(RNS) — Nearly 1,100 philanthropic organizations have funneled almost $125 million into dozens of anti-Muslim groups from 2014 to 2016, helping once-fringe ideas shape public opinion and government policy, according to a new report from a civil rights group.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ report, “Hijacked by Hate: American Philanthropy and the Islamophobia Network,” traces the flow of money from mainstream charities and foundations to 39 identified anti-Muslim special interest groups through anonymous donations. In all, the report identifies some $1.5 billion in private donations and other funds that have been made available to anti-Muslim organizations.
"These anti-Muslim groups have more than a billion dollars in collective revenue that is used to advance an anti-Muslim agenda," said Zainab Arain, CAIR’s national research and advocacy manager. "They lobby legislatures to pass anti-Muslim laws and policies, interfere in and falsify school curriculum and promote prejudicial and biased media content."
CAIR’s researchers spent more than a year examining thousands of pages of publicly available tax filings and records from searchable databases to see which groups charitable organizations funded from 2014 to 2016.
The report then mapped out the deep-rooted connections between several prominent anti-Muslim groups that received such funding and Trump administration staff and anti-Muslim legislation that has been introduced in states around the country.
The donations uncovered range from amounts of $20 to $32.4 million. Among the largest funders are mainstream philanthropic organizations like the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, the Adelson Family Foundation, the Schwab Charitable Fund, Donors Capital Fund Inc. and the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program.
“Unfortunately, along with the usual ideologically oriented actors, we have found mainstream charities and foundations being directly or indirectly involved in funneling anonymized donations to the Islamophobia network,” Arain said.
The $1.5 billion those anti-Muslim groups have access to during the timeframe in question has been used to lobby for shutting down Muslim organizations, to stage anti-Muslim rallies and promote anti-Sharia bills in state legislatures across the country, Arain noted.
“What these hate groups are doing is, they’re exploiting the robust tradition of American philanthropy and turning it around to hurt our democracy,” she said at a press conference in Washington, D.C., introducing the findings. “It’s not just an abstract thing. It has very real implications.”
Vanguard Charitable alone has granted at least $2,709,500 to anti-Muslim groups. One of America’s largest donor-advised funds, which function like a charitable investment fund, Vanguard Charitable allows its clients to recommend where their money is given while preserving their anonymity.
More than half of those dollars went to the Center for Security Policy, a far-right think tank that the Southern Poverty Law Center has called a “conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement." The Center for Security Policy was responsible for commissioning now-White House spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway’s polling company to produce a survey that showed that a quarter of Muslims in the U.S. believe violence against America is justified "as part of the global jihad." Though the poll’s methodology has been widely criticized by researchers as unrepresentative and shaky, the Trump administration cited it to justify the travel ban on Muslim-majority countries.
Vanguard Charitable, which donates billions to organizations like Doctors Without Borders and Boy Scouts of America, also gave to the Clarion Project, which describes itself as an organization that “educates the public about the dangers of radical Islam." Center for American Progress Fear Inc. reports list the Clarion Project as one of the “main organizations fueling the Islamophobia network.”
The Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund has donated to humanitarian organizations such as Unicef, the American Red Cross and the SPLC. But it has also donated more than $1,845,000 to 34 anti-Muslim groups, including $800,000 to the David Horowitz Center, a think tank led by a figure the SPLC has named a member of the U.S.' "Anti-Muslim Inner Circle."
Many of the faith-based charities, private family foundations and commercial foundations listed in the report are mainstream prominent philanthropy organizations that researchers say may not have been aware of how their funds were used.
“What we fear is that Schwab, Fidelity, Vanguard, even mainstream conservative groups... are being used by hatemongers to funnel money into places where they don't want to show up and say 'yes, I donated to so and so,’” said CAIR’s research and advocacy director, Abbas Barzegar. “The banks and charities themselves are unequipped to handle this.”
Charitable organizations must “secure their institutions from manipulation by anonymous donors who are using tax breaks and loopholes within our system to hide their funding," Barzegar said.
Through a new national campaign, CAIR aims to help equip these philanthropic groups to divest from anti-Muslim groups. The report also encourages philanthropic institutions to audit grantmaking processes to determine whether their institution “intentionally or unintentionally” funded anti-Muslim groups and enact policies to prevent it from happening again.
The list of funders also includes faith-based organizations, such as the Jewish Communal Fund — which gave $3,200,000 in grants to 31 anti-Muslim groups, including author Robert Spencer and far-right activist Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative — and the National Christian Foundation, which CAIR notes is the “second largest funder of anti-Muslim hate in America” and has funneled at least $15 million into the anti-Muslim industry.
"Islamophobia has now embedded itself in mainstream philanthropic institutions and threatens American democracy,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “We cannot counter Islamophobia until we understand this phenomenon, its strategies, its tactics, and who's funding it.”
Since 2010, CAIR’s annual Islamophobia reports have documented the financial and political connections of dozens of figures and organizations actively working to spread anti-Muslim propaganda.