WASHINGTON: Laird Wilcox is the founder of the Wilcox Collection on Contemporary Political Movements at Kansas University’s Kenneth Spencer Research Library. He stops by CommDigiNews to discuss the extremist politics of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).,
Wilcox’s accolades include a “Freedom of Information Award” for “outstanding commitment to intellectual freedom” from the Kansas Library Association, and the “H.L. Mencken Award” from the Free Press Association for “outstanding journalism in defense of liberty.” Additionally, Wilcox is the author and / or co-author of several books on political fringe movements including American Extremists: Militias, Supremacists, Klansmen, Communists, & Others (Prometheus Books, 1996).
The Wilcox Collection is comprised of more than 16,000 books, pamphlets, and periodicals, and more than 11,000 pieces of ephemera – much of the collection is comprised of primary source documents.
In your research of political extremists – both left and right – what are the common threads in their rhetoric and tactics?
Well, they both use strong rhetoric, but I would have to say that the rhetoric of the far left is much more strident, uncompromising, threatening, and intolerant. Conservatives want to debate issues; leftists actually fear debate because they know how emotionally based and subjective their case is. Conservatism consists mainly of a complex of “sentiments” and general values, opinions and beliefs, while progressive leftism is more ideological, structured, intolerant, and doctrinaire, somewhat the exact opposite of the old stereotypes of left and right.
There is far more generic bigotry – strident intolerance and prejudiced opinion – on the modern left than among conservatives. A good example of that is shouting down speakers and the “no platform for the Right” movements. Conservatives are looking for an opportunity to debate; leftists want nothing to do with it.
The whole idea of “debate” implies that the issue isn’t absolutely certain and that’s something they can’t abide by.
Of course, in any discussion of extremism, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has to be in the mix. The SPLC took a hard left turn some years ago. The SPLC’s Mark Potak has asserted, “Sometimes the press will describe us as monitoring hate groups, I want to say plainly that our aim in life is to destroy these groups, completely destroy them.”
“Extremism,” per se, is not what the SPLC opposes. It ignores obvious, flagrant, and violent extremism on the left and even admits as much. Its goal is to demonize, marginalize, stigmatize, and destroy groups and individuals that are opposed to or critical of the far left. I recently came across a copy of Red Channels, the book that set off the Hollywood “blacklist.” It was uncanny how similar it was to the SPLC’s various lists. Basically, the SPLC is the political disinformation and destabilization service of the far left and the left wing of the Democratic Party. It’s not hard to argue that their activities are directly in the service of a political party and its candidates.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s handling of contributions has long been controversial. Karl Zinsmeister of the non-profit watchdog Philanthropy Roundtable once observed that “SPLC’s largest expense is fundraising, [which is] far more than it has ever spent on legal services.” What does your research show?
The SPLC has consistently rated low by organizations that monitor philanthropy. I think an open public audit of the SPLC would be a major scandal. What needs to happen is for a major media outlet that is reasonably objective to do an in-depth investigation of the SPLC from its fund-raising to its finances, political activities, to the fraudulent and misleading lists of hate groups, its relationship with law enforcement, and most of all, its collusion the Democratic Party and candidates on the Democratic Left.
There was also the targeting of the growing Tea Party movement by the IRS headed up by Lois Lerner, who had previously been assigned to challenge the tax status of Christian Evangelical churches for the Federal Election Commission. The investigation of what was a major assault on the American political system was first stonewalled and eventually minimized. It needs to be reopened with vigor and seek indictments for the individuals involved. What was done to the Tea Parties could be done to any other political movement, left or right, and should never happen again. It’s about as clear-cut a civil liberties issue as you can find.
Do you think radicals today have a certain media savvy that sets them apart from the militants of the 50s and 60s? It seems that the news media – mainstream and ideological – are broad-casting tirades and bombast, not opinions and ideas. How do we tone down the sound?
We are in a period of cultural revolution right now. Look at the incredible efforts to nullify the 2016 election. Had something like this been under-taken against Barack Obama there would have been protests amounting to a near-civil war, yet to criticize him was tantamount to admitting to racism according to the media narrative. Trump has no such protection and the direct opposite is now true: attacks upon “Whiteness,” white people as a racial category, especially white men, are accepted throughout the entertainment, cultural, and news media. These are massive double standards, yet they go largely unchallenged in any effective way. Various authors predicted something like this years ago and they were dismissed by people like [law professor and Democratic operative] Cass Sunstein, the SPLC, and the Anti-Deformation League as paranoid conspiracy theorists. It’s beginning to look like some of those “paranoids” might have been on to something after all.