SPLC On the Pseudohistory/Racism Connection

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a comprehensive look at the way that pseudo/fringe history (think ancient astronauts and lost civilizations) have frequently been deployed in defense of racism and in turn fueled new generations of racists.

“In the monuments and fortifications of an unknown people, we behold the memorials of a once-powerful race,” said Jackson, “exterminated to make room for the existing savage tribes.”

This reference to a “once-powerful race” was not lost on the American public of 1830. Every schoolboy and girl knew it to be the Lost Race of the Mound Builders, believed to be the continent’s original Caucasian inhabitants. From the colonial era into the twentieth century, it was widely accepted that certain earthen structures and burial grounds proved the existence of “white” or Indo-European peoples who settled North America only to be wiped out by the arrival of Jackson’s “savage (Asiatic) tribes.”

As the country expanded west, the “Moundbuilders” myth had obvious utility: If the Indians destroyed earlier waves of (white) settlers, their own extermination was just another turn of history’s wheel.

The entire essay is well worth reading.

I also can’t recommend highly enough the blog/website of Jason Colavito, who does a meticulous job of debunking fringe historical claims, and of documenting the often strange ways such claims work themselves in and out of popular discourse and understanding of the past.

Joan Dunayer Withdraws from Friends of Animals Conference Because Opponent of Animal Rights/Eco-Terrorism Invited As Well

In April, Joan Dunayer announced she was withdrawing from the Friends of Animals’ July 9-10 conference because organizers dared to invite Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center as its keynote speaker.

In a letter to other activist, Dunayer writes,

I’ve withdrawn, in protest, from participation in Friends of Animals’ July 9-10, 2005 conference, at which I was scheduled to speak. I refuse to participate because the conference will feature Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as keynote speaker. Director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project and editor of the SPLC’s quarterly Intelligence Report (IR), Potok is a virulent speciesist and opponent of nonhuman rights.

As described by the SPLC’s website, the Intelligence Project “monitors hate groups and tracks extremist activity throughout the U.S.,” providing “comprehensive updates to law enforcement, the media and the public.”[1] The Project uses “high-tech online tracking as well as solid fundamental investigative techniques.”[2] For some time now, the SPLC has been casting animal rights activists as terrorists and hate-mongers and monitoring their activities.

Potok’s IR portrays animal rights advocacy in an entirely negative light. A synopsis of the 2002 anonymous IR article “From Push to Shove” reads, “Environmental radicals and animal rights activists say it’s ‘ludicrous’ for the FBI to call them the No. 1 domestic terror threat. But their rhetoric and increasingly extreme criminal actions are making the ‘eco-terror’ label stick.”[3] The article has sensationalistic headings such as “A Growing Radicalism,” “At the Hilton, Violence is Cheered,” and “Targeting Scientists, and Others.” The text abounds with pejoratives applied to animal rights advocacy. For example, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty employs “escalating violence,” uses “terroristic tactics,” and “sets a new standard for eco-terrorism.” Even lawsuits filed against factory “farmers” are “attacks.” The article refers to Chris DeRose as the “boss,” not president, of Last Chance for Animals and to Peter Singer as a “long-time darling of many eco-radicals.” According to the article, the Farm Animal Reform Movement holds its annual animal-advocacy conferences in “surprisingly highbrow” settings. “But the discussions are down and dirty.”[4] (By Potok’s own admission, the SPLC gathered information on activists at Animal Rights 2001.)[5] A 2003 SPLC article on PETA’s “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign is titled “Hate in the News: PETA Turns Holocaust into Pig Pen,” as if drawing connections between racist and speciesist atrocities–and deploring both–constitutes hate.[6]

IR articles express no objection to the ongoing violence that humans perpetrate against countless nonhumans and no concern whatsoever for those victims. In the language of IR, vivisection labs against which activists campaign are only “perceived as abusing animals” (emphasis added).[4] All of IR’s expressed sympathy is for those who abuse nonhumans or profit from such abuse–from vivisectors, mink killers, and pig enslavers to hunting guides and pelt dealers. IR portrays nonhumans’ abusers as the innocent victims of animal rights “terrorism.” Vivisectors are “scientists.”[4] Huntingdon Life Sciences “tests drugs.”[4] (IR omits the information that HLS also uses nonhuman animals to “test” everything from industrial chemicals to mascara.) Animal rights activism caused cat vivisector Michael Podell to abandon what IR terms his “AIDS studies.” In the manner typical of pro-vivisection propaganda, IR states, “Scientists say that some research, like Podell’s, cannot be done with computer modeling or with human subjects.”[4] Podell’s cat victims did not, of course, have AIDS; they suffered from artificially induced Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, a very different disease. IR favorably describes and quotes the vivisection-promotion group Foundation for Biomedical Research.[4]

Mark Potok clearly is largely ignorant of, and indifferent to, the cruelty and injustice of vivisection, the pelt industry, food-industry enslavement and slaughter, and other forms of speciesist abuse. He’s an active foe of animal rights and animal rights advocacy. It’s an understatement to say that Potok has no genuine understanding of animal rights and is not an appropriate keynote speaker for an animal rights conference.

Friends of Animals does a disservice to nonhuman animals and their advocates in hosting Potok, giving him positive publicity, and presenting him as a credible spokesperson with regard to animal rights. I no longer will participate in the FoA conference because I no longer believe that participation is in the best interests of nonhuman animals. Further, I advise animal advocates to be wary of Potok and the SPLC.

Its interesting that Friends of Animals is willing to host a speaker who is opposed to a segment of the animal rights movement, while Dunayer can’t apparently stomach even the hint of a dissenting view.


Joan Dunayer Withdraws, in Protest, from Friends of Animals Conference. Joan Dunayer, Letter, April 14, 2005.