the root of all evil and represents the black heart of all hate-groupdom, but when you look at which states voted Republican in the 2012 Presidential election there are actually 12% more “hate groups” located in the Blue States even though the number of states in either camp was roughly even:
So what are we to make of these capricious numbers at the end of the day? The short answer is: Not much. Mark Potok’s “hate group” numbers are a marketing ploy and an extremely lucrative brand name. Even Mr. Potok concedes on the legend of his hate map fundraising tool that these groups are doing nothing illegal:
“Listing here does not imply a group advocates or engages in violence or other criminal activity.”
No crime. No violence. Just “wrong thoughts.”
Admittedly, some of these groups do engage in what most people would consider inflammatory rhetoric, but as long as they’re not breaking any laws… they’re not breaking any laws and neither Mr. Potok nor any other “civil rights” vigilante groups have a right to silence anyone.
Mr. Potok uses his “hate group” smear because it allows him to incite his donor base, who were cultivated specifically for their political views, without having to accuse those groups of any actual crimes. His disclaimer may read “Listing here does not imply…” but that is precisely what it does and that’s why the donors sent Mr. Potok more than $110,000 tax-free donor-dollars each and every day last year.
And that, friends, is why Mr. Potok, who has no legal or law enforcement background, is compensated by this law firm to the tune of $150,000 a year. As Navin Johnson observed so many years ago, Mr. Potok’s “Hate Map” is the kind of spontaneous publicity that makes people.
Publishers note: This article was originally posted at Watching the Watchdogs, and is reposted here with permission from the author.