Southern Poverty Law Center Loses Intel-Gathering Boss

Amanda Edwards/Getty

The leader of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project is stepping down amid an ongoing leadership shakeup at the anti-hate organization.

Heidi Beirich will leave the SPLC, ending a 20-year run with the organization, she told staffers Monday. Her exit follows several resignations and terminations of SPLC leadership this year—including its cofounder, who was fired amid sexual harassment allegations, and a deputy legal director who said the organization had “more work to do” to guarantee a respectful workplace.

Beirich has worked for the SPLC for 20 years. An expert on the neo-Confederate movement, she led the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, which produced much of the center’s front-facing journalism including its Intelligence Report magazine and Hatewatch blog. In a Monday memo to staff, she cited the two-decade anniversary as a reason for her departure.

“It was with a heavy, heavy heart given how deeply I care about this work and all of you amazing people,” she wrote. “As some of you may know, I reached my second decade here (yikes I’m old!) in September and I’ve felt for a while now that it may be time for a change for me. It’s been a long and intense last few years for me, especially since Trump graced us with his presence and then with the challenges here at SPLC, and I am ready for a break and, after a few months of Netflix, a new start.”

In a statement, Beirich said the SPLC’s publications would carry on in her absence.

“I’m proud of the work we have done and the work that SPLC will continue to do to shine a spotlight on hate and extremism, including continuing our Year in Hate report, our Intelligence Report magazine, the Hatewatch blog, our investigative projects and we are now looking into opportunities to expand into new media,” Beirich wrote.

The SPLC’s intelligence-gathering arm is only one component of the organization. The center has brought civil rights lawsuits for decades, and in June won a $14 million judgment against the publisher of a white supremacist website who led a harassment campaign against a Jewish woman and her family.

But the SPLC has been undergoing institutional upheaval since March, when the center fired cofounder Morris Dees. Dees, 82, founded the SPLC with two other lawyers in 1971, and brought the center to fame with successful lawsuits against the Ku Klux Klan and similar racist organizations beginning in the late 1970s.

But recent decades reportedly saw internal complaints against Dees. The SPLC acknowledged this year that he was twice investigated for “inappropriate conduct,” although Dees denies wrongdoing. In March, two separate sets of SPLC employees penned letters to the center’s leadership, referencing allegations of sexual harassment and racial discrimation connected to Dees.

“Allegations of mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination and racism threaten the moral authority of this organization and our integrity along with it,” one of the employee groups wrote.

The SPLC publicly announced Dees’ firing hours after employees sent the letter, the New York Times reported. His firing was reportedly the result of the second misconduct investigation against him. The second group of employees alleged the problems went further than Dees and penned a letter after his firing accusing SPLC leadership of being “complicit in decades of racial discrimination, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment and/or assault.”

Beirich was among those who supported Dees’ ouster, multiple people familiar with the organization told The Daily Beast.

SPLC President Richard Cohen resigned the following week “in order to give the organization the best chance to heal.”

Other March resignations included SPLC legal director Rhonda Brownstein and deputy legal director Meredith Horton. Horton claimed in her resignation announcement that the SPLC had “more work to do” to become “a place where everyone is heard and respected and where the values we are committed to pursuing externally are also being practiced internally,” the Times reported.

The center announced that it would undergo workplace culture review, prompted by Dees’ dismissal. That review is reportedly ongoing.

*story by The Daily Beast