Dear Morris Dees,
Two weeks ago I sent you an Open Letter replying to a slanderous report on the Center for the Study of Popular Culture titled, “Into the Mainstream,” by a leftwing conspiracy theorist named Chip Berlet, which purports to show how “right wing foundations and think tanks support efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respectable.”
The report contained exactly one paragraph on the Center, consisting of three charges which I described as “tendentious” and “so filled with transparent misrepresentations and smears that if you continue to post the report you will create for your Southern Poverty Law Center a well-earned reputation as a hate group itself.”
In response you have sent me a “reply” from the aforesaid Chip Berlet which merely repeats the tendentious mis-readings and misrepresentations of the original report and adds 19 pages of additional quotes wrenched out of context, misrepresented and accompanied by further tendentious claims and further smears. The editor of your report tells me that on the basis of these 19 pages, “we believe Mr. Berlet’s article is backed up by the evidence, and we stand by the article as it was published.” Shame on you for this.
Neither the original charges, nor the replies to my discrediting of those charges, nor the additional accusations heaped on this pile justify describing me or the center as racially bigoted, which is the gravamen of the complaint you have chosen to dismiss. Nonetheless I will deal with the main ones, tedious as this may be, and show that each and every one of them is based on the same dishonest techniques as were used in the original smear.
 Berlet’s defense of the first charge: “By using the phrase ‘a selective rewriting of history,’ I tried to indicate that Horowitz is attempting to shift the primary blame for slavery in the United States away from white slave owners and onto ‘black Africans … abetted by dark-skinned Arabs.’ Horowitz tries to shift the blame by stating, ‘It was not whites but black Africans who first enslaved their brothers and sisters;’ so blacks are first to blame, and not whites. Horowitz further tries to shift the blame by stating, ‘dark-skinned Arabs…organized the slave trade,’ rather than whites.”
This is just repeating the misguided and tendentious charge that I have already answered in my original response. To wit: “The sentence Berlet mangles is not a historical statement about slavery but a polemical response to the proponents of reparations who are demanding that only whites pay blacks for an institution – slavery – that has been eradicated in the western world (but not Arab and black Africa) for more than 100 years. It is intended to remind people that the slaves transported to America were bought from African and Arab slavers – not to blame Africans and Arabs for sole responsibility for slavery. Berlet is fully aware of this and his slander is just that – a calculated lie to taint the Center and my work.” What more can one say? This passage is not about historical blame but about historical fact. It is not about blaming blacks first. It is pointing out the fact that African slaves imported to America were already slaves in Africa, and about making the point that no one group is responsible for slavery and therefore no one group should pay reparations. Perhaps Mr. Berlet and Mr. Potok need to learn how to read English before being entrusted with making reports that smear other people’s reputations.
 Berlet claims that he has disproved my statement that before the 18th Century there was no movement or group that opposed slavery as an institution. He cites the 16th Century writer Jean Boudin’s anti-slavery statements as evidence. But Jean Boudin is not a “movement” and not a “group.” So it is Berlet who is wrong.
Berlet then goes on to claim that I am diminishing the role of blacks in the abolition movement by making this historically true statement. How to respond to an absurd claim like this? If it is true that is its defense. If it is true it diminishes the role of all groups white, Asian, Hispanic, Jewish – all groups except the Quakers whom Berlet concedes are responsible for this movement.
Berlet then cites several other ignorant critics who have made the same charge against me based on no historical evidence.
He also quotes statements by Frederick Douglass, which were made in the 19th Centruy, long after the Quakers launched the first movement against slavery as an institution – which is all that I claimed and which Berlet even validates in his response. What am I to make of this? Frankly, it is difficult to argue with willful prejudice, which is all that Berlet’s statements add up to.
 Berlet’s third response is to deny the plain meaning of what I have written and then to read my mind as a way of arriving at what I really meant. Here is a passage from my ten reasons why reparations for slavery is a bad idea:
The renewed sense of grievance – which is what the claim for reparations will inevitably create – is neither a constructive nor a helpful message for black leaders to be sending to their communities. Virtually every group that has sought refuge in America has grievances to remember. For millions of recent immigrants the suffering is only years behind them, and can be as serious as ethnic cleansing or genocide. How are these people going to receive the payment claims from African-Americans whose comparable suffering lies in the distant past? Won't they see this demand as just another claim for special treatment, for a rather extravagant new handout that is only necessary because some blacks can't seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others, many of whom are even less privileged than they are?
Berlet: “…the statement in dispute is a rhetorical question used by Horowitz as a polemic device. The rhetorical question in this context serves as a projection of the author’s views onto a fictional group of immigrants and refugees.” Well actually not. If, for example, you are a Mexican immigrant who has come to Los Angeles along with hundreds of thousands of other Mexicans because of the job opportunities available and you hear Jesse Jackson claim that “we’re locked out” of the economy in Los Angeles because of discrimination, you will probably have just such thoughts about claims for reparations over this alleged exclusion. Once again, however, there is nothing bigoted in this comment. Only the politically motivated projections of Mr. Berlet can account for his reaction.
“In another section of the above text, Horowitz repeats this procedure, asking rhetorically, ‘Why can a penniless Mexican, who is here illegally and unable even to speak English, find work in America's inner cities while blacks cannot? Can 19th century slavery or even the segregation of 50 years ago really explain this?’” This is also not a rhetorical question. It is a reasonable question. Can Mr. Berlet answer it? Can the proponents of reparations? What we have here is a dispute as to the legacy of slavery and the impact of discrimination. Mr. Berlet and the Southern Poverty Law Center want to answer real arguments with slander and name-calling. Maybe this is sufficient in fund-raising letters to people innocent of the other side of the argument. But to employ these same tactics in the argument itself is merely to expose the poverty of one’s own side in the dispute.
Berlet concludes his case: “I think it is fair to suggest that Horowitz has repeatedly attacked minority ‘demands for special treatment’ as ‘only necessary’ because some American blacks “can't seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others.” This is a perfect example of the Berlet technique. The quoted phrases come from entirely different passages. I have never said that all claims for special treatment are illegitimate. I have never said that there is no discrimination. In fact in the passages Berlet cites I say quite the opposite. But you can always create the illusion that a writer as prolific as I am said the opposite of what he said by picking quotes out of context, if you have the will -- and lack of scruples -- to do so. And Mr. Berlet compulsively does.
So much for the original charges which Berlet made against me, and which he has repeated in this response without providing any reasonable defense of his claims. Invariably, in his discussion of my reparations ad (and elsewhere) Berlet uses the straw man technique based on his willful mis-readings of what I have written. Example: “Horowitz in the subheading is claiming reparations for blacks are wrong because there is no ‘injury’ – that is, there is no lingering effect of racism that could be interpreted as an injury to blacks in the United States.” This is absolutely false. I never said any such thing. It is just one more instance of calculated prevarication in the growing list of Berlet defamations.
The “subheading” Berlet refers to is from one of my ten reasons why reparations for slavery is a bad idea. “The Historical Precedents Used To Justify The Reparations Claim Do Not Apply, And The Claim Itself Is Based On Race Not Injury.” Note that it is not my claim that I am addressing, but the claim of reparations proponents. The “historical precedents” mentioned are reparations to Jews and Japanese. I will not repeat my arguments about these. The statement that “The Claim Itself is Based on Race Not Injury,” refers to the book on reparations written by Randall Robinson which is subtitled “What America Owes to Blacks ” and to the statements of the reparations organizations themselves. They all make their reparations claim in the name of “Blacks” and not “Slaves,” which was my point. This is a racial claim. Since thousands of blacks were slaveholders and hundreds of thousands of blacks were freemen, the claim for reparations for blacks cannot be based on an injury for slavery. It is based on skin color. That is why I find it a bad – even racist – idea. Since Chip Berlet evidently supports these reparations claims, he supports a racist idea. Yet I have had the courtesy not to refer to Berlet – or the principals of the Southern Poverty Law Center – as racists. You might afford me the same courtesy.
The proponents of reparations also fail in every instance to make any effort to tie specific injuries suffered by living African Americans to slavery. That is what I wrote and that is what I meant. But Berlet converts this into an alleged claim by me that there is “no lingering effect of racism that could be interpreted as an injury to blacks in the United States.” This is pure malicious invention.
Berlet also makes the claim that “a number of studies show” a link between slavery and injuries suffered by living blacks. He fails to cite a single one of them – even though every other reference in his “response” comes with a citation and an Internet link. But even if such studies do exist, neither Randall Robinson nor any of the leaders of the reparations movements nor any of their official claims refer to them. And that is all my statement said.
Finally, a word about the additional tendentious quotes and reckless smears that Mr. Berlet makes in his “response” that have nothing to do with the false and defamatory claims in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report.
These new charges are almost invariably based on deliberately confusing criticisms I have made of self-appointed and politically left-wing civil rights leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and the idea and/or principles of civil rights. Thus if I criticize a convicted liar and racial arsonist like Al Sharpton, I am charged by Mr. Berlet with attacking “civil rights.” This is an extremely cheap trick but it seems to be the favorite one in Mr. Berlet’s bag.
Another is to take an article I have written criticizing specific abuses of civil rights claims – cases where in fact civil rights are not involved -- remove the specifics and present my conclusions as claims about “civil rights” as such. Criticizing Jesse Jackson for falsely accusing liberal Hollywood of discrimination against blacks or Al Sharpton for defending a thirteen-year-old convicted murderer as a victim of “racism” – which is what the article in question is about -- is not the same as attacking “civil rights.”
I am a civil rights activist with a public record on civil rights. But I am not a leftist and do not think that Jesse Jackson and Al Shaprton provide the last word on civil rights issues. This – and nothing else – is the real substance of Mr. Berlet’s claims and the reason why the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the Center an institution that “mainstreams bigotry.” If Chip Berlet wants to abuse the language and confuse opposition to leftism with racial bigotry, that’s his business. If the Southern Poverty Law Center wants to do the same, its supporters should understand this.
Here is an even more egregious example of the Berlet/Southern Poverty Law Center technique.
Berlet: “Horowitz offers his definition of “civil rights” in relation to the issue of reparations:
Horowitz: “Black Racism:”
[Exposing examples of black racism]
…would threaten a national melodrama in which only blacks are victims, only blacks are persecuted and only whites are racists. Within the framework of this melodrama, the only acceptable meaning of civil rights is retribution for blacks — retribution for any and every crime, real or imagined, ever suffered by black people however remote in the past. "Reparations" is just the nom de jour of the new civil rights package.
— David Horowitz, “Black Racism: The Hate Crime That Dare Not Speak It's Name,” FrontPage, July 16, 2002,
The article from which this snippet has been cut is about two black criminals who tortured and executed four young whites a brutal crime committed at Christmastime in Wichita, Kansas. A fifth youth was raped and shot in the head but survived. It is about an eight-year-old white kid whose throat was slashed by a black racist in a Washington, D.C., suburb – a crime whose nature officials suppressed. It is about the hypocrisy of the civil rights chorus (Southern Poverty Law Center included) for not calling these hate crimes, or expressing any concern about the victims. It was about the hypocrisy of the national press which failed to report these cases and many others like them while making front page news out of equally deplorable hate crimes committed by whites against blacks. Hence my characterization of this hypocrisy as the “new civil rights package.” Not the civil rights package but the new package—civil rights as debased by hypocritical left-wing activists like Jackson and Sharpton, and evidently, Morris Dees. In other words, the passage cited is not my “definition of ‘civil rights’ in relation to the issue of reparations,” but my definition of hypocritical civil rights activists. Reparations is cited only as another form of the double standard in which only white people can be guilty of history’s racial crimes and blacks can only be innocent. This is the political correctness to which Berlet – and evidently the Southern Poverty Law Center – pay obeisance, and it is my crime to have challenged this orthodoxy without apology.
Berlet concludes his “response” by reiterating his smears: “Writers for the CSPC tend to use language that exacerbates societal tensions rather than seeking some form of constructive critical discourse. They are mainstreaming bigotry—and this is precisely the topic of my article in Intelligence Report.” This charge applies mutatis mutandis to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which exacerbates societal tensions by exaggerating the number of hate groups in America and by proposing that they come in only one color and one political disposition. It does this by labeling legitimate political differences as racism and bigotry. That way the Southern Poverty Law Center can create the illusion that racism and bigotry have entered the political mainstream through civil rights organizations like the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. The effect is to multiply the number of racial hate groups, to scare well-meaning citizens into the belief that mainstream civil rights organizations like the Center for the Study of Popular Culture are really fever swamps of hate that deserve to be lumped alongside the Ku Klux Klan. The purpose of this fear-mongering is transparent. It is to fill the already wealthy coffers of your organization by exploiting unsuspecting donors into helping you promote leftwing agendas under the guise of civil rights.
I have already wasted more time than I would have preferred to on these under-handed attacks. I have consequently left some of Berlet’s 19 disreputable pages un-remarked on and some of his fallacious accusations unanswered. I am confident that fair-minded readers will take the time to look up the complete texts to which Berlet refers and see what a fraudulent document his “Intelligence Report” is. One could expect no less, however, from an author who founded an organization to support the Albanian Communist dictatorship when it was in still in its prime.
Read Chip Berlet's response.