For the past year, I have been writing a book about three iconic men of the South -- Governor George Wallace, Klan Grand Wizard Robert Shelton and civil rights lawyer Morris Dees. The book culminates in 1981 when members of Shelton's Klan lynched 19-year-old Michael Donald in Mobile, Alabama.
Dees' Southern Poverty Law Center sued Shelton's United Klans of America over the murders. It was unprecedented to sue an organization for crimes committed by some of its members. But Dees won a $7 million judgment that destroyed the largest Klan group in America for good. The SPLC went on to sue other hate groups, using the same legal arguments, driving them to the ground.
In the early years of the SPLC, Klansmen burned the Montgomery headquarters and white racists made many serious death threats against Dees. Dees is a fearless man who walks without sycophants and lackeys, but he decided that he needed to have real security, and since those years he has been protected by a fulltime team of officers.
When I drove with Morris earlier this year from Montgomery, Alabama to Columbus, Georgia where he gave an address at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. birthday commemoration, we traveled in a police convey. Just outside of Columbus, we were met by a team from Homeland Security who continued with us to the event and stayed until Dees left.
I've heard people joke about Dees and say he doesn't need the security any longer, but just does it to raise money for the SPLC. The truth is that security like this is excessive and unnecessary until the day you need it. And there are still murderous, evil people out there.
Sunday a man opened fire in front of a Jewish Community Center in the Kansas City suburbs killing three people. The SPLC has the most extensive database on extremists and racists of anyone in America, and even before the police the Montgomery-based organization announced that the arrested man was Frazier Glenn Miller, the former grand dragon of the Caroline Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. In the eighties, the SPLC sued Miller just the way they had sued Shelton's group, for its racist actions. Two weeks after the SPLC filed the suit, a white supremacist group murdered radio talk show host Alan Berg in Denver.
The leader of the organization gave Miller $200,000 from an armored car robbery to be used targeting others on their hit list. At his 1988 trail, Miller testified that the hate group leader said "they were thinking of killing Dees." Miller sent out a point system for killing their enemies: "Niggers (1), White race traitors (10), Judges (50) Morris Seligman Dees (888)."
It very easily could have been Dees who Miller tried to assassinate. Dees needs his security, and we as Americans need groups like the SPLC that work with eternal vigilance to protect our liberties against racist thugs and white supremacist militants.
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