Accused hate groups receive pandemic aid

14 groups identified as hate groups benefited from the PPP program.

A demonstrator holds a sign reading 'Stop the Hate' at a protest against President Donald Trump's visit following a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 7, 2019.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

Fourteen organizations designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Anti-Defamation League have received funding from the Paycheck Protection Program totaling $4.3 million, according to data released last week by the Small Business Administration, revealing who benefited from the pandemic federal relief funds.

Those organizations include the New Century Foundation, known for publishing the white supremacist website and now-discontinued magazine American Renaissance. That group is run by prominent white supremacist Jared Taylor, who for decades has argued that immigration policy should aim to “keep the country white.” The New Century Foundation received $51,600 in relief funds.

The analysis by NBC News, one of 11 newsrooms that sued for the release of data, was based on hate groups designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Anti-Defamation League, that received PPP money and primarily focus on advocating against immigrants and opposing the advancement of homosexual and transgender rights. NBC News crosschecked the PPP data against 73 different designated hate groups whose work and advocacy focuses on attacking, maligning and delegitimizing entire classes of people based on their ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or if they have a disability.

The same list of hate groups was used in an assessment earlier this year for research conducted by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, an anti-extremism think tank, and the Global Disinformation Index, a nonprofit research group, that analyzed how hate groups fundraise and collect payments online, which was exclusively reported by NBC News. All the groups assessed were also active as of 2020 and are actively promoting hateful ideologies, whether through literature, online content or grassroots organizing. In total, the 14 accused hate groups that received relief funds analyzed by NBC News were awarded a total of $4.3 million in PPP loans. Overall more than 5.2 million PPP loans worth more than $525 billion were approved, according to the SBA.

The groups that received funds also include American Family Association, a group that opposes what its leaders describe as the "homosexual agenda." It received $1,390,800 in PPP funds. The Federation for American Immigration Reform, known as FAIR, an anti-immigration group founded by leaders that hold ties to white supremacists, also was awarded $683,680 from the relief program.

Among the anti-LGBT groups that received relief funds is Church Militant, an organization that runs a media operation that advocates for so-calledgay conversion therapies and links homosexuality to pedophilia, reaching large followings across Facebook, YouTube and on its own website. The group received a $301,100 PPP loan, according to SBA data.

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The findings of the NBC News analysis troubled some experts who track the work of these specific hate groups.

“When it comes to the speed at which the PPP money had to be approved –– because people's livelihoods were on the line –– it was expected that some would exploit the system,” said Joan Donovan, the research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, who studies how hate groups operate online. “Considering some of these were known hate groups, there should be a review at the government level to ensure that these monies were spent in the right ways and not to further any hateful activities these groups may be engaging in.”

The Small Business Administration said in a statement that it’s not commenting on any individual borrowers or loans. It reiterated that just because a loan was issued by the agency doesn’t mean that the recipient was eligible to receive it or that the loan will ultimately be forgiven.

“SBA takes seriously its stewardship of taxpayer dollars and has designed a robust loan review process to ensure that only eligible borrowers received loans that fully complied with program requirements,” an SBA spokesperson said.

To be fair, many advocacy organizations and nonprofits received PPP loans. About 3.5 percent of total PPP funds and 7 percent of the total dollar amount went to nonprofits, according to data analyzed by NBC News.

Recipient responses

NBC asked all 14 groups how they used their PPP money and if there were particular projects or revenue generating activities that halted during the pandemic that were supplemented with the relief funds. Six of the 14 groups responded.

“FAIR is in full compliance with the rules and the law, and we operate within the full intent and spirit of the PPP program,” said Ira Mehlman, the media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Church Militant disputed the SPLC’s designation of the organization as a hate group and said it has no response.

The Center for Family and Human Rights also disputed its hate group status. The American College of Pediatricians, which was also identified in this list, called the SPLC’s hate group designation a “mischaracterization.”

The Liberty Counsel, which received $428,100 in PPP monies and is designated as a hate group by the SPLC for its anti-LGBTQ advocacy, said that it used the funds for employee salaries, which allowed the organization to maintain its entire workforce without laying off any of its 35 employees. Mat Staver, the chairman and founder of the Liberty Counsel, added that his organization advocated in Washington, D.C., to make PPP relief funds available to nonprofits, regardless of their views.

The American Family Association and the New Century Foundation did not respond to requests for comment.

But the reporting showing that these groups received financial support alarmed the experts who track them.

“Extremist movements thrive in climates of political uncertainty,” said Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the SPLC. “In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, far-right actors have exploited people’s fears and grievances to promote their ideologies. But now the government is doing even more to help hate groups by handing them millions of dollars in forgivable loans.”