The Complex Funding and Ideology of Black Lives Matter

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 05: People walk down 16th street after volunteers, with permission from the city, painted "Black Lives Matter" on the street near the White House on June 05, 2020 in Washington, DC. After seven days of protests in DC over the death of George Floyd, DC Mayor …
Tasos Katopodis / Stringer

Political and corporate support for Black Lives Matter has become ubiquitous over the past week. Everyone’s email inbox is bulging with messages of support from corporate sponsors, every website is covered with Black Lives Matter logos, and the group has benefited from numerous fundraisers and charity sales. But, many people might not realize that Black Lives Matter is a distinct political organization, not just a slogan or social media hashtag, and it has both enormous funding and a wide-ranging political agenda.

Founded by Radicals

BLM describes its own founders as “three radical Black organizers” named Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, who “created a Black-centered political will and movement building project… in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman.”

Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi — the founders of BLM (Photo source: BlackLivesMatter.com)

BLM’s history page proudly salutes the radical causes built into its DNA since its 2013 founding, including “liberation” politics and transgenderism.

In fact, BLM thinks other black civil rights movements aren’t nearly radical enough, especially when it comes to the gender politics of the hard Left: “Black liberation movements in this country have created room, space, and leadership mostly for Black heterosexual, cisgender men – leaving women, queer and transgender people, and others either out of the movement or in the background to move the work forward with little or no recognition.”

BLM incessantly refers to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and others as “murder,” ignoring all court decisions to the contrary, and describes police work as “state-sanctioned violence” against oppressed populations. In the course of explaining how it was formed, the group refers to cities like Ferguson, Missouri, as “occupied territory” – with law enforcement cast as a brutal invading force – and insists most other cities should be seen the same way: “We understood Ferguson was not an aberration, but in fact, a clear point of reference for what was happening to Black communities everywhere.”

Corporate and foundation sponsors appear unconcerned that BLM is unclear about who runs the movement today and commands its vast resources. The group itself claims it has no top-level leadership at all: “The project is now a member-led global network of more than 40 chapters. Our members organize and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.”

The BLM founders are involved in a sprawling network of other left-wing groups and clearly remain influential with Black Lives Matter, although they are not held accountable as its executives. A New Yorker interview with Tometi on June 3, for example, treated her as a top BLM spokeswoman while noting that she has moved on to create and manage other organizations, most recently including an immigration activist group called the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, which is listed as a “partner” by Black Lives Matter. Another partner is the UndocuBlack Network, a “multigenerational network of currently and formerly undocumented black people.”

“We have been fighting and advocating to stop a war on black lives. And that is how we see it – this is a war on black life. And people understand that this system is filled with all sorts of inequality and injustice, and that implicit bias and just outright racism is embedded in the way that policing is done in this nation – and when you think about it historically, it was founded as a slave patrol. The evolution of policing was rooted in that,” Tometi said in her New Yorker interview.

Coronavirus Hypocrisy

In her interview with the New Yorker, Tometi said the coronavirus pandemic is yesterday’s news, and the disease – which is said to be far more dangerous to blacks than any other demographic in the United States – should be no obstacle to righteous activism.

“Concern about the pandemic is high, but people are also very clear that you can sit at home and also be affected by this illness, or you can go out and fight for a chance to live a life full of dignity, and they are willing to risk it. I think we have to sit with the profundity of this moment, and what it really means for people to say, ‘You know what, we are in this health crisis yet I cannot stay in my house. There is too much at stake. I am going to make an informed decision, and I am going out against all odds because it is worth it and the status quo is intolerable,'” she said.

Protesters stretch for blocks during demonstrations over the death of George Floyd near the White House on June 6, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

This has become a common sentiment on the Left: the infections and deaths that could result from mass protests are less important than the BLM cause.

BLM actually has a section about the coronavirus on its website, and it makes absolutely no mention of lockdowns, social distancing, or any of the other draconian measures that have been imposed on the American people since March. Instead, BLM quite accurately predicted that the pandemic could result in “result in massive social, economic, and political upheaval as systems reach crisis points and begin to fracture.”

This is BLM’s six-point strategy for dealing with the coronavirus:

  • Immediately pass a coronavirus relief package now that provides emergency funding assistance to cover expenses to massively test the population in the millions and provide emergency food and shelter to all homeless and poor.
  • Provide a protection and testing plan for incarcerated people while in custody and upon release.
  • Expand SNAP and unemployment for the duration of the pandemic.
  • Immediately legislate fully paid sick leave for all workers.
  • Implement an immediate moratorium on evictions and utility shut-offs.
  • Emergency funding for family and community-based childcare for families who cannot work from home.

SNAP is better known as the food stamp program. None of these measures has anything to do with disease prevention or restarting the economy after a lockdown, and would become vastly more expensive if the massive BLM protests produce another wave of coronavirus infections and deaths, followed by another lockdown order. The first positive COVID-19 tests for people who participated in the protests and riots are beginning to come in.

BLM Funding

As the Washington Times noted in 2016, Black Lives Matter (BLM) presents itself as a plucky street-level movement with shoestring resources, but in truth it receives millions of dollars from corporate and political sponsors. The movement’s funding gives a hint of how far its political agenda stretches beyond criticizing the excessive use of force by police officers.

Fortune also looked at BLM funding in 2016 and noticed its agenda and funding streams could “help dispel the myth that the movement itself is set on violence,” but could also “confirm the worst fears” of skeptics who saw BLM becoming another part of the vast and protean left-wing money machine.

The machinery of BLM funding has only grown more complex since 2016, exacerbating a problem skeptics have warned about from the start: it is very difficult to know what each dollar donated to the movement will actually be used for. 

BLM’s major financial supporters include:

  • Airbnb – $500,000 to BLM and the NAACP
  • Anastasia Beverly Hills fashions – $1 million pledged, $100,000 donated so far to groups including BLM
  • Bad Robot Productions – film studio involved in Star Trek, Star Wars, and Mission Impossible, $10 million pledged to “anti-racist” groups. BLM among the first recipients
  • BTS, a Korean pop group – $1 million, matching donations from fans
  • Cisco, electronics giant – $5 million to groups including BLM and its own Fighting Racism and Discrimination fund
  • DECIEM cosmetics – $100,000 to NAACP and BLM  
  • Democracy Alliance – another Soros-linked group, added BLM to its annual $500 million donor list
  • Door Dash – food delivery company, $500,000
  • Ford Foundation and Borealis Philanthropy – Left-wing groups that established a $100 million donor fund
  • George Soros’ Open Society Foundation – $33 million
  • Glossier cosmetics – $500,000
  • Pokemon Company – owners of the popular card game and its characters, $100,000
  • Scopely – mobile phone game developer, $1 million to BLM, NAACP, and Equal Justice Initiative
  • Spanx – undergarment manufacturer, $100,000 to groups including BLM
  • Square Enix computer games – $250,000 to BLM, also matching employee donations
  • Ubisoft computer games – $100,000 to NAACP and BLM
  • The Weeknd – Canadian R&B singer, $250,000

Sources include the above-mentioned Washington Times and Fortune pieces, PoliticoRolling StoneForbesNBC News, The Wrap, and Ellewhich has a long list of fashion and cosmetics firms making donations to BLM. ArtNet on Monday published a list of artists and galleries holding charity sales to support BLM.  

The L.A. Times on Tuesday reported numerous companies are implementing donor-match programs that will match individual employee donations to Black Lives Matter with corporate funds.

As several of the above sources pointed out, it’s not always easy to tell when donations are going to BLM itself or its partners. The Financial Times reported that a flood of cash is pouring into civil rights groups, many of them allied with BLM or supportive of its projects. NBC News’ article about “corporate donations for BLM” only mentioned a few direct donations to the Black Lives Matter organization; the rest went to groups like the NAACP, ACLU, and Southern Poverty Law Center.

Groups like the Ford Foundation, Borealis Philanthropy, and Democracy Alliance tend to establish large funds that are disbursed to many smaller organizations, chapters, and individual activists. Not everyone who claims to be with “Black Lives Matter” is a certified member of the group founded by Garza, Cullors, and Tometi.

New York Magazine published an approving article on June 4 telling readers how to donate money to the Black Lives Matter movement. The article listed one hundred and fifteen “funds, organizations, and individual activists” linked to BLM, and those were just the financial intakes New York felt it had adequately “vetted” to ensure they weren’t outright scams. 

The article subdivided these 115 recommended donation recipients based on how they pledge to use the money they are given, “whether that’s to post bail/bonds for demonstrators arrested at protests, to purchase protective equipment to protesters on the front lines, to invest in rebuilding black communities where protests have occurred, or to invest in community enrichment programs for black and brown youth.” 

In the course of a very approving June 6 piece about the growth of bail funds, The Atlantic let slip a little hint about the difficulty of tracing these tens of millions of dollars in donations: “Whether celebrities – or anyone, for that matter – who donate to a bail fund believe that the system needs a total overhaul is almost irrelevant. Their money equips activists and organizers to do work that tangibly improves the lives of people whom the police often target.”

In other words, money is fluid and fungible, and donors often end up financing agendas they might not fully agree with when they give money to a slogan. The value of nearly-ubiquitous corporate promotion of the Black Lives Matter name over the past week is incalculable – there is nothing that kind of full-spectrum, all but inescapable advertising across television, print media, and the Internet could be compared to.

The Full BLM Agenda

From the earliest days of the BLM movement, as the 2016 pieces cited above indicate, critics have noticed it has a very wide-ranging agenda that reaches far beyond police issues – and, sometimes, working against black lives.

At the time of this writing, the top agenda item on the BLM web page is “Defund the Police” – a position only a very small minority of Americans supports, including a very small share of black Americans.

Black Lives Matter has a lengthy “What We Believe” statement on its website that begins with highly contentious and politicized assertions such as expressing rage at “the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman” and moving along to “justice for Mike Brown and all of those who have been torn apart by state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism.”

Further down the page, the official BLM agenda wanders into support for transgenderism, a vow to “dismantle cisgender privilege,” and some very heavy-duty plans for destroying and rebuilding American society:

We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work.

We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).(Emphasis added.)

In Boston, Massachusetts, a BLM chapter is asking that $15 million in American taxpayer money be spent on providing summer jobs to — not Black Americans — but illegal aliens. Study after study has revealed that every ten percent increase in the immigrant share of an occupation reduces the income of black American men by roughly five percent.

By doing business with companies that support BLM, you might be inadvertently funding its destructive and coercive left-wing policy agenda. Once upon a time, even Democrats understood how radical that agenda was, as a leaked memo from 2015 revealed Democrat Party leadership warning staffers and politicians to keep their distance from the movement.

Hashtag Confusion

As mentioned above, many people think “Black Lives Matter” is a slogan, an ideal, or a grassroots movement, not a political organization with eight figures of funding and a hardcore left-wing policy agenda. 

This is a very old game practiced by both amateurs and political professionals. Every bill that passes through Congress is given a name that suggests only the most heartless villain could possibly oppose it. Many organizations on both the Left and Right claim to speak for sympathetic constituencies, or carefully cultivate an image of being much less wealthy and powerful than they actually are. 

In the case of Black Lives Matter, the movement’s slogan is effectively becoming the definition of “anti-racism,” which means all disagreement and doubt are racist by definition. This can be seen in the white-hot rage directed at anyone who dares to say “All Lives Matter,” for example – a phrase as inherently benevolent and obviously true as “Black Lives Matter,” but the “All” formulation has been redefined as a vile curse, an unforgivable assault on the purity of Black Lives Matter.

That’s a very large ideological umbrella, and plenty of other left-wing groups are jockeying for space beneath it, some of them highly toxic. The Jerusalem Post on Sunday worried about anti-Semitic and anti-Israel forces climbing aboard the BLM train, making an effort to “hijack the civil rights discourse and portray Israel as a ‘settler’ state linked to ‘white supremacy.’”

“That hostility is clear when voices such as Marc Lamonte Hill retweet a Ben and Jerry’s tweet supporting the protests with the comment ‘we dealing with justice in illegal settlements too or nah?’” the Jerusalem Post noted, neatly bringing together the issues of unreflective corporate support for BLM and the effort to hook other ideologies to its runaway populist locomotive.

More humorously, Yahoo News on Sunday found all sorts of Internet “influencers” trying to hitch their wagons to BLM, only to be rebuffed by activists furious at them for trivializing the movement or hijacking its themes for selfish purposes. The line between welcome support and unacceptable exploitation of the movement is blurry. Vegan restaurants are praised for donating money to BLM, for example, while a vegan influencer who endorsed BLM because it’s fighting “the same fight” as crusaders against cruelty to animals was forcefully told to keep her deep thoughts to herself. White social media celebrities are taking some heat for trying to insert themselves into the Black Lives Matter movement, often in ways that trivialize the issues and make the protests seem like giant block parties.

A viral tweet of a young woman allegedly getting her companion to take a photo of her in front of a vandalized T-mobile store, presumably for the purposes of posting on social media. 

BLM itself feels that some of this performative activism dilutes its message and detracts from its policy agenda. For example, the group expressed annoyance with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser allowing “Black Lives Matter” to be printed in giant letters on the street in front of the White House because it was a “distraction” from “our demands to decrease the police budget and invest in the community.”

“Bowser has consistently been on the wrong side of BLMDC history. This is to appease white liberals while ignoring our demands. Black Lives Matter means defund the police,” BLM said.

What does “Black Lives Matter” really mean? What agenda are people supporting with their black boxes, tweets, Facebook posts, and financial donations? In this turbulent moment, the movement is having trouble even defining what “Defund the Police” really means, perhaps sensing that the position is so unpopular that it must be hastily redefined as “reform the police, details to come later.” Some BLM leaders insist they are primarily interested in sensible community policing reforms, while others think New York Governor Andrew Cuomo doesn’t swing far enough to the Left.

A popular internet meme poking fun at the premise of last week’s “Blackout Tuesday”

It seems remarkable that a group with so little discipline, so much confusion over its agenda, and so much money at its disposal would be allowed to effectively demand compulsory support from the entire American public and corporate and political class, without any deep media investigation of its finances, leadership, or agenda. Many of BLM’s donors are signing on to a new social contract with a great deal of fine print they should read more carefully.

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