The “Freedom” Foundation Attacks Public HealthJuly 2, 2020
With its attempted attack on labor unions stalled out, billionaire-funded “Freedom” Foundation panders to the lunatic fringe.
The group that once said fighting unions is “the only thing we do” has apparently changed its tune, in a desperate attempt to gain relevance after years of no traction in their feeble attack on working families in the Northwest. They’ve taken their place back in the sub-culture where they belong – the COVID conspiracy theorists. The “Plandemic” crowd is a perfect fit for an organization whose CEO attends a church where the pastor compared environmentalists to Nazis and two of its former key staff are now writing violent prepper novels under pseudonyms.
As states like Texas and Florida have to shut down again because of an increase in COVID cases, the right-wing “Freedom” Foundation is using their out-of-state dollars to bring the same anti-science agenda to Washington State. If they weren’t so inept and we didn’t have a governor who was leading the way on the COVID response, we would be much more worried.
It would be just another reason to mock the failing front group if the misinformation they were spreading wasn’t so dangerous. Their so-called “policy” staff, their right-wing attorneys and their “outreach” department (which doesn’t do much outreach at all) appear redirected to a new mission – put as many people into harm’s way of the COVID-19 pandemic as possible, and hope to raise money off the unsuspecting fringe, right-wing activists.
By weaving conspiracy theories to shake faith in public health officials, the so-called “Freedom” Foundation is blatantly disregarding the actual numbers of infected and dead, not just in our state but nationwide. By trying to camouflage the dangerous reality of this pandemic, they are discouraging safety measures that protect the elderly, front line workers, and communities of color.
Their “legal department,” meanwhile, is waging an inexplicable war against the health of people in the “Freedom” Foundation’s own backyard, Thurston County, and beyond. Their latest lawsuit hopes to cancel any mask-wearing directives that could slow down viral transmission. When Thurston County ceded authority to Gov. Inslee’s statewide mask mandate, the “Freedom” Foundation ridiculously took credit. Now, the group is blustering and fundraising over a possible lawsuit against the state mask directive, channeling the anti-science backlash and shameful disregard for others’ well-being during a pandemic.
The science is clear – wearing masks may not protect you perfectly, but it definitely protects others. Asking everyone to wear masks is a simple ask, but “Freedom” Foundation attorney Shella Sadovnik feebly complains that it’s awkward telling your employees to wear them. Meanwhile, mountains of scientific reports are pointing to masks slowing the rate of transmission at an encouraging rate. Over in Chelan, their attorneys are also suing Washington State to block any public health oversight of a water park that wants to open up to thousands of customers this summer, a potential super-spreader event for the virus and a major threat to the water park’s staff.
Their “outreach” team (which would have been fired a long time ago if they did outreach for any progressive organization) has also been struggling to undermine public health measures, both in public and online. Hoping to turn this deadly virus into political capital, the “Freedom” Foundation has been coming after Gov. Inslee’s health mandates with airplane banners, billboards, and an anti-quarantine rally at the Capitol building. Their new fundraising pitches request donations to do more of the same. Their social media staffer has been reposting misleading information about the supposed danger of wearing masks.
When an organization’s mission bottoms out, it can make sense to pivot, and apparently, the “Freedom” Foundation has done just that. Organized workers, the “Freedom” Foundation’s dreaded foe, have only become stronger and more energized in the last two years, no matter how much money the anti-union group pours into their regressive campaign.
Now the “Freedom” Foundation is spending its cash on downplaying the dangers of COVID-19 while preaching the dangers of wearing masks and listening to health officials. In doing so, they send a clear message they don’t care how many of us die, as long as they can get another few minutes on Newsmax or some other right-wing internet site. The only “hoax” is the Freedom Foundation, itself, as it regurgitates hazardous right-wing conspiracies in a quest for membership in the lunatic fringe.
The anti-worker “Freedom” Foundation’s so-called National Director Aaron Withe — who got his job because he’s best friends with the CEO’s son and then failed up — has been absurdly appointed to the Oregon Advisory Committee on Civil Rights.
His organization has ties to white supremacists and anti-LGBTQ organizations, and has promoted known bigots like Laura Ingraham, Dinesh D’Souza and Mike Huckabee. The NWAP circulated the following memo to other members of the committee and those overseeing the process of selecting members, and will continue educating the public about their contributions to the mainstreaming of white nationalism.
TO: Interested Parties
FROM: The Northwest Accountability Project
RE: Aaron Withe’s Appointment to the Oregon Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is Inappropriate and Dangerous. Remove him immediately.
It has recently come to our attention that Aaron Withe, a staffer at an extremist, right-wing organization based in Washington State has been appointed to the Oregon Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This appointment is inappropriate and dangerous. It flies in the face of everything the Committee is tasked to achieve as Withe and his employer have strong connections to anti-LGBTQ organizations, anti-immigrant leaders and white supremacists, and are pushing a hateful and divisive agenda.
We, along with our partners, are shocked and disappointed that Withe holds this position and we urge that he is removed immediately.
Withe is currently the National Director of the Freedom Foundation and a member of their “Executive Team.” Their mission is to silence workers by attacking unions that represent women and people of color like homecare workers and educators in order to win elections for extremist politicians. The Freedom Foundation and Withe regularly aligned themselves with discriminatory organizations and funders, and have hired staff who are openly racist. Here are the facts about the Freedom Foundation and Aaron Withe:
- The Freedom Foundation shares funders with anti-LGBTQ organizations and white supremacist organizations. One of their key funders is the Murdock Trust which has given the Freedom Foundation nearly half a million dollars. Murdock is a leading funder of anti-LGBTQ organizations, even funding groups that practice and promote so-called “gay conversion therapy.” One of Murdock’s most notorious grantees is the Alliance Defending Freedom which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group. Another Freedom Foundation funder is the Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation, which has given the Freedom Foundation millions of dollars. Bradley is currently funding the fellowship of Charles Murray who wrote the Bell Curve, a book that used “racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the Black and Latino communities, women and the poor.” Many modern-day white supremacists cite Charles Murray as the godfather of their movement. Another Freedom Foundation funder is the Pennsylvania-based Sarah Scaife Foundation which also funds anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant organizations, and whose founder was a known anti-immigrant leader.
- Beyond their financial ties to hate groups, one of the Freedom Foundation’s key staffers in Washington State is Jac Cates, who made openly racist and misogynistic comments including calling for the deportation of all Muslims, and mocking survivors of domestic assault. After being alerted to his actions, Withe and the rest of the Freedom Foundation leadership took no public action and the staffer remains gainfully employed.
- The Freedom Foundation has a long history of inviting extremist commentators and politicians to headline their fundraisers, including former Carl’s Jr CEO Andy Puzder who once called his employees “the best of the worst,” and Dinesh D’Souza who once said that African Americans behave differently from other races through negative behavior and dependency, and once publicly outed LGBTQ students without their permission when he was editor of his college newspaper. Now they have events planned with anti-immigrant pundit, Laura Ingraham, and leading anti-LGBTQ pundit, Mike Huckabee at two high dollar fundraising events in Washington and Oregon.
- Recently, the Freedom Foundation appointed Mike Nearman as their Oregon State director. Nearman led Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR), another SPLC hate group. Nearman has made a career out of demonizing immigrants, including this jaw-dropping ugly clip where he unleashed classic white supremacist scare tactics about immigrants and diseases on the Oregon State House floor. But Nearman’s disdain for traditionally marginalized communities doesn’t stop with immigrants; he once called workers with disabilities “subsidized workers.” When Withe was asked about Nearman’s comments he told a reporter: “What he said in the past is what he said.”
- Nearman, Cates and Withe are part of a long line of bigoted staff employed by the Freedom Foundation. Their previous Oregon Director once said: “We all know there were good and bad slave owners, just like there were good and bad dog owners.” She was NOT fired for these comments by the Freedom Foundation’s executive team.
- Upon his appointment to the Oregon Advisory Council, Withe said: “I can’t think of any American whose civil rights are under more assault than government employees whose rights to opt out of union bondage are being denied by their union.” It’s surreal that someone would say that public sector workers are the most threatened group of people in the United States, but it makes perfect sense when you understand Withe and his organization’s ties to white supremacists, anti-LGBTQ elements in the Northwest, and disdain for low-income people.
It’s shocking and absurd that he would be appointed to the Oregon Advisory Committee and frankly, it discredits the entire process. Withe and the Freedom Foundation sit on the political fringe and are part of a growing wave of the mainstreaming of white nationalism and white supremacy. For the sake of the credibility of the committee, we are recommending his swift removal.
America’s Well-Paid Architect of White SupremacyJune 24, 2020
Not every white supremacist will show up at the town square waving a noose and spitting, “White Power!” Some wear a tie, write books in a comfortable office, and receive annual funding for their research from wealthy foundations. This is the case for Charles Murray, 77-years-old, considered a pseudo-social scientist and the godfather of white supremacy. He wrote The Bell Curve in 1994 which claimed that upper-class white men are genetically superior and therefore more successful in America than others. It provided the blueprint for the modern-day white supremacy movement, creating dangerous policies for poor populations and communities of color, including many of the executive orders coming out of the current White House.
Murray has published racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics for decades, promoting stomach-turning policies to address race and class in America. Rather than being banished to the moral fringes where he belongs, one organization opened its arms wide to embrace him – the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With Bradley’s wind in his sails and their extensive financial backing, Murray has been allowed to spew his hate and division with an even bigger megaphone.
The Bradley Foundation has gifted Murray over a million dollars across his career, supporting his fellowships at both the Manhattan Institute and American Enterprise Institute. Most recently, they gave Murray a $250,000 Bradley Prize to, in their words, “recognize distinguished conservatives that we feel have made outstanding achievements that are consistent with our mission.”
Here are some of the noxious “achievements” that Murray has brought to social science:
1. Poor families have low IQs and respond to government assistance by over-breeding.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, who have classified Murray as an extremist/white nationalist says this about him: “In Murray’s world, wealth and social power naturally accrue towards a “cognitive elite” made up of high-IQ individuals (who are overwhelmingly white, male, and from well-to-do families), while those on the lower end of the eponymous bell curve form an “underclass” whose misfortunes stem from their low intelligence.” In The Bell Curve, Murray characterized government assistance, or welfare, as encouraging low IQ women to have more babies, and urged that “the extensive network of cash and services for low-income women who have babies, be ended.”
2. Immigrants from Black and Latin countries are less intelligent and make America dumber.
Also in The Bell Curve, while Murray admits earlier waves of immigration to our country may have been useful, he insists that politicians must discuss the intelligence of current immigrants. To quote Murray, “Latin and Black immigrants are, at least, in the short run, putting some downward pressure on the distribution of intelligence.”
3. Affirmative action in college admissions sets up Black and Latinx students for failure.
Murray has worked actively against helping underserved communities through targeted social programs like affirmative action. In fact, he said it’s the belief that racism and sexism have had negative effects is what has caused harm. Journalist Matthew Yglesias wrote this about Murray’s stance, “Affirmative action policies in college admissions, he argues, actually hurt Black and Latino students by creating a ‘mismatch’ between their abilities and those of their white and Asian peers, which leads to elevated dropout rates.”
Echoes of Murray’s bigoted positions can be heard in many of the most regressive policy proposals of the last years. Hoping to gut government assistance to poor families, Congressional Republicans, the Trump Administration and right-wing organizations have been trying to roll back Medicaid and reduce coverage of the Affordable Care Act. Trying to slow down or stop immigrants from Black and Latinx countries, Trump infamously said there are too many arrivals coming from “shithole” countries, not to mention his obsession with a wall to prevent the arrival of “cartels and terrorists” from Mexico. Meanwhile, rather than fostering programs that address policy-driven generational inequity for communities of color, federal departments are instead loosening enforcement of fair housing policies, civil rights enforcement generally, and racial inequities in policing.
The Bradley Foundation, with its $850,000,000 war chest, has not focused exclusively on doing damage to our country with Charles Murray and his ‘whites first’ narrative. Bradley also gave over $40 million in 2019 to groups that suppress voting access (including recruiting ex-military and police to intimidatingly “patrol” polling sites), deny climate change, and attack organized labor. Two of those groups are right here in the Pacific Northwest. The rabidly anti-worker “Freedom” Foundation received $650,000 from Bradley in 2019 for its failing war against labor unions and progress. The Washington Policy Center, a faux right-wing think tank based in Seattle, lists the Bradley Foundation on their donor “President’s Council” for a gift of over $100,000.
White supremacy is inextricably woven throughout the movement to take power away from working families. Fundamentally, the labor movement is focused on uniting workers to fight, with one voice, for better wages, better working conditions, and stronger communities for all – the greatest threat to the rich.
As Dr. King famously said: “[African American’s] needs are identical with Labor’s needs – decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.” On anti-union groups supporting anti-union laws like so-called ‘right-to-work’, he said: “Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer, and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.”
In 2020, the hate coming from the White House, anti-union groups, and their wealthy benefactors is meant to cause division among working people in an effort to prevent unionization, higher wages, more secure retirements, and more funding for education, so the richest Americans can wield their power unchecked.
Washington Policy Center Is Endangering Frontline Workers and Communities of Color By Pushing to Re-open Businesses Before It’s SafeJune 16, 2020
Last week, the peer-reviewed science journal Nature issued a report showing that shutdowns and social distancing have prevented 60 million COVID-19 infections in this country. That hasn’t slowed down extremist right-wing groups like the Washington Policy Center (WPC), who have been banging their drum against Washington State’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy measure for months. With baseless arguments, WPC has been obsessively and dangerously pushing for a premature re-opening of the state.
The drive to send people back to work too soon not only endangers the workforce in general, it maliciously puts workers of color, who make up an outsized percentage of frontline staff, at greater risk.
Working families and communities of color have already borne a horrific burden from the coronavirus pandemic. The Associated Press reports that 42% of victims of the novel coronavirus are African-American. The AP also discovered that essential workers who have stayed on the frontlines during the pandemic are mostly women, people of color, and more likely to be immigrants. Nearly a quarter of Black Americans work in the service industry, and 16 percent work in transportation, production, or delivery.
Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress described the grim reality for many frontline workers, “The reality is people who will continue to get COVID are low-wage workers, people of color, who feel they must go back to work and don’t have the flexibility to stay at home.”
The Washington Policy Center has entirely disregarded the safety of frontline workers and people of color with their continued focus on a pro-corporate, ‘get back to work now’ agenda. They’ve attacked Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy regulations with every possible empty argument:
- April 17: Mocking farmworkers for requesting safety guidelines at their workplace.
Pam Lewison, WPC’s Director of Agriculture, attacked two farmworkers’ unions that were requesting support for safe distancing in the warehouses and fields where they work, as well as access to handwashing stations. Lewison accused the essential workers of being vain for thinking they were at greater risk of infection. She further downplayed their risk by cluelessly suggesting the workers were probably all friends anyway. Meanwhile, one fruit packing warehouse in Yakima has reported its 29th case of infection.
- April 17: Marginalizing the danger of COVID-19 to one age group. Paul Guppy, Vice President for Research at the WPC, wrote an article suggesting that it’s really only senior citizens that need to worry about COVID-19. He proposed most everyone else should just go back to work because for younger age groups the virus is “much less deadly.” In reality, people 60 and older make up only 27% of total COVID infections in Washington, and 66% of those infected in our state are between 20 and 59 years old. While it’s true that older victims have a higher rate of death, Guppy neglected to discuss the horrible effects of the virus even for patients that survive, at any age.
- May 4: Stoking economic fears to push for rapid re-opening. Director of WPC’s so-called Small Business Center, Mark Harmsworth, painted a mural of economic doom in Washington. Fear-mongering with phrases like “depleted at a record rate” and “massive drop,” he finished his warnings with a solution – that people need to return to work as soon as possible. He also thinks that workplace safety precautions should be handed over to employers and owners but apparently not epidemiologists or employees.
- May 22: Discrediting the Department of Health’s efforts to monitor COVID-19. In an Op-Ed at the Wall Street Journal, WPC’s Todd Myers tried to invalidate the Department of Health’s work on the virus with calls of conspiracy. He accused Gov. Inslee of abandoning science entirely and using the pandemic as an opportunity for partisan gain. Myers later joined right-wing pundit Laura Ingraham on a segment entitled, “Left justifies power grab in the name of ‘science.’” While Myers plays collusion games with Ingraham, Washington has just seen its 24,354th case of infection.
It’s not a surprise that the Washington Policy Center is trumpeting a ‘get back to work now’ message, as many of their uber-rich donors also champion pro-corporate agendas. While workers stay home, away from the virus, they are not creating profit for their employers.
The WPC needs to look away from its pocketbook for a moment and start listening to the communities most severely impacted by the coronavirus. A recent survey of Black Americans found that 8 in 10 believe we “should hold off on reopening businesses until we can assure safety.” By ignoring these voices, and the mountain of evidence showing danger to working families and communities of color, the Washington Policy Center has shamed itself and further hobbled its ongoing struggle for credibility.
As the Black Lives Matter movement pushes our nation to re-examine the foundations of white supremacy and make concrete systemic changes, it’s imperative to expose the rich, established donors funding white supremacists and organizations that are promoting white supremacy. We commonly identify ‘white supremacy’ in America as small groups marching with Confederate flags or firebrand individuals spouting racist epithets that operate in the shadows. But white nationalism does not just exist in isolated outbursts – its roots run deep and are well fertilized by millions of dollars from wealthy and well-established American institutions. The institutions hide in plain sight in a way, with prestigious names and expensive websites. They don’t wave Nazi flags at their board meetings, but they do quietly fund some of our country’s worst offenders who systematically marginalize people of color and attack basic human rights.
This network of billionaire foundations, trusts, and institutions don’t just stop at funding white supremacy in our country with their regressive grants. They also provide funding to discredit climate science, attack the LGBTQ community, and sabotage workers’ rights here in the Northwest.
Racial hatred does not just exist in isolated events across our country, organically exploding at times. It is being sustained and promoted by deep pockets behind the veneer of wealthy privilege. Below is a list of white supremacy funders that also provide resources to regressive organizations in the Northwest.
- The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation • HQ: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
In The Bell Curve, white supremacist Charles Murray explained disparities between white and Black populations as stemming from genetic differences, rather than any historical or structural disadvantages. He claimed anyone stuck in America’s “underclass” was there based on IQ and genetic inheritance. Murray’s racist eugenics “studies” resulted in some calling him the “Godfather of modern-day white supremacy” and his elevation to multiple fellowships at the American Enterprise Institute. As the “Bradley Fellow,” he received as much as $164,000 per year directly from the Bradley Foundation. The Foundation paid Murray an additional $250,000 in 2016 as a “Bradley Prize.”
Other Bradley Foundation grantees in the Northwest: the anti-worker “Freedom” Foundation, Discovery Institute, Washington Policy Center, Cascade Policy Institute.
- Robert P. Rotella Foundation • HQ: Bellevue, WA
In mid-February, New York Magazine broke a story that the Washington State-based Rotella Foundation was a key funder of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer and his National Policy Institute. Spencer is one of the leaders of the modern-day white supremacist movement, helping to organize the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville which brought together white supremacists from across the country. The rally ended tragically with a deadly hit and run and a white supremacist charged with murder. Rotella has sent over $100,000 to the National Policy Institute.
Other Rotella Foundation grantees in the Northwest: Anti-worker “Freedom” Foundation, Washington Policy Center, ExoPolitics Institute (HI).
- The Scaife Foundations • HQ: Pittsburg, PA
A web of radical anti-immigrant groups including the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) has received millions in funding from the Scaife family foundations. CIS testified in Congress against immigration reform, claiming “virtually all illegal aliens are guilty of multiple felonies.” Most recently, they published an article on their website that favored holding immigrants in detention rather than releasing them due to the risk of contracting COVID-19. CIS was founded by white supremacist John Tanton, a close friend and beneficiary of the late Cordelia Scaife May. The foundation launched by Cordelia’s brother, Richard Mellon Scaife, has also donated $2.9 million to anti-Muslim hate group Center for Security Policy.
Other Scaife Foundation grantees in the Northwest: Anti-worker “Freedom” Foundation.
White supremacy is a scourge on American society that has plagued our country for hundreds of years. Many people associate it with undereducated, white people in rural communities but that stereotype is dangerous and misguided. This regressive and destructive movement is being driven by millionaires and billionaires who are sowing the seeds of hatred and division all over the country, including here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s time we call out these wealthy bigots and shame them for who they are.