Hate groups cashed in on pandemic relief before millions of Americans protested for social change

One anti-LGBTQ group, which took as much as $1 million, appears to have no income or employees, per tax records

Published July 10, 2020 1:00PM (EDT)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This article has been updated to reflect comment from Liberty Counsel.

Organizations listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) received millions of dollars in government-backed Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, according to data from the Small Business Administration.

The Center for Media and Democracy was the first to report on the loans, which went to six nonprofits for a total of somewhere between $2,350,000 and $5,700,000. (The SBA has only disclosed loan amounts in ranges  not exact sums.) The groups will not need to repay the government if they put the money towards payroll and other operational expenses. (Disclosure: Salon received a PPP loan to keep our staff and independent journalism at 100%.)

The loans, which came through in early to mid April, predate the recent nationwide social justice upwelling by several weeks. Since receiving the funds, a number of the organizations have advanced their policy and ideological interests, lobbying the federal government and writing and publishing articles.

The organizations include the anti-Muslim hate group Center for Security Policy; two anti-immigrant hate groups, the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform; and three organizations designated as anti-LGBTQ hate groups, the American Family Association (AFA), Liberty Counsel and the Pacific Justice Institute.

The largest loan went to the American Family Association, which was allotted between $1 million and $2 million to support 124 jobs.

In an April 27 interview with Fox News' Ed Henry, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said PPP funds were intended to support companies with 10 employees or fewer.

"The vast majority — as I noted, 1 million of the 1.6 million loans that went out — were companies with 10 or fewer employees," she said. "That is what this program is designed to do. That is who it is helping."

In its 2017 tax filing, which is the latest available, the AFA reported revenues exceeding $18.4 million, net assets of about $30 million and compensation expenses of about $8 million. Between 2013 and 2017, the group reported combined revenues in excess of $105 million.

"Many of these groups that traffic in hate are already well-resourced, with a constant injection of funding from far-right mega-donors and dark money foundations," Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the Arizona branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told the Center for Media and Democracy. "This just highlights more cases of vital funding getting into the hands of those who didn't need it, while many small businesses in our communities came up empty and are having to fold."

The SPLC listed AFA as a hate group in 2010 after former top official Bryan Fischer blamed gay men for the Holocaust. In 2015, two days before Republican National Committee members went on an AFA-sponsored trip to Israel, the group sent SPLC a letter disavowing Fischer's remarks. However, the organization did not fire Fischer from his radio broadcast.

Right-wing activist David Lane posted an article Tuesday on the AFA website calling antifa and Black Lives Matter an "alliance between the two devils of Nazism and communism." Lane blamed this on their acceptance of "transgenderism, homosexuality, abortion."

In another post, Lane claimed that the "duplicity and subterfuge" of antifa and Black Lives Matter could "come close to or may even top the heinous terror outfit ISIS, which ransacked northern Iraq's historic Christian and Muslim shrines."

The two other anti-LGBTQ nonprofits which received taxpayer-backed relief are the Liberty Counsel (between $350,000 and $1 million, reportedly retaining no jobs) and the Pacific Justice Institute (between $150,000 and $350,000 to support 17 jobs).

The Liberty Counsel's 2018 990-T filing, the only form most recently available, indicates the group has posted losses in taxable income for years, and claimed a small deduction on that income. Its affiliate, Liberty Counsel Action, filed the same year for less than $50,000 in receipts.

Salon reached out to Liberty Counsel ahead of publication, but received no reply to detailed request for comment. After publication, Liberty Counsel contacted Salon on Twitter and said the group lists financial data on its website, which Salon discovered can indeed be found in a link under the "Give now" section of the "Donate" tab.

There, the organization claims the following, without supporting documentation:

"For the two-year period July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2019, LC received $13,448,347 of revenue, which included monetary support of $11,412,713 from donors, and $2,035,634 of other income, investments, and court-awarded attorneys' fees. Other income received exceeded fundraising costs ($598,820) plus administrative costs ($1,420,445). Thus, 100% of the monetary contributions from donors went directly to our vital educational and legal programs."

It is still unclear why Liberty Counsel needed hundreds of thousands of dollars from the government, how it planned to use the money, or how many jobs it will retain as a result of the loan.

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) was founded by white nationalist John Tanton and has ties to senior White House adviser and noted white nationalist Stephen Miller. CIS received a loan worth somewhere between $350,000 and $1 million in support of 15 jobs.

CIS has spent the spring blaming undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Latin America for spreading the coronavirus. The group claimed "border crossers" were responsible for the recent surge in cases  not the state's botched reopening strategy under the leadership of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Another Tanton anti-immigrant hate group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), was approved for a loan of up to $1 million, reportedly for 35 jobs.

FAIR's most recently available IRS filing shows that the group pulled in $12 million in 2018 and more than double that the year before. It spent $3.7 million on salaries and other employee benefits in 2018, with $33.8 million in total net assets.

Per the SPLC, FAIR is "America's most influential anti-immigrant organization." This spring, FAIR lobbied the Trump administration on immigration issues. On June 22, President Donald Trump signed an executive order postponing most new work visas for the rest of the year.

The Washington-based Center for Security Policy locked in between $150,000 and $350,000 to put towards 13 employees. The group, which in 2018 reported revenues of $4.2 million and compensation expenses half of that amount, promotes such abominable conspiracy theories about Muslims that it got banned by the right-wing Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Most recently, the Center for Security Policy has labeled COVID-19 as "China's propaganda pandemic," claiming that Chinese President Xi Jinping "weaponized" the virus in an effort "to attack the United States and divide its leaders."

China is said to have imprisoned around one million of its Uyghur Muslim population in concentration camps, and has reportedly put about three million Uyghurs through "deprogramming." Former National Security Adviser John Bolton writes in his White House tell-all that Trump told President Xi to "go ahead with building the camps."

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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