Dear Morris Dees,
You’ve made yourself a national reputation as a fighter against hate groups. Recently, however, you released a report called “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.” This report is so tendentious, 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.
I will deal only with the single paragraph, which devotes to the Center for the Study of Popular Culture but which in his estimation – and apparently yours – is enough to damn it as a Center for bigots. Berlet’s indictment of the Center – an organization with a proud history in fighting for equal rights for all American citizens – is based on three mangled statements taken from an ad opposing reparations for slavery 137 years after the fact. This ad was itself excerpted from an article written for the liberal/left magazine Salon.com (which I notice is not included in Berlet’s list of respectable bigots).
Here is the complete Berlet list of charges:
1. “Although [Horowitz] makes much of his past working for civil rights for blacks and others, he more recently has blamed slavery on ‘black Africans … abetted by dark-skinned Arabs.” Both statements are lies. The first implies that I once worked for civil rights and don’t any longer. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I have a public record (ignored by Berlet) to prove it. Second, I never in my life blamed slavery on black Africans … abetted by dark-skinned Arabs.” What idiot would not know that white Europeans conducted the Atlantic Slave Trade, which trafficked in 11 million black African chattel? 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.
2. “[Horowitz] also claims that ‘there never was an anti-slavery movement until white Christians – Englishmen and Americans – created one.’” That, of course, is false. Critics note that Horowitz is ignoring everything from the slave revolt led by Spartacus against the Romans and Moses’ rebellion against the Pharaoh to the role of American blacks in the abolition movement.” I have answered this mis-reading of my ad in the book I wrote about my campaign (Uncivil Wars: The Controversy About Slavery, Encounter 2001), which was available to Berlet at the time he wrote this smear. I will quote from my book (page 58):
“For thousands of years, until the end of the Eighteenth Century, slavery had been considered a normal institution of human societies. In all that time, no group had arisen to challenge its legitimacy. Of course, there were many slave revolts from the times of Moses and Spartacus, in which those who had been enslaved sought to gain their freedom. But that was not the point. The freedom they had sought was their own. They did not revolt against the institution of slavery as such. What had happened in the English-speaking countries at the dawn of the American Republican was entirely unique. Before then, no one had thought to form a movement dedicated to the belief that the institution of slavery was itself immoral. What was important in this historical fact was that it showed that white Europeans who were the target of the reparations indictment had played a pivotal role in the emancipation from slavery.”
3. “[Horowitz] has attacked minority ‘demands for special treatment’ as ‘only necessary because some blacks can’t seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others,’ rejecting the idea that they could be the victims of lingering racism.” Unlike the previous charge, this last item in Berlet’s indictment cannot be even charitably regarded as a misunderstanding of my text. It is again a calculated and carefully constructed lie. My text is quite clear (again I will refer to the Salon article).
The passage in which these snippets occur is about the way the reparations claim will create resentment and hostility between African-Americans and other minority groups. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether there is lingering racism or not. It doesn’t even have to do with my own opinions, but with the opinions of these other minority groups.
To wit: “As America enters the 21st Century, it is more than ever a nation of immigrants and increasingly a nation of immigrants ‘of color.’ Virtually every group that has come to seek refuge and opportunity in America has its own grievances to remember. For millions of immigrants, the suffering is recent, and can be as serious as ethnic cleansing or genocide. What attitude are these people going to have to the payment claims from African-Americans, whose slavery experience lies in the distant past and was not the actual experience of any blacks alive today? Won’t the demand for reparations be seen as just another claim for special treatment, for an extravagant new handout? Even if the experience of segregation (now nearly fifty years old) is added to slavery, won’t these immigrant communities – Hispanic, Indian, Asian – regard this as a crutch made necessary only because some blacks can’t seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others (many of whom are even less privileged than themselves)”
And that is the entire evidence for Berlet’s indictment of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture as an organization to make bigotry respectable. Shame on you Morris Dees for propagating this filth. An apology would be nice, but taking Berlet’s entire report off your website and notifying your thousands of supporters would be better.