‘You know, it’s sort of like the pot calling the kettle black…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) Following hushed allegations of “misconduct,” Morris Dees, one of the iconic co-founders of the Southern Poverty Law Center was fired Wednesday.
“[O]ur work is about the cause, not the person,” wrote SPLC President Richard Cohen in an online announcement about the decision.
Cohen’s statement gave no elaboration on the reasons for the firing, but it obliquely hinted at internal strife within the organization.
“We’re committed to ensuring that our workplace embodies the values we espouse—truth, justice, equity, and inclusion,” he said. “When one of our own fails to meet those standards, no matter his or her role in the organization, we take it seriously and must take appropriate action.”
Dees, 82, was a longtime public face of the SPLC, the Montgomery, Ala.-based civil rights group. He ushered it fame in the 1970s by suing members of the Ku Klux Klan and spun it into a leftist advocacy empire with a $44 million operating budget through his fundraising prowess.
The Los Angeles Times elegized Dees after the ouster as a “swashbuckling figure” whose autobiography read “like a treatment for a Hollywood epic.”
According to UPI, Dees said he had no part in the move and denied knowing the reasons behind it.
“It was not my decision, what they did,” he said. “I wish the center the absolute best. Whatever reasons they had of theirs, I don’t know.”
But recently, the SPLC has faced persistent criticisms from all directions that it may have lost its way.
On the Right, many have condemned its appallingly partisan efforts to target legitimate conservative and Christian organizations over issues unrelated to civil rights and label them as “hate groups.”
Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen said last year that the SPLC had lost all credibility and become a caricature of itself after it attacked a reformed Islamic radical and included him on a list of “Anti-Muslim Extremists” for criticizing elements of his own religion.
Those on the Left, meanwhile, have long bemoaned the organization’s predominantly white, male leadership hierarchy and, since at least the 1980s, have said Dees’ dominant influence was problematic.
Appropriately, the organization’s own mission appeared to have turned on itself as Dees was said to be embroiled in allegations of racism.
Sources including The L.A. Times said that Dees’ firing came after employees sent letters to management demanding reforms when a respected black attorney had resigned last week.
One letter, signed by around two dozen employees, reportedly complained of “mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism” and said they threatened the SPLC’s moral authority and integrity.
Cohen said Dees’ departure was one of several planned measures to address the crisis, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.
“Today we announced a number of immediate, concrete next steps we’re taking, including bringing in an outside organization to conduct a comprehensive assessment of our internal climate and workplace practices, to ensure that our talented staff is working in the environment that they deserve—one in which all voices are heard and all staff members are respected,” Cohen said.
A 1994 Pulitzer-nominated series published by the Advertiser delved into some of the earlier allegations against Dees.
“I think there’s a real question as to the sincerity and legitimacy of the organization because of the noticeable absence of blacks there,” said Donald Jackson, a former SPLC intern. “You know, it’s sort of like the pot calling the kettle black.”