A prominent conservative dark money fund favored by Republican megadonors such as Charles Koch, Robert Mercer, and the family of Betsy Devos is by far the biggest known backer of two white nationalist hate groups that helped inspire a teen to “kill as many blacks as possible” in Buffalo, New York on May 14.
In recent years, DonorsTrust, a donor-advised fund manager with over $600 million in assets at the end of 2020, has bankrolled VDARE, a notorious white nationalist hate group and nonprofit that publishes anti-immigrant and racist propaganda and apologia for far-right activists. In his lengthy manifesto, the 18-year-old terrorist who stormed a Tops supermarket last month cited a story from VDARE’s website as evidence that Black people “simply are not built to live in the White world.”
In 2020, DonorsTrust also gave an unprecedented donation to the foundation behind the white nationalist magazine and website American Renaissance, as the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) previously reported. A hate group led by Jared Taylor, it is known for promoting the black-on-white crime myth, which has inspired terrorists such as white nationalist mass murderer Dylann Roof, the teenager who killed nine Black members of a South Carolina congregation in 2015. The Buffalo killer cited an American Renaissance post about its 1999 report, The Color of Crime, which claims that Black Americans are far more violent than those of other races and that they disproportionately target white victims.
Before livestreaming his supermarket rampage and murder of 10 Black people, Payton Gendron posted a racist and antisemitic manifesto explaining the twisted reasoning behind his attack. He wrote that the white nationalist in Christchurch, New Zealand who livestreamed his mass murder of 51 worshiping Muslims in 2019 first prompted his “real research into the problems with immigration and foreigners in our White lands.”
Gendron’s manifesto is full of references to the Great Replacement theory, a central tenet of white nationalism that claims an elite global cabal is trying to wipe out the white race in the U.S. and Europe by allowing immigrants of color into their countries. Despite the 300-year history of the transatlantic slave trade—when Africans were abducted from their home countries and forced into slavery in the U.S—Gendron views Black Americans as “invaders.”
In villainizing the entire race, Gendron calls Black people “a different subspecies of human” while making an array of other racist and false claims, presumably gathered through his “research.” He also cited an online post by VDARE about Black serial killers, a topic given its own category on the site.
“The horror in funding these white nationalist nonprofits is not only that this content apparently inspires the writing of terrorists,” Michael Edison Hayden, senior investigative reporter and spokesperson at the SPLC, told CMD. “It’s going in both directions. Groups like VDARE also publish apologia about the writings of white supremacist terrorists. That looks to me like a very dangerous feedback loop at play between white nationalist authors and the evil sociopaths who are inspired by this racist propaganda to kill.”
Hayden called on donor-advised fund managers to stop funding hate groups. “More innocent people will suffer if we don’t cut these racist propagandists off from their supply of dark money,” he said. “Based upon what I have seen, they’re not popular enough to survive without it.”
DonorsTrust donated a staggering $1.5 million to the VDARE Foundation in 2019, as well as $10,500 to the New Century Foundation, the nonprofit that operates American Renaissance. The following year, DonorsTrust gave an unprecedented $600,000 to the New Century Foundation, in addition to $75,000 for the VDARE Foundation.
The fund manager and its sister organization, Donors Capital Fund, operate donor-advised funds, which are individual charitable accounts. Clients get special tax benefits by using a donor-advised fund and instruct the fund manager to distribute their money to the charitable nonprofit(s) of their choice. While donor-advised fund managers have complete control over where the money goes, many leave the decision to their clients.
DonorsTrust did not respond to a request for comment. CEO Lawson Bader previously misrepresented his fund’s policies to CMD, falsely claiming that its donor-clients determine the recipients. Like other donor-advised fund managers, DonorsTrust legally owns its clients’ money, and according to its own donor prospectus, its board of directors must approve each recipient. These directors claim that their organizations are committed to “protecting our Nation’s constitutional liberties and strengthening civil society through private institutions.”
In 2020, the most recent year for which tax information is available, DonorsTrust dispersed $137 million to right-wing organizations, including those that promote conspiracy theories about Covid-19, support voter suppression, draft corporate-friendly legislation, and misinform the public about climate change, among other causes.
While DonorsTrust is by far the biggest known funder of white nationalist hate groups in the U.S., it is not alone. Mainstream donor-advised fund managers connected to large investment firms, small private foundations, and other nonprofits have funded five American white nationalist organizations since 2014, according to research by the CMD.
Despite reporting on the trend by CMD/Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Sludge, several major funds continue to contribute directly to white nationalist hate groups. Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund, the biggest charity in the U.S., gave $11,300 to VDARE and $6,800 to the New Century Foundation in 2020, the fund’s most recent fiscal year on record. The Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program donated $23,500 to VDARE in 2021, and Schwab Charitable gave VDARE $6,000 that fiscal year.
In a comment for CMD, Fidelity Charitable eschewed responsibility for funding white nationalist hate, saying it "is a cause-neutral independent public charity" and blaming the Internal Revenue Service.
"It has always been, and continues to be, the role of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and other governing institutions to determine a charity’s legitimacy," said a Fidelity Charitable spokesperson. "Grants are recommended by individual donors and are processed through donor-advised fund accounts."
In 2019, the fund manager told Sludge in 2019, "If there are concerning reports identified regarding a specific charity, Fidelity Charitable documents such reports, and considers the information in the event a grant is recommended to the charity involved.” Fidelity's grant review and due diligence description says that "it does not make grants if an organization may be engaged in illegal or non-charitable activity (such as terrorism, money laundering, hate crimes, or fraud)."
CMD asked Fidelity Charitable how disseminating racist propaganda could be considered a charitable activity. The fund manager did not answer the question.
Vanguard Charitable gave over $93,000 to the VDARE Foundation from its 2017-21 fiscal years. All of its grants must "advance the public good," according to its grant review process. The fund manager did not respond to CMD's request for comment. In 2019, it told Sludge, "We believe that philanthropy can best increase the public good when a variety of ideas, views and projects are supported by philanthropic dollars…Vanguard Charitable donors hold a variety of views across the political spectrum, and as such Vanguard Charitable supports organizations which may be on opposing sides of issues/debates.”
Schwab Charitable, which gave the VDARE Foundation over $17,000 from its 2018-21 fiscal years, did not respond to a request for comment.
In contrast, the Innovia Foundation, a community foundation based in Spokane, Washington, stopped funding VDARE in 2020 after several news reports exposed the donations.
The National Philanthropic Trust, another donor-advised fund manager, gave $50,000 each to the VDARE Foundation and the New Century Foundation in the 2020 fiscal year, but it did not donate to either group in FY2021. It declined to comment for this story.
Spinning Stats into Hate
While Gendron likely viewed multiple VDARE articles before committing mass murder, the post he chose to cite in his manifesto had been republished from an original post on The Unz Review, a white nationalist site that features notorious racists such as American Renaissance's Jared Taylor, neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, and an alt-right propagandist whose pseudonym is Eric Striker. The byline for the post he cited is Paul Kersey, a frequent contributor to VDARE who writes about alleged Black crime. The writer’s actual name is reportedly Michael J. Thompson, a white nationalist who used his real name when working for conservative media outlets in the 2010s but adopted a pseudonym when moonlighting for more radical sites and publications.
The VDARE version of the post begins with an ad for the 2012 book The Rise of the Black Serial Killer. The author, Justin Cottrell, has appeared on a racist, Christian theocratic podcast alongside neo-Nazi Matthew Heimbach and operates a website called Ethnic Crime Report. In a quotation on the cover, James Edwards, host of a white nationalist podcast, refers to the book as "ammunition." The SPLC points out that Edwards "has probably done more than any of his contemporaries on the American radical right to publicly promote neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, raging anti-Semites and other extremists."
The subject of the post is an international serial killer database maintained by Mike Aamodt, a consultant and former psychology professor at Virginia-based Radford University, in collaboration with faculty and staff from Florida Gulf Coast University. Serial killers—defined by the database as anyone convicted of killing at least two people on separate occasions, a standard the FBI used at a 2005 symposium—are rarely the focus of academic study, and the database is one of the largest in the world.
The database cites Cottrell's book, among other sources. In a presentation, Aamondt stated that Cottrell's data may have underestimated the number of white serial killers because the author concentrated his search on Black serial killers. Aamodt declined to comment on the record for this story.
In 2014, a study and paper by David Lester and John White, then psychology professors at Richard Stockton College in New Jersey, found a much lower percentage of Black serial killers since 1900 than in Cottrell's book and Aamodt's database. It also noted limitations in Cottrell's research and cast doubt on the reliability of his conclusions. Using at least three sources for each data point, Lester and White found far fewer verifiable serial killers. They also defined serial killers as having at least three—not two—victims.
The Color of Crime, the 1999 American Renaissance report referenced in Gendron’s manifesto, was written by Taylor and an AmRen contributor and member of the white nationalist group the Council of Conservative Citizens named Glayde Whitney. In 2000, the SPLC called the publication "faulty" and "demonstrably wrong." Yet AmRen has updated the booklet multiple times, with the most recent version (in 2016) credited to Edwin S. Rubenstein, who has written for right-wing think tanks in the Charles Koch network—including the Manhattan Institute and the Hudson Institute, where he was director of research—as well as for VDARE's website, where he contributes a monthly column. Rubenstein makes easily refutable claims, asserting, for instance, that racist police practices in the U.S. are "negligible."
Gendron references other extremist sources for his racist ideas, including a retracted paper written by white nationalists who claimed that people with darker skin were more likely to be violent and hypersexual. Both authors, the late J. Philippe Rushton and Donald Templer, spoke at American Renaissance conferences, and Rushton led the race science initiative at the white nationalist hate group Pioneer Fund. The paper cited fringe sources such as an article by white nationalist Richard Lynn, The Unz Review, Breitbart News, and Mises Institute writer Richard Rider.
All of these extremist sources spin crime statistics to make deeply racist claims about violence, sexual behavior, and IQ among Black people to fit the authors' white nationalist narratives. In The Color of Crime, Taylor and Whitney blame "higher rates of black crime on an innate black criminality, when in fact those disproportionate crime rates could be explained by poverty and related structural disadvantages," according to the SPLC.
After ingesting flawed, white nationalist framings of crime statistics from VDARE, American Renaissance, and other sources devoid of historical and sociological context, Gendron presented his own 180-page justification of why he felt driven to rid Buffalo of its Black residents and fight "white genocide." He intended his mass murder and manifesto to inspire others to kill more people of color and "eventually start a war that will save…the White race."
Even after so many horrifying massacres in the U.S. and abroad, DonorsTrust—along with donor-advised fund managers linked to Fidelity Investments, Vanguard, and Charles Schwab—seem to be as ready as ever to support hate groups that inspire such racist brutality.