29th Tikkun Olam Award to Southern Poverty Law Center
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education and other forms of advocacy, we work toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be reality.
Started in 1971 by two lawyers in Montgomery, Ala., the SPLC today has grown into a major civil rights organization with three major program areas: the Legal Department, which has handled an array of civil rights cases over the decades but now concentrates on litigation involving immigrant rights, LGBT rights, juvenile detention, and hate groups; Teaching Tolerance, which distributes K-12 classroom materials, including films and an instructional magazine, to hundreds of thousands of educators and millions of students annually; and the Intelligence Project, which monitors hate groups, publishes the investigative journal Intelligence Report, and trains thousands of law enforcement officials in related matters every year.
The Intelligence Project uses the investigative material it produces to broadly educate the public and law enforcement about the threat posed by the American radical right. It also utilizes this material to publish exposes and other negative materials that often damage the groups badly, along with providing investigative support for our legal team in cases against hate groups. Increasingly, the project has concentrated on battling the “mainstreaming” of demonizing propaganda and conspiracy theories, in part by showing explicitly their provenance on the radical right.
Our legal cases against hate groups have used what is sometimes called the theory of “vicarious liability” — that is, holding hate group leaders and the corporate group itself responsible, under civil law, for the criminal actions of members who they encouraged in one way or another. This technique has resulted in the destruction or damaging of at least a dozen major hate groups.
A key part of our work has been battling anti-Semitic groups and ideologues, including neo-Nazi organizations, Holocaust denial groups, racist skinheads with anti-Jewish beliefs, and practitioners of Christian Identity, a theology that describes Jews as the biological descendants of Satan. We currently track 170 neo-Nazi, nine Holocaust denial, 133 racist skinhead and 55 Christian Identity groups. In addition, there are hundreds of other hate groups that also are anti-Semitic as part of a larger ideology.