Is it a “financial crime” to allow a conservative Christian to open a bank account?

The very idea sounds absurd, but in the wake of Jan. 6, 2021, the federal agency tasked with protecting the financial system from illicit use endorsed a list of “hate groups” that includes mainstream conservative Christian organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council.

The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network sent an email to leadership at major banks, highlighting a report from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Global Disinformation Index titled “Bankrolling Bigotry: An Overview of the Online Funding Strategies of American Hate Groups.”

When Americans think of “hate groups,” images of burning crosses come to mind. The U.S. does have a troubling history with racist hatred from the Ku Klux Klan, but the report wasn’t talking about racist thugs who string up innocent black men. No, the report spent its time warning about those evil conservative Christians who want the freedom to *checks notes* live according to their faith.

Take Alliance Defending Freedom, for example. “Bankrolling Bigotry” mentions ADF as a “hate group,” but ADF has won multiple cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing for the free speech and religious freedom of Christians and non-Christians to live out their faith. ADF represents Jack Phillips, who won at the Supreme Court because Colorado had targeted him for his faith, accusing him of discrimination because he wouldn’t use his artistic skills to craft a custom cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding.

Then there’s Liberty Counsel, the Christian law firm that represents former Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis in her legal appeal after a judge allowed a same-sex couple to exclude religious believers from a jury, which ordered Davis to pay more than $300,000 in damages and legal fees. (She is refusing to pay until the appeal is resolved.)

The Ruth Institute aims to help survivors of the sexual revolution, while the Family Research Council supports pro-family policy in Washington, D.C. The American College of Pediatricians represents pediatricians across the U.S. who disagree with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ stance on abortion and transgender activism. Not all of these groups are explicitly Christian, but they represent conservative Christians who find themselves increasingly alienated from corporate America’s stifling “woke” orthodoxy.

The “Bankrolling Bigotry” report included all these organizations and more on a list alongside white nationalist, white supremacist, black supremacist, and Holocaust denial groups. Readers of The Daily Signal may not be surprised to hear that the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and the Global Disinformation Index took the idea from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

As I wrote in my book “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the SPLC took the program it used to monitor the Ku Klux Klan and weaponized it against mainstream conservative and Christian organizations, putting them on a “hate map” with Klan chapters. The SPLC “hate map” brands conservative Christian groups “anti-LGBTQ,” and it also smears immigration reform organizations like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the Center for Immigration Studies, and the Dustin Inman Society, all of which also appear in the “Bankrolling Bigotry” report.

The SPLC aggressively advocates for left-wing policies on immigration, LGBTQ issues, and other topics, so its “hate map” serves both as a fundraising tool to scare donors and as a political weapon to silence opponents.

Multiple scandals have dogged the organization. The SPLC paid millions in a defamation settlement to a Muslim reformer it had slandered, calling him an “anti-Muslim extremist.” Amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal that led the SPLC to fire its co-founder in 2019, a former employee called the “hate” accusations a “highly profitable scam.” The SPLC currently faces a defamation lawsuit for adding the Dustin Inman Society to the “hate map.”

Yet organizations like the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and the Global Disinformation Index still employ the SPLC as an ideological weapon against conservatives.

The “Bankrolling Bigotry” report warns that retail platforms like Amazon, cryptocurrency sites using Bitcoin and Ethereum, content subscription sites, and crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and Facebook Donations, allow “hate groups” to raise money. The report urges these platforms to cut off the spigot to conservative organizations.

“Platforms should adopt policies which limit their use by hate groups: We found that 38% of the platforms studied did not have any policies in place prohibiting their use by hate groups,” the report recommends. “Furthermore, some platforms only had limited policies in place prohibiting violent organisations, but ignored their use by non-violent hate groups.”

The report faults the platforms that do have policies against “hate” for failing to be “proactive” enough in their enforcement. “Hate groups used 83% of the platforms we identified that had policies in place around hatred,” the report states.

Finally, the report urges Congress to consider making “hate groups” ineligible for tax-exempt status. The report notes that 44% of the groups analyzed in the report have tax-exempt status, and warns that such a status helps “hate groups” raise money.

The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) sent the “Bankrolling Bigotry” report to leaders at a broad swath of U.S. banks, including Western Union, KeyBank, Wells Fargo, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group. A FinCEN staffer sent an email with the subject line “Capitol Riots” to bank leadership on Jan. 16, 2021. The staffer praised the Mitsubishi bank for having “circulated a publicly-available overview on the funding of American hate groups.”

One day previously, FinCEN sent an email to various banks, noting that agency staff had combed through “Zelle payment messages for indications of involvement in the [Jan. 6] riots or potential violence.” The agency had used search terms such as “Trump,” “MAGA,” “Patriot,” “Kamala,” and “Biden.”

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on the Judiciary and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government released these documents in a March 6 report. The committees said the report “reveals alarming evidence of federal law enforcement engaging in broad financial surveillance and prying into the private transactions of American consumers.”

What business does the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network have in promoting the SPLC’s “hate” accusations? Does this agency, which works with law enforcement to aid in the prosecution of financial crimes, consider banks extending accounts to conservative Christian groups like ADF to be a “financial crime?”

Conservative Christians have seen their bank accounts canceled on flimsy pretexts. JPMorgan Chase closed the account for former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s religious freedom organization in 2022.

At least 20 state attorneys general have drawn attention to the threat of politically-motivated debanking, and Alliance Defending Freedom launched its Viewpoint Diversity Score’s Business Index in part to address the issue. The index measures companies’ respect for free speech and religious freedom, following the methods of the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which companies such as Chase highly value.

FinCEN’s January 2021 email raises serious questions about whether the federal agency tasked with protecting the financial sector is a major force behind the debanking of conservatives.

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