Amazon.com is riding high as Americans rely on the online retailer to purchase essential necessities amid the coronavirus crisis. Yet ahead of Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting, a rising chorus of Amazon Prime members and Amazon shareholders are raising serious concerns about viewpoint discrimination, citing the banning of some books and the exclusion of mainstream conservative and Christian nonprofits from the AmazonSmile charity program. Specifically, they point out AmazonSmile’s reliance on the discredited smear factory the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
“By giving the keys to the car to the SPLC, Amazon is quite literally engaging in viewpoint discrimination,” Justin Danhof, a shareholder of Amazon stock through the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), told PJ Media on Monday. “Their choice of gatekeeper is a bigoted one, an anti-religious organization, an anti-religious freedom organization, an anti-Christian organization that has also attacked Muslim reformers.”
Customers would think that a company with more than $178 billion in revenue (as of 2017) could afford to make its own decisions on which charities make the cut for AmazonSmile, or that 501(c)3 tax status would be a sufficient qualification. Yet Amazon relies on the SPLC.
NCPPR has launched a petition encouraging conservative Amazon customers to pressure the tech company to stop trusting the SPLC. “Amazon outsources decisions on nonprofit eligibility for the AmazonSmile program to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a deeply politically partisan and controversial organization which attempts to silence conservative ideas through threats and intimidation. In fact, SPLC controls what nonprofits are eligible for AmazonSmile, and they exclude dozens of mainstream conservative organizations purely for political advantage,” NCPPR argues.
Amazon claims that users have donated more than $169 million through the AmazonSmile program, and at least $37,739.17 of that has gone to the SPLC, according to tax documents.
As I reported both here at PJ Media and in my book Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the SPLC began as a noble civil rights organization. Yet over the years, the SPLC drifted from its original mission of helping poor people in the South to bankrupting the Ku Klux Klan and eventually to exaggerating hate to scare donors into ponying up cash.
Last year, the SPLC fired its co-founder, Morris Dees, amid a decades-long sexual harassment and racial discrimination scandal. After Dees was fired, former employees came forward, admitting their complicity in the “con.” The SPLC’s “hate group” list not only exaggerates the number of “hate groups” by listing defunct or essentially non-existent groups along with the KKK, but it also tars the reputations of law-abiding mainstream conservative and Christian organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC), Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and ACT for America.
The “hate group” accusation inspired an attempted terrorist attack at FRC. Even left-leaning activists like former ACLU President Nadine Strossen have condemned the accusation against ADF, and the SPLC continues to pad its “hate group” numbers by listing ACT for America chapters that no longer exist. In 2018, the SPLC paid $3.375 million to settle a defamation lawsuit from Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, whom the SPLC defamed as an “anti-Islamic extremist.”
Due to these and other scandals, many organizations have called on Amazon to drop the SPLC, not all of them conservative. The non-partisan New Tolerance Campaign urged the tech company to drop the “hate group” list, calling its use a “clear case” of “the unequal application of tolerance in mainstream American culture.” One of the organizations unfairly accused by the SPLC, the Christian charity D. James Kennedy Ministries, has sued Amazon along with the SPLC for defamation.
As Danhof explained, the SPLC silences conservative groups using “guilt by association,” where “Alliance Defending Freedom is listed along with the Ku Klux Klan.”
“It’s a racket,” Danhof argued. “Amazon’s aware of this.” He explained that NCPPR organized a campaign that sent “tens of thousands of emails” to the Board of Directors last year, pressuring Amazon to drop the SPLC. “They can’t claim that they’re unaware of who the SPLC is.”
Yet the Amazon Board has urged shareholders to reject a proposal to study viewpoint discrimination at the tech company. The notice for Amazon’s shareholder meeting includes a proposal “requesting a report on viewpoint discrimination.” The proposal, referred to as “Item 12,” appears on page 41 of the document.
Whereas, Shareholders of Amazon.com, Inc. (“Amazon”) invest in the company to receive maximum return on their ownership investment in Amazon, without the costs and risks associated with Amazon restricting specific social, political, or religious views.
Whereas, any decision by Amazon to either endorse or reject social, political, or religious views may alienate customers, harm the company’s reputation, and negatively impact business performance.
Whereas, the City of Seattle, the State of Washington, the United States, and several International Conventions prohibit discrimination against religious groups and beliefs, and the City of Seattle prohibits discrimination against political ideology.
Resolved: Shareholders request that Amazon issue a report, at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information, evaluating the range of risks and costs associated with discriminating against different social, political, and religious viewpoints.
The full proposal cites AmazonSmile’s reliance on the SPLC along with the company’s ban on certain books offering hope to people who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction. “Amazon’s implementation of viewpoint-discriminatory policies in the Smile Program itself stems from a reliance on viewpoint-discriminatory, partisan, and discredited sources,” the proposal argues.
Although Amazon claims to support “diversity and inclusion for all stakeholders,” the board recommended that shareholders vote against this proposal to fight viewpoint discrimination.
Amazon refused to comment on the decision to oppose this proposal, or defend its reliance on the scandal-plagued SPLC.
“Plainly stated, the current Amazon.com “commitment to diversity” is only a commitment to embracing a progressive-liberal viewpoint about diversity. Conservative, mainstream perspectives are not welcome,” Robert Netzly, CEO of Inspire Investing and an Amazon shareholder, wrote at The Christian Post.
Nezly also noted that all of the Amazon board members who made non-corporate political contributions in the 2016 election cycle donated to liberal, Democratic Party candidates, Political Action Committees (PACs), or other liberal political groups. Amazon board members donated to Hillary For America, the Hillary Victory Fund, Friends of Schumer, Victory Now PAC, ActBlue, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — but they did not support one single conservative group or any Republican, Libertarian, or even Green Party candidate.
In the 2018 election cycle, Amazon employees gave $971,000, 89.3 percent of that to Democrats.
“To be clear, I believe Amazon.com has every right to use their corporate influence to promote whatever agendas they see fit, including progressive liberalism. But don’t try to hide it,” Nezly wrote. “If Amazon’s leadership is committed to a progressive-liberal agenda, then shareholders have a right to know about it, as well as the potential risks that position could cause by alienating customers who hold a different view. This is basic corporate responsibility. Denying shareholders material information that can affect their investment is not just bad-form, it is unethical.”
Amazon provides important services to a global customer base, especially during the coronavirus crisis. If the company wishes to cater to conservative as well as liberal customers, it should strive to cultivate viewpoint diversity and combat viewpoint discrimination.
The millions of conservatives and Christians who use Amazon should reach out to the company on this vital issue.
“If you’re an Amazon Prime customer, reach out to investor relations, reach out to customer relations,” Danhof told PJ Media. “Let them know this arrangement is offensive.”
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.