News & Politics

SPLC, CAIR Take Aim at $121 Billion Industry in Effort to Silence Conservative 'Hate Groups'

The 2018 SPLC hate map.

Liberal activist groups are pressuring donor-advised funds (DAFs) to blacklist conservative and Christian organizations in the name of fighting white supremacy and “hate.” On Tuesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), themselves far from immune from scandal, released a report urging this philanthropic sector — which held more than $121 billion in donor contributions in 2018 — to join the political warfare effort of isolating conservative voices from polite society. The report favorably cites Fidelity Charitable’s and Schwab Charitable’s decisions to ban contributions to the NRA, citing San Francisco’s resolution condemning the NRA as a “terrorist organization.”

“Straddling the intersection of public and private, the philanthropic sector — like tech companies — functions as a powerful platform for hate,” the report warns. The SPLC and CAIR pepper their report with mentions of specific white nationalist groups and terrorist attacks inspired by white supremacy, associating these things with SPLC-accused “hate groups.”

The SPLC’s much-vaunted “hate group” list includes mainstream Christian charities (like the law firm Alliance Defending Freedom and the policy group Family Research Council) and conservative nonprofits like the Center for Security Policy, ACT for America, and the Center for Immigration Studies. Amid a racism and sexism scandal last year, former SPLC employees confessed that the “hate group” list is a fundraising scam. A would-be terrorist even used the SPLC “hate map” to target the Family Research Council for a mass shooting in 2012. The SPLC faces multiple defamation lawsuits regarding the accusations. (I cover all this and more in detail in my book Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center.)

Yet the document, entitled “Hate-Free Philanthropy,” calls on donor-advised funds to blacklist SPLC-accused “hate groups” in the name of preventing white supremacist terrorism. The report calls on donor-advised funds to combat “hate-funding,” to “abandon the ‘pretense of neutrality’ in their giving strategies to expand their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” and to work for “sector-wide reform” by coordinating with “academia” and “advocacy organizations.” I wonder which “advocacy organizations” they have in mind…

The report cites many sources that all trace back to the SPLC’s “hate group” list. It cites CAIR’s report on the “Islamophobia network,” which relies on the SPLC list. It cites the union-owned Amalgamated Bank effort to blacklist “hate groups” called “Hate Is Not Charitable,” which relies on the SPLC list. It cites the “Change the Terms” coalition, which aims to bully Big Tech into booting “hate groups” from the program, relying on the SPLC. It favorably cites GuideStar’s decision to adopt the SPLC “hate group” labels on its charity database website.

The SPLC and CAIR, long known for their liberal biases, claim that “leading figures from the sector argue that philanthropy has to shed the idea that it should be ‘neutral’ at all costs. Instead, philanthropy should recognize that taking no action in this climate of hate is an action in itself, and for that reason, it should play an active role in supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.” Funny how this “inclusion” looks a great deal like the exclusion of conservatives and the demonization of their views.

The report follows a one-day closed-door symposium involving more than three dozen “practitioners, advocates, and scholars in the philanthropic sector,” convened by the SPLC and CAIR in August 2019.

Donor-advised funds represent a huge slice of American philanthropy. As the report notes, there were 728,563 DAFs in 2018, and donors contributed $37.12 billion, using the funds to recommend $23.42 billion in grants to qualified charities. Charitable assets held by DAFs totaled $121.42 billion. When donors give money to DAFs, they get an immediate tax write-off. The DAF then directs the funds where the donor wishes. This provides anonymity, as the public report of the transaction shows the DAF contributing to the grantee, rather than the donor.

“Hate-Free Philanthropy” suggests this situation is unacceptable but acknowledges that legal reform efforts are unlikely. Instead, the report lays out three steps to help DAFs “to implement systems to screen out hate groups from DAF portfolios”: having a conversation about “hate groups” at the organization, expanding on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” policies, and then “explicitly” endorsing “anti-hate policies and programs.”

The report acknowledges that “even beginning a conversation around hate groups can be controversial within some organizations due to its political nature.” The SPLC and CAIR dismiss this controversy in the name of “public safety.” “However, it is best for stakeholders to recognize that while there may be a legitimate degree of difference on what constitutes anti-social and polarizing activity, at a core level community foundations should understand the problem of hate within a public safety context.”

As for the “anti-hate policies and programs,” the report presents two examples: Amalgamated Foundation’s terms, which state that the foundation “may consult resources such as the Southern Poverty Law Center”; and the East Bay Community Foundation, which has a “Grand Due Diligence Policy” that prohibits “[g]rants to any organization then listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Group map, as that list may be titled or revised from time to time.”

“Hate-Free Philanthropy” upholds Big Tech as a model for acting against “hate.” The report notes that internet companies once used First Amendment arguments to justify extending their platforms to a wide range of users. Yet tech companies are not the government, so the First Amendment does not restrict them. The report touts the “Change the Terms” coalition, which it claims “very carefully crafted its definition of hateful activity to cover types of speech that courts have said are not protected as free speech: incitement to violence, intimidation, harassment, threats, and defamation.”

The report also praised iTunes, PayPal, and AmazonSmile for taking “measures to screen out hate from their platforms. iTunes blacklisted what the SPLC calls “hate music,” while PayPal blacklists “hate groups” and AmazonSmile — Amazon’s charity contribution arm — refuses to work with any SPLC-accused “hate group.”

The SPLC and CAIR praised GuideStar, which caused a scandal in 2017 by placing “hate group” labels on the webpages of nonprofits attacked by the SPLC. GuideStar removed the labels but faced two defamation lawsuits and employees reportedly faced harassment. The SPLC and CAIR claim, without evidence, that the “hate groups” were responsible for the harassment.

“The use of harassment, intimidation, and threats directed at GuideStar’s staff and leadership shows that groups that promote hate do not hesitate to intimidate and threaten those who seek to inform the public about their less-than-charitable activities,” the report warns. The report encourages DAFs to prepare to face violence should they act against “hate groups,” by installing alarms and surveillance systems.

“Threats are not always physical,” the report warns. “As GuideStar sadly experienced, they could come in the form of lawsuits and coordinated public relations attacks that can easily be interpreted as intimidating. Preparation for these kinds of attacks is equally important. Having in place a crisis management and communication plan, in addition to a physical security plan, is a good first step.”

The report mentioned GuideStar twice more, in both cases emphasizing the threat from “hate groups.” Referring to GuideStar’s labels, the report says, “this modest effort resulted in a campaign of hate and intimidation as well as spurious attempts at litigation by hate groups.” Further on comes this sentence: “As the GuideStar experience has shown, this could also lead to fringe groups and their supporters launching harassment and intimidation campaigns.”

Ironically, the SPLC and CAIR report warns against the problems of “hate-funding, polarization, and anti-social special interest practices,” when the SPLC’s “hate group” accusations have inspired an act of violence and have exacerbated polarization in America.

Donor-advised funds would be wise to ignore this report and reject its politically-slanted suggestions. While DAFs should seek to avoid funding white supremacist groups and organizations that advocate for violence, any reliance on the SPLC will skew their good-faith efforts, turning them into unwitting pawns of partisan political warfare.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.