Southern Poverty Law Center Gets Up Close to White Supremacist Extremists

Civil Rights Group Takes Unusual — and Effective — Approach

Notorious: The Southern Poverty Law Center tracked Frazier Glenn Miller for years before the neo-Nazi allegedly launched a shooting rampage outside Kansas City.
courtesy of splc
Notorious: The Southern Poverty Law Center tracked Frazier Glenn Miller for years before the neo-Nazi allegedly launched a shooting rampage outside Kansas City.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published April 23, 2014.

(page 2 of 3)

After being found guilty in the trial, Miller skipped bond. While in hiding, he issued a twisted bingo-game-cum-hit-list to his followers: 10 points for killing a Jew; 50 points for killing a judge; 888 points for killing the SPLC’s founder, Morris Dees.

Decades later, after Miller had been caught and set loose again after cutting a deal with prosecutors, Miller talked at length with SPLC Intelligence Project Director Heidi Beirich in a series of phone calls in late 2013.

In the calls, clips of which have been posted on the SPLC’s website, Miller rails while Beirich stubbornly lays bare his bigotry. “Everything that’s killing us was brought about by Jews,” Miller asserted. “Killing us?” Beirich asked, incredulous.

At another point in the interview, Miller accused Beirich of being Jewish. “You are a really ugly human being,” Beirich said, after Miller boasted of beating up black people during his long career as a white supremacist. Miller, taken aback, asked: “You are a white person? You’re not a Jew?”

Miller’s confusion is not uncommon among white supremacists. “They assume that anybody who’s being critical of them must be Jewish,” said Beirich, whose roots are German.

Though the SPLC is not a Jewish group and neither Beirich nor Dees is Jewish, other prominent staff members are. Cohen, who was a trial attorney before joining the SPLC in 1989, grew up Jewish in Richmond, Va. And Potok’s father is a Holocaust survivor.

“It has everything to do with why I’m doing this work,” Potok said.

Potok’s Jewish background is important to the people he covers, too. Once, early in his time at the organization, Potok accepted an invitation to appear on a radio show that he realized, too late, was hosted by white supremacists.

“I’m on this show, and this woman keeps referring to my father, Satan,” Potok said. It took him a moment to understand that the woman was a member of the Christian Identity movement, which literally believes that Jews are the spawn of Satan.

Potok was a journalist before he came to work at the SPLC in 1997. He had been working for USA Today, covering the militia movement and the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. At the time, the SPLC’s investigative arm was called Klanwatch and was dedicated mostly to tracking KKK groups. That changed soon after Potok arrived. He teamed with Beirich, who has a doctorate in political science and an expertise in the European ultra-right. The two refashioned the group’s investigative arm into a journalistic-style enterprise that applies the techniques of investigative journalism to the work of taking down racists.



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