When Silicon Valley Bank collapsed last month, right-wingers predictably placed the blame on “wokeness”—their thinly-veiled rhetorical stand-in for “Black people.” But it didn’t take long before white conservatives, apparently unable to help themselves, openly admitted what they truly meant.
Wall Street Journal opinion columnist Andy Kessler—even after noting SVB’s singular focus on venture capitalists and startups, overabundance of uninsured deposits, depreciated securities portfolio due to rising federal interest rates, and the tech sector’s downturn—still somehow dumbly arrived at the conclusion that having “1 Black” and “1 LGBTQ+” members on its board may have indicated SVB’s fatal preoccupation with “diversity.”
“Silicon Valley Bank donated more than $73 million to groups tied to Black Lives Matter,” Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo pronounced. “Silicon Valley Bank,” Tucker Carlson dramatically stated during his nightly Fox white-power hour, “spent more than $73 million on donations to BLM and related organizations.” Former Trump advisor Stephen Miller, who now runs a white supremacist legal operation, groused about the bailout of a bank that has “given millions of dollars in BLM initiatives.”
Right-wingers being incensed about a single black member of a 12-person board—which still makes SVB one of the country’s whitest major banks—is totally in keeping with who they are. Nothing performative about the racism on display there; anti-blackness is their brand. It’s their contention of SVB’s death-by-diversity—manifest in some multimillion-dollar cash giveaway to BLM—where the faux outrage can be found.
Because not only did SVB fall short of giving $73 million to BLM, in reality, the bank never gave a single dollar to the organization.
The most telling evidence of the lie driving this racist hysteria is its origin point. The Claremont Institute may have once been the sort of conservative institution that dressed up its racism and bigotry in intellectual finery, but starting in the Trump era, it opted to change into something a bit less stuffy and more transparent for the white supremacist party.
Days after SVB’s failure, Newsweek published an opinion piece from the organization’s Center for the American Way of Life that was filled with half-truths, lies, and rightwing racist refrains.
Leaning into the conservative mantra that 2020’s racial justice protests were overwhelmingly violent, the article labeled BLM’s demands for anti-racism in workplaces a “shakedown of corporate America”—stopping just short of calling it an “armed hold up.” According to Claremont, American corporations, cowed and afraid, had “pledged or contributed an astonishing $82.9 billion” over the last three years. (They noted the figure is “more than the GDP of 46 African countries,” because why not drag a whole other continent of black folks into this while you’re at it, I guess.)
The authors linked to CAW’s new “BLM Funding Database,” which purports to reveal how much individual companies across corporate America have given “to the Black Lives Matter movement and related causes.”
This is where the fine print becomes fraudulent. A general search of the database for SVB’s donations to “BLM Movement & Related Causes” produces a figure of $70,650,000—which would certainly be a staggering number, if only it were true. But getting slightly more specific in the search reveals the big lie at its core.
Claremont itself admits the “the BLM Movement” consists of a limited number of official organizations, including the BLM PAC, BLM Grassroots, BLM At School, and any official BLM chapters, among a few other entities. Search the database for SVB donations to any of those listed groups, and it shows that not a dime has been given.
The discrepancy, it seems, can be found under the link “Explanatory Notes,” where Claremont explains that it defines a BLM “‘Related Cause” as all “organizations and initiatives that advance one or more aspects of BLM’s agenda.” That means any organization Claremont believes helps BLM’s mission—which, for the record, Claremont explicitly claims is to “undermine capitalism, the nation state, and Western civilization”—is tagged as a “related cause.” To call Claremont’s “related cause” category a stretch is to redefine the word “understatement.”
“For Claremont, providing mental wellness services to black kids is a BLM ‘related cause,’ which on its own shows how unscrupulous and dishonest the mission behind its database is.”
As Popular Information notes, an example of what Claremont tries to pass off as a “related cause” is Access to Innovation, “a fellowship program” launched by SVB itself to aid “Black, Latinx and women professionals looking to launch their careers in venture capital.” SVB pledged to infuse the program with $50 million over the next five years back in 2021, but with the bank’s failure just two years later, there’s no telling how much money was actually invested in the program.
Even so, if every pledged cent made its way into the fellowship, the program would still fail to meet Claremont’s own definition of a BLM-aligned cause. To quote Popular Information, “integrating marginalized groups into the venture capitalist community seems like an odd way to ‘undermine capitalism,’ the purpose of BLM, according to the Claremont Institute.”
The database also points to another $20 million SVB supposedly gave to a BLM-related causes, but then indicates those dollars supported “COVID-19 relief,” “a needs-based University Scholarship program to students at four universities, including two HBCUs” and “economic development; and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts through 2022.”
Saranac Hale Spencer at Factcheck.org noticed Claremont’s math didn’t quite add up to the purported $20 million figure, and asked the institution to explain the discrepancy. Claremont responded with a boilerplate statement that neglected to answer her question.
So Spencer did some further digging and found SVB’s charitable foundation donated to “10 organizations, including a group supporting wildlife affected by the wildfires in Australia, a hospice care project and various children’s organizations.” Along with that, the foundation pledged $5 million for “25 full undergraduate scholarships at four universities—Arizona State University, Tulane University, Florida A&M University and Xavier University of Louisiana.” Only the last two colleges are HBCUs, and all of the scholarships were open to anyone who met established financial and academic eligibility requirements.
To recap, there’s not a single BLM “related cause” to be found, nor any group with a demonstrated commitment to torching “capitalism, the nation state, and Western civilization.”
We could do this all day, as Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo apparently did, only to find that Claremont pulled this misinformation stunt with nearly every company in its database. In the case of Bank of America, which Claremont’s database links to $18 billion—yes, billion, with a “b”—in BLM and “related cause” donations. Marshall found that BOA earmarked $1.8 billion housing and business loans “in minority communities,” which is money that has to be paid back, likely with interest, to BOA, because that’s how loans work. Marshall also noted a “tiny fraction of that total (no specific numbers are cited) goes in grants to organizations like Asian Americans Advancing Justice, National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development and The Leadership Conference Education Fund.”
I did a search under Kellogg—you know, the breakfast cereal company—which Claremont claims gave BLM and “related causes” a whopping $91 million. Look through the paperwork, though, and you’ll find the company gave $1 million in planning funds to 10 groups, including a coalition that helps pastoralist women in Tanzania, and a U.S.-based effort that “trains restaurants to desegregate their staff racially and raise wages for workers of color.” Five of those groups were then selected to receive $80 million over the next eight years, including a collective working to help Indigenous South and Central Americans with land tilling and ownership; environmental legal groups in Kenya, Sierra Leone, and the U.S; an initiative to end End Youth Incarceration in Hawai’i; a group working to end racism in Brazilian schools; and Healing Through Justice, which addresses trauma and mental health issues in black and brown kids from underserved communities in Chicago. Kellogg also gave $1 million to the NAACP—the oldest and, frankly, most establishmentarian racial equality group in the U.S.
For Claremont, providing mental wellness services to black kids is a BLM “related cause,” which on its own shows how unscrupulous and dishonest the mission behind its database is.
You get the picture.
FactCheck.org’s Spencer calculates that, of the more than $82 billion Claremont claims corporations gave to BLM, actual “donations to BLM groups account for about 2 percent of the total amount included in the database for all corporations.”
Among the groups Claremont includes as “BLM related”: the ACLU, NAACP, Urban League, United Negro College Fund, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, The American Heart Association, YWCA, Amnesty International, YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and the Equal Justice Institute—and I am only stopping here because otherwise we will all age into dust.
Maybe the most laughable—but still dangerous—assertion Claremont makes in its Newsweek piece is that its database reveals that “the radical Left has the means—and willingness—to realize its policy preferences in ways that bypass the democratic political process.”
Whoo boy. Let’s get into this.
Claremont’s discussion of the left’s “means” conveniently ignores its own funding by Donors Trust—known as the “dark money ATM” of the right for the anonymity of most of its backers, which it has no legal obligation to divulge, although rightwing mega-donors including the DeVoses and Kochs are on-record for being among their numbers.
Donors Trust then distributes its dark money millions to the rightwing groups currently leading the charge against voting rights, trans rights, climate policy, and racial equality. It is aligned with groups like the The Federalist Society, another Donors Trust grantee, whose leader, Leonard Leo, is responsible for Trump’s selection of the triumvirate that completed the court’s conservative supermajority, allowing Roe v. Wade to be overturned and a slew of other civil rights to now hang in the balance.
Federalist Society member John Eastman, the author of the “coup memo” that attempted to overturn the 2020 presidential election and reinstall Donald Trump, is a senior fellow at Claremont. In fact, Eastman authored Claremont’s amicus “friend of the court” brief in Moore v. Harper, one of the most frightening cases before this Supreme Court, because if Claremont and its allies win, Republican state legislatures will be empowered to commit all kinds of partisan chicanery in elections, and state courts will be barred from doing anything about it. (Eastman, in fact, is the guy who got the “independent state legislature” theory from the extremist margins to SCOTUS in the first place.)
Claremont also filed an amicus brief in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which has led to gun control laws being challenged in multiple states. Claremont has been a paid booster of Pizzagate’s Jack Posobiec and anti-“woke” activist Christopher Rufo, who proudly boasts about creating misinformation-driven social panics around critical race theory and trans existence.
Claremont’s president, Ryan Williams, promotes ideas steeped in 19th century race science, and claims “the Constitution is really only fit for a Christian people.” As if that’s not enough, after helping promote Trump’s election denialism, Claremont is now all-in with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, helping him realize every fascistic idea he can come up with.
That’s what Claremont stands for. Their attacks on BLM are really about their disdain for what they see more broadly as ungrateful black people disrupting the American status quo. SVB failed for many reasons, but BLM had zero to do with it. It’s all a great, big racist distraction from the actual undermining of institutions and stability that Claremont is undertaking. And sadly, it sure seems to be working.
(The Claremont Institute did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment and clarification.)