by Nathan Lean
Indiegogo may sound like the name of a 1970s funk band, but it’s actually one of the fastest growing crowd-funding sites on the Internet. Founded in 2002 by a former Wall Street analyst, the funding platform allows inspired individuals to grow projects or personal campaigns by pooling money from donors. If you desire, you can drop a few bucks to help a startup bakery. You could also help finance new stables at a therapeutic horse ranch or sponsor an orphanage in Haiti.
Everything is fair game, as long as you play by the rules. And the rules are clear: User terms stipulate that you can’t promote hate.
Strange, then, that among those partaking in Indiegogo’s services is the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), an organization classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. They are using the platform to raise money — and lots of it — to put out another batch of their now-infamous anti-Muslim metro and bus ads. Led by bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, AFDI has come under fire in recent months for waging a culture war in subway stops withad campaigns that single out Muslims and the religion of Islam and conflate them with the actions of a fraction of extremists. The latest placards, which to date have raised $22K of a $50K goal, urge the cessation of aid to “Islamic countries” and feature a fierce quotation sprawled across a Palestinian flag which reads, “It’s Saturday, so massacre the Jews; on Sunday massacre the Christians.” The obvious missing group — the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims — is thought to be doing the massacring. “Our dead in the cause of Islam have taught us plenty,” the description on the group’s Indiegogo campaign page reads. “Over 20,000 jihad attacks around the world since 9/11, each with the imprimatur of a Muslim cleric, have taught us all we need to know.”
It’s that type of language that caused the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to reject the application of Geller and Spencer’s group, Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA). It’s also that type of language that the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik digested in the summer of 2011 before he went on a shooting rampage and killed 77 youths. Breivik cited Geller and Spencer dozens of times as informing his views on Muslims and Islam. Recently, several organizations have canceled the duos speeches, including the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), aMassachusetts Diocese and a New York synagogue.
Erica Labovitz, Director of Strategic Programs at Indiegogo commented in an email exchange that, “The views reflected by the campaign owners are not necessarily those of Indiegogo.” That may well be the case. But it does little to explain how a campaign that singles out the followers of an entire religious faith with incendiary associations and stereotypes does not violate the company’s “no hate” policy. Would an antagonistic ad campaign directed at Jews or Catholics receive a pass too? What does Indiegogo classify as hate?
Several activists have reached out to Indiegogo with little success. In an essay at Salon, Chris Stedman, an interfaith leader, assistant chaplain at Harvard, and author of the memoir “Faitheist,” urged the company to reconsider its support for provocative AFDI ads that pitted Muslims and gays against each other. Emails sent through the company’s website were unanswered as were tweets to company execs. Geller and Spencer’s followers, however, were more vulgar. Dozens of them bombarded Stedman with homophobic insults and slurs, while also leveling derogatory attacks at Muslims. The reaction underscored precisely the nasty consequences of AFDI’s program to cleave society into warring factions.
Also troubling is that not only does Indiegogo offer its fundraising services to AFDI’s minority-bashing crusaders, but it also gives them a discount. As a non-profit organization, AFDI is entitled to a 25 percent reduction in platform fees. Beyond that, Indiegogo is profiting from anti-Muslim hate. The company charges a 9 percent fee on funds raised. If the group reaches their goal, Indiegogo gives 5 percent back, leaving them with a profit of 4 percent. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s a cool couple of grand to pocket from prejudicing a minority population.
AFDI should be afforded their rights to free speech, but that doesn’t mean that organizations like Indiegogo are obligated to host these campaigns. Enabling divisive and hurtful rhetoric against Muslims or any community is something that they can and should refuse to do. Indiegogo has an opportunity to be a force for good in the world, empowering those who desire to bring about positive change with the means to realizing their goals. The vilest of hate groups should not be among them — even if there is a profit involved.
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