A handful of largely anonymous right-wing billionaires are using shady funding mechanisms to spark hate on college campuses—but, armed with the facts, campus activists can fight back to expose them.
College campuses have long served as unique places for the free exchange of ideas, but increasingly they’ve also become playgrounds for ideologically driven billionaires and the dark-money groups they fund. These groups range across the ideological spectrum from mainstream conservatism to so-called “alt-right” and far-right extremism to unadulterated hate, but they have one thing in common: They’re all funded by the same handful of purposefully anonymous donors.
These groups often use DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund—anonymous funding mechanisms that pool billions from wealthy individuals and then donate the money to right-wing causes while avoiding creating any public connection back to the donors. This echo chamber may hide behind the noble ideas of free speech or individual rights, but the reality is that it’s creating a friendly environment for hateful ideas to spread—and it’s putting students in danger.
Here is just one hypothetical to showcase how these seemingly unconnected groups can work together to promote hate rhetoric or personal harassment on campus under the guise of mainstream conservative priorities such as limited government or constitutional rights such as freedom of speech: A so-called “provocateur” with transphobic and misogynist beliefs and a penchant for personal harassment is invited to deliver remarks at a campus event, sponsored by a mainstream conservative student group.
The student group is a campus chapter of a national group that receives millions of dollars annually from DonorsTrust, and the national group supports the chapter’s event planning and advertising. Students concerned about potential harassment protest the upcoming event, and the school intervenes and cancels it. Another national group, also funded largely by DonorsTrust, connects members of the campus conservative group to lawyers from an anti-LGBTQ hate group, which is also largely funded by DonorsTrust. The lawyers threaten to sue the school for violation of the students’ free speech rights.
At the same time, a network of right-wing media outlets—ranging from mainstream conservative outlets that loathe “safe spaces” to far-right websites that regularly push hate rhetoric to student-run blogs—are drumming up anger about the event’s cancellation. Many of these outlets also receive funding from DonorsTrust. Some of them have dedicated readers who dig around online for personal information about the students and staff leading the protest and begin harassing students or professors online.
So now what happens?
The good news is that facts still matter—even though senior White House officials would like the public to believe otherwise. And the anonymous donors who are funding every aspect of this hypothetical “free speech” campaign to harass students will thrive only as long as the activists who oppose them—and the media that cover them—aren’t armed with the facts they need. That’s why Media Matters has mapped out some of the biggest actors behind astroturf conservative campus activism to expose the dark-money network making it happen.