When a hate crime is something to love
Wesley Pruden, Editor in Chief
Black pain and white piety is a winning combination in
contemporary America, as any number of phony liberals have demonstrated over the years.
Nobody manipulates this combination better than Morris Dees. Few
do it as well.
Racism in America has become big business, real and otherwise,
which is no doubt why Bill Clinton, who got caught several years ago peddling a phony
story about church-burning in Arkansas, says he'll be getting into it from his
$700,000-a-year offices in midtown Manhattan. The appetite for sensation, even when it is
half-baked sensation, is insatiable, and Morris Dees could show him how to profit from it.
Mr. Dees is a lawyer in Montgomery, Ala., who is the
"national chairman" of something called the Southern Poverty Law Center, which
sounds like the hide-out of a noble band of warriors against hate crime and other racial
wrongs, but is actually a fund-raising scheme that could teach televangelists a thing or
In fact, maybe it has. Morris Dees, says his former partner,
"is the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of the civil rights movement, though I don't mean
to malign Jim and Tammy Faye."
Mr. Dees took in $44 million from gullible contributors, mostly
white, in 1999 and spent $13 million actually trying to help the poor and beaten down,
mostly black, fight for their civil rights. He has been well known for years to reporters
in the South, most of whom have never written much about who he really is. Mr. Dees, like
the late I.F. Stone or the living Jesse Jackson, became a pet rock of the media, engaged
in a calling so noble that it is regarded as tasteless, or at least suicidal, to notice
that he runs around naked. The Rev. Billy Don Moyers endorses his fund-raising schemes, so
what else does anyone need to know?
Ken Silverstein recently told another version of the Morris Dees
story in Harper's magazine, and it's a tale well told.
What captured Mr. Silverstein's attention is the most recent project of the Dees "law
center," a kit called "Teaching Tolerance" that is available for only $30
on the Dees Web site, with the firm but meaningless assurance that's it's "a $325
value." (Why not $425? $525?)
What the buyer gets is a compendium of hate crimes that any
casual newspaper reader already knows about, described in vivid ink of a purple hue,
spreading the alarm that the Ku Klux Klan, heavily armed white-citizen militias and six
Nazi Panzer divisions that never made it to Omaha Beach are bearing down on Cleveland, or
maybe Providence. Even a journalist for the 11 O'clock Eyeball News on Channels 3 through
10 would blush twice trying to peddle stuff like this.
Then we get the dirty little secret of hate-crime reporting.
"Horrifying as such incidents are," writes Mr. Silverstein, "hate groups
commit almost no violence. More than 95 percent of all 'hate crimes,' including most of
the incidents [Mr. Dees] cites (bombings, church burnings, school shootings) are
perpetrated by 'lone wolves.' " Indeed, membership in the Ku Klux Klan, which is the
most lucrative Dees fund-raising target, has shrunk so dramatically that the Klan would
have been out of business years ago but for FBI infiltration. In some chapters the only
members with paid-up dues are FBI informants.
In one case cited by Mr. Silverstein, Morris Dees won a judgment
for a black woman whose son was killed by Klansmen. She received $51,875 as settlement.
Mr. Dees, according to an investigation by the Montgomery Advertiser, pulled in $9 million
from fund-raising solicitation letters that featured a particularly gruesome photograph of
the grieving mother's son. Mr. Dees, who pays himself an annual salary of $275,000,
offered the grieving mother none of the $9 million her son's death made for him.
Mr. Dees, in fact, earns or is paid, which is not
necessarily the same thing more than nearly any officer of other advocacy groups
surveyed by the National Journal, more than the chairmen of the ACLU, the NAACP Legal
Defense Fund and the Children's Defense Fund.
"You are a fraud and a con man," Stephen Bright,
director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, which actually takes on dozens of
death-penalty appeals for poor blacks every year, once told him. "You spend so much,
accomplish so little, and promote yourself so shamelessly."
Mr. Dees does not take death-penalty cases because this might
scare off contributors in safe white liberal neighborhoods, many of whom imagine that the
death penalty keeps black robbers, rapists and murderers off their streets. White guilt
can be manipulated with black pain, but it has to be done carefully. It's a sordid scam.
Some people would call what Morris Dees does a hate crime, but it's a living, and a very