Mainstream Charities Are Bankrolling Islamophobic Hate Groups

More than a thousand nonprofit foundations poured $125 million into 39 anti-Muslim organizations from 2014-16, according to a May 6 report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The donors included mainstream charitable organizations linked to companies such as Fidelity Investments and Charles Schwab.

The authors of the report, Dr. Abbas Barzegar, national research and advocacy director, and Zainab Arain, national research and advocacy manager, used federal tax filings to compile a database of the funders of the “Islamophobia Network” — groups that CAIR considers Islamophobic. CAIR describes the network as “a close-knit family of organizations and individuals that share an ideology of extreme anti-Muslim animus, and work with one another to negatively influence public opinion and government policy about Muslims and Islam.

“Together, the expansive funding network revealed in this report demonstrates that the Islamophobia Network cannot be considered a marginal or passing phenomenon in American society. Rather, it is a shameful institutional feature of American philanthropy,” said Arain in a press release.

“It is our hope that with sustained action, institutional collaboration, and dedicated will, a community of progressive and mainstream allies will emerge to push the Islamophobia Network back to the fringe of our society, where odious and incendiary speech belong,” said Barzegar.

Among the 1,096 nonprofits funding the Islamophobia Network, top donors include the leading donor-advised fund sponsors, which are among the largest charities in the U.S. These organizations, often tied to investment firms, operate individual charitable accounts for their clients and act as middle men between donors and recipients. Donors may remain anonymous, and they can benefit from sizeable tax breaks when transferring appreciated property to their individual funds. These donors include Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund ($8.7 donated to anti-Muslim groups from 2014-16), Schwab Charitable ($5.7 million), and Vanguard Charitable ($3.7), as well as faith-based donor-advised fund sponsors the National Christian Foundation ($15.7 million) and the Jewish Communal Fund ($3.2 million). Sludge has reported extensively on several top donor-advised funds’ donations to multiple types hate groups.

“I was shocked to see mainstream names like Fidelity and Schwab come up as funders to these virulently anti-Muslim groups,” Arain told Sludge. “It was completely unexpected. It shows just how thoroughly these Islamophobic groups are exploiting nonprofit laws and charitable institutions to advance hate.”

Private foundations of families that heavily fund Republican politics, including the Adelson Family Foundation ($6.1 million) and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation ($1.8 million), were also major Islamophobia Network donors.

The CAIR report profiles the biggest donors to anti-Muslim groups, as well as the Islamophobic organizations that received the most money from 2014-16. These recipients include:

  • American Center for Law and Justice, a constitutional law firm founded by televangelist Pat Robertson and lawyer Jay Sekulow, who now represents President Donald Trump, that filed a lawsuit in 2010 to prevent the construction of a Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan ($34 million)
  • Gatestone Institute, which promotes lies and misinformation about Islam and publishes commentary that characterizes Islam and Muslims as threats to Western society ($2.2 million)
  • Center for Security Policy, an anti-Muslim propaganda and lobbying group founded by well-known Islamophobe Frank Gaffney ($1.9 million)
  • Middle East Forum, a policy group founded by Daniel Pipes that lobbies for “legislation that would eviscerate American Muslim civil society and leadership,” according to CAIR ($1.5 million)

Trump’s Role in Disseminating Islamophobia

The Islamophobia Network has deep ties to a number of powerful individuals affiliated with the Trump campaign and administration, the authors explain. “Although Islamophobia has typically waxed and waned with the political cycle, the election of Donald Trump has opened a space for the Islamophobia Network to enter the formal halls of power,” the report states.

From statements like “I think Islam hates us” to his Muslim Ban, the president has communicated his deeply held anti-Muslim beliefs. So it’s no surprise that over one dozen current and former Trump campaign and administration officials are linked to the Islamophobia Network. For example, Stephen Miller, Trump’s top immigration strategist, has worked with the anti-Muslim David Horowitz Freedom Center. National Security Adviser John Bolton was chairman of the Gatestone Institute and regularly appears on the Center for Security Policy’s radio show. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has appeared on the Center for Security Policy’s radio show over 20 times, and he sponsored a legislative briefing at the 2016 national conference of Islamophobic advocacy group ACT for America.

In addition to infiltrating the White House in 2017, Islamophobic groups and have been increasing their influence on state politics, working to advance scores of anti-Muslim bills in current and recent legislative sessions. Many of the bills are so-called anti-Sharia law proposals, which, CAIR says, “function as a tool to foster fear of the unknown and vilify and create animosity toward an entire religious community.” Two such bills, moved along by employees of ACT for America and the Center for Security Policy, became law in Alabama and Texas in 2017.

CAIR defines Islamophobia as “a fear, hatred, or prejudice toward Islam and Muslims that results in a pattern of discrimination and oppression.” Islamophobia distorts Islam by associating it with “a set of stereotyped characteristics most often reducible to themes of violence, civilizational subversion, and fundamental otherness.”

Anti-Muslim groups have promoted anti-Muslim messaging that has contributed to an increase in hate crimes against Muslim-Americans in recent years.

“Anti-Muslim hate groups are using their money to attack American Muslims across numerous sectors,” Arain told Sludge. “They have pushed for anti-Sharia legislation. They have lobbied to shut down American Muslim institutions like women’s shelters, disaster relief groups, and places of worship. They have worked to interfere in and falsify school curricula. The list is nearly endless. Cutting off funding to these hate groups would mean a safer and more democratic America for everyone.”

The authors lay out recommendations for civil society organizations, philanthropic institutions, and religious groups to follow in order to stem the growth of anti-Muslim entities.

“Charities and foundations should work with researchers and community groups to protect themselves from exploitation by creating transparency and reviewing their practices to ensure that they don’t contribute to anti-Muslim, anti-democratic special-interest groups,” Arian told Sludge. “It is critically important to create industry-wide standards to ensure long-term solutions to this problem.”