Charlottesville Racism Sends Millions in Small Donations to Anti-hate Groups

Beyond Apple and Schwarzenegger: Rights groups say they’re seeing a surge of generosity from grassroots donors shocked by the far-right violence in Charlottesville

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A white supremacist wears a shirt with the slogan "European Brotherhood" at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017.
A white supremacist wears a shirt with the slogan "European Brotherhood" at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017.Credit: \ JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS

NEW YORK — Anti-hate and human rights groups are seeing a surge in donations since the demonstration in which neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, shouting anti-Semitic and racist chants and sparking violence that left one counterprotester dead and dozens wounded.

Small donations are eclipsing even the large gifts that have come in from headline names like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Apple CEO Tim Cook, according to leaders and staff members of human rights groups queried by Haaretz.

“We’ve never gotten so many $5 and $10 and $15 gifts. We’re really seeing a grassroots difference since Charlottesville,” said Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.

The number of online donations to the New York-based Anti-Defamation League soared 600 percent last week over the average week in 2017, and the amount donated was up around 10 times, said ADL spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara.

“Dozens of individuals and businesses last week decided to make special contributions to the ADL in support of the organization’s efforts to combat hate and bigotry in all forms,” she said. “The great majority of these gifts were from first time donors to the ADL.”

The ADL had nearly $57 million in revenue in 2015, the latest year for which a tax filing was available.

Donations to the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center are up 400 percent on what they usually are in August, said Rabbi Marvin Hier, the organization’s founder and dean.

“Usually August is the slowest month because people are on vacation,” he said. “That’s not the case now. People are frightened” by the events in Charlottesville, he said. The organization had just over $25 million in revenue in 2015, based on its tax filing.

Wendy Via, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, did not have specific figures on the current increases, but said that the uptick “is a significant difference for the month of August over last year." The organization had over $54 million in revenue in 2015, based on its tax filing.

Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect Director Steven Goldstein.Credit: Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Expecting great things

Donations come in response to the way an organization positions itself and communicates its message, said Goldstein of the Anne Frank Center. The group has been highly critical of U.S. President Donald Trump since before his inauguration, posting dozens of tweets weekly opposing his positions on everything from his plan to ban Muslim immigrants to his stance on LGBT issues. The Anne Frank Center had nearly $800,000 in revenue in 2015, based on its tax filing. That was before Goldstein began running the organization earlier this year and changed its name and direction.

While the group hasn’t received any million-dollar gifts, “our messaging has clearly resonated with the grassroots, and larger donations will come soon,” Goldstein said. “We’re talking to large donors who have said ‘your organization has been far less cautious than some others, and you have turned out to be correct.’ We have spoken this year with a voice that turned out to tragically predict Charlottesville.”

Last Wednesday, Apple CEO Cook announced that the company would donate $1 million each to the ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center, while Schwarzenegger donated $100,000 to the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The former California governor, the Austria-born son of a Nazi party member, has also pledged all the profits from the sale of a T-shirt featuring his image in the film “The Terminator,” saying “Terminate Hate.” More than 4,000 of the $25 shirt were sold in the first two days it was available.

Meanwhile, Fox Network scion James Murdoch broke ranks with his father, Trump supporter Rupert Murdoch, to criticize the president and also pledge $1 million to the ADL.

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks about the iPhone 4S at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California October 4, 2011.Credit: Reuters

And Jim Murren, the chief executive of MGM Resorts, the biggest casino owner on the Las Vegas Strip, has pledged to match his 77,000 employees’ donations to any of seven organizations including the ADL, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the NAACP. Murren is a lifelong Republican who last year publicly broke from that party to vote for Hillary Clinton.

The Wiesenthal Center’s Hier said that the surge in donations is not surprising.

“This response is standard. This is not a new phenomenon,” he said. “Many donors give emotionally when there’s a tragedy or terrorist attack. Whenever minorities and Jews feel threatened they respond by going to the organizations that are involved” in countering the threat.

Cook & Co. set the tone

But the effort seems to be reaping a whole new level of reward for anti-hate groups in the Trump era.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger attends a promotional tour for the film 'Terminator Genisys' in Shanghai, China, in this file photo taken August 19, 2015.Credit: Reuters

According to business news website MarketWatch, “The American Civil Liberties Union raised $24 million online after Trump issued an executive order banning immigration from several Muslim-majority countries and the environmental nonprofit Sierra Club raised more in the three days following the election than it did in all of 2015. Planned Parenthood saw donations increase 40-fold following the election.”

Staff members of the organizations that are beneficiaries of prominent figures’ largess say the gifts send important signals. “When you have industry leaders like Tim [Cook] and others it helps set a tone for people who might want to do something. They’re saying ‘we’re making a statement with our dollars,’” said Via of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Apple’s gift wasn’t something the group was in talks with the tech company about, Via said, calling the donation “a very pleasant surprise.”

Cook also sent an email to Apple’s 120,000 employees around the world, criticizing Trump’s decision to respond to the Charlottesville events by blaming both sides for the violence.

“We must not witness or permit such hate and bigotry in our country, and we must be unequivocal about it. This is not about the left or the right, conservative or liberal,” Cook wrote. “I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights. Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans.”

Via said such a message was even more important than Apple’s donation. “The dollars will help us do even more, but the letter he sent to Apple employees, that kind of message going out to an audience that most social justice organizations can’t reach, is huge,” she said.

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