Mark Potok, director of publications and editor of SPLC’s periodical Intelligence Project, has overseen the Center’s vaunted research on “hate groups” and “hate crimes” during the dozen years (1997-present) he has worked for the Center.
Potok, who left the University of Chicago without graduating over thirty years ago, would seem to have little academic or practical experience to qualify him as an expert on dissident groups and ideologies.
Potok’s special expertise—tabloid-style emotionalism and “branding” through well-couched smear or deft innuendo—builds on his twenty-year career as a journalist (USA Today, theDallas Times Herald, and the Miami Herald), during which he covered the Oklahoma City bombing and the militias. His skill with shrill and lurid verbiage, joined to SPLC’s techniques for discerning “links and ties” (what was called “guilt by association” when practiced by Sen. Joseph McCarthy), has imbued the Center’s invective with a new urgency fed by classic yellow journalism as well as the take-no-prisoners zeal of the classic extremist. Potok’s attacks on mainstream figures who have dared to differ with the Center are just as revealing: to cite a representative instance, in SPLC’s blog he called the combative conservative columnist Ann Coulter “rabid” and her book Guilty a “foaming-mouth tome.”
Potok has admitted that SPLC’s methodology has been suspect: he stated that the Center’s “number counts for [“hate groups”] initially weren’t very reliable” (while failing to explain why current counts are any more trustworthy [see below]).
Potok has conceded that only a tiny minority of “hate crimes” is carried out by “hate groups,” but implied that such groups influence “hate crimes” offenders. He has also claimed that the FBI reports well under 10 percent of all “hate crimes” committed.
In line with SPLC practice, Potok has concentrated on white, right-wing, “nativist,” and domestic “hate groups.” to the practical exclusion of nonwhite, left-wing, and foreign ones (see “Hate Groups” below). Under his leadership, the Center’s Intelligence Project has strained to exaggerate the domestic terror threat from the right and to minimize the danger of imported Islamist terror, a position that the 9/11 attacks (carried out by aliens, many here illegally) have made much less tenable. Potok has praised a recent Department of Homeland Security report that, thanks in great part to SPLC’s input, was so focused on lawful and law-abiding groups (including returning U.S. combat veterans) that it had to be disavowed; he has whined about the FBI dragging its feet on 60 “major” terrorist plots (while disregarding their work on radical Muslim plots).
In a revealing admission, Potok recently stated that it is the immigration control movement (which he called “a rush of people identifying with a nation-state and its borders”) itself, here and in Europe, rather than “hate groups” as such, that concerns SPLC.
Not much is available through the Internet on Potok’s life and ideological background although he is evidently married and has adopted a child.
He has given cordial interviews to at least two hard-core communist periodicals, the Trotskyite Socialist Worker and the People’s Weekly World (formerly the American Communist Party’s Daily Worker); similar links with dissident groups on the right have been invoked by Potok as proof of shared sympathies.