Before Heidi Beirich began working at the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1999, she was a left-wing ideologue preparing for a career in the academy. She was a graduate of UC Berkeley and had earned a doctorate in political science from Purdue, where she pursued her interest in the maladies of “white nationalism and neo-fascism”. She was steeped in the ideology of postmodernism, which regards the history of Western Civilization — especially in the United States — as an endlessly dreary tale of oppression in the service of white supremacy. As Beirich told ABC News, “I think sometimes Americans forget that this country was founded on white supremacy.”
Those of us who are now alarmed at the extremism of the SPLC should not forget that it once did heroic work against the Ku Klux Klan, winning lawsuits that drove several branches of the hooded fanatics into bankruptcy. From its base in Montgomery, Ala., its fundraising materials solemnly invoke a vision of “peace, respect, and understanding”. That is the voice of the admirable SPLC.
Heidi Beirich has been instrumental in building the contemptible side of the SPLC, the side, which, as we reported in 2010, is marked by “a poverty of ideas, a dependence on dishonesty, and a lack of fundamental decency.” She routinely engages in distortion, half-truths, cheap shots, smears, and character assassination. She is the SPLC’s princess of darkness. She is the reason why National Review has written that while the SPLC was “once valuable”, it has become “hateful and vile”.
Beirich directs the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, which oversees the Hatewatch blog, which monitors white supremacist and other extremist groups. She also directs the research for the SPLC’s annual list of “hate groups”. It is a well-publicized blacklist, a hall of shame, including some truly awful people like the Klan. But over the past decade Beirich has led an aggressive expansion of the list for the purpose of shaming mainstream socially conservative groups like the Family Research Council and the Center for Immigration Studies (whose staff also includes some moderate liberals like me who think the Democrats have lost their way by renouncing long-held concerns about illegal immigration). As Mark Potok, Beirich’s long-time partner at the SPLC said, “[O]ur aim in life is to destroy these groups, completely destroy them.”
Beirich applies the hate-group smear with all the precision and of a juvenile delinquent spray-painting obscenities on a schoolyard wall. She is equally reckless in her designation of extremists. As RealClearPolitics reported last year, “You can find yourself on the SPLC’s ‘hate map’ if you haven’t gotten fully aboard on gay marriage — or the Democratic Party’s immigration views. In other words, the [SPLC] classifies individuals and organizations as purveyors of ‘hate’ for holding the same view on marriage espoused by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton until mid-2012.”
Despite her record of reputational rampage, Beirich is highly regarded on the campuses of such elite institutions as Middlebury College. Last year, students at the Vermont school went on a tear after reading the SPLC’s designation of conservative intellectual Charles Murray, whose first wife was Asian-American, as a white nationalist. Chanting insults, setting off fire alarms and shouting Murray down, the students drove him off campus. They also put Middlebury in the center of a discussion on the rise of intolerance for conservative ideas and free speech at colleges across the country…
I used to think of Beirich as a culture-wars version of “Saturday Night Live’s” Church Lady, a comic caricature of piety who always had her nose in the air, sniffing for the presence of Satan. But Beirich’s influence with liberals makes that relatively benign assessment impossible. Her hate-group attacks have provoked normally well-intentioned people not only to despise those of us who want to limit immigration, but also to donate millions to support the SPLC’s campaign to drive ideological foes out of the forum of public debate. With her latest stunt, Beirich has reduced two members of Congress to the level of the students who brought shame to Middlebury College.
Now I have a much darker view of Beirich. Her dirty work has convinced me that her historic soulmates did their work for the notorious French revolutionary tribunals, the bloodthirsty zealots who sent infidels to the guillotine. Now she is limited to the dark but bloodless pleasure of issuing hate-group decrees and watching her stooges rise in furious protest at those who dare to suggest that immigration should not be unlimited.