Press-shy billionaire investor Robert Mercer, whose money has boosted President Trump, Steve Bannon, and Cambridge Analytica, among others, has been revealed as the biggest source of funding – about $2 million – for a highly targeted, secretive anti-Muslim campaign used to boost certain conservative candidates during the 2016 campaign.
The money was funneled through a tax-exempt non-profit “social welfare organization” called Secure American Now (SAN, which has no employees and operates out of the offices of a Washington, D.C. law firm, according to tax records analyzed by Open Secret’s Center for Responsive Politics.
The $2 million from Mercer was in addition to more than $15 million he spent on outside campaign committees to help Donald Trump get elected president and as a key backer of Breitbart, the right-wing news site formerly run by Bannon, once a key Mercer ally.
Other major SAN donors were Estee Lauder heir Ronald Lauder ($1.1 million) and executives associated with the retail chain Best Buy.
SAN was first launched in 2011 with backing from Lauder to oppose construction of a Muslin community center and mosque in New York City near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, with Lauder’s political advisor Allen Roth as president.
It is a non-profit that is not supposed to be mostly political, under a classification that allows it to keep its list of donors secret from everyone but the IRS.
Since then it has spent money to attack the Obama administration handling of the Benghazi embassy attack in 2012 and to oppose the nuclear deal with Iran, according to an October 2017 report by Bloomberg News.
It clicked into high gear during the final weeks of the 2016 election cycle with advertising mostly on social media that targeted voters in swing states including Nevada and North Carolina designed to frightened undecided voters.
Most prominent were three “travel” ads that were actually faux-tourism videos, showing visions of France, Germany, and the U.S. after they were overrun by radical Muslims and subjected to Sharia law.
The one about France showed famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe with Islamic symbols and Mona Lisa wearing a burka and head scarf, among many such images.
It also showed French school children being trained as jihadi fighters.
“If it wasn’t already clear that the ad was meant to stoke viewers’ fears of imminent Muslim conquest,” reports the Center for Responsive Politics, the video is interspersed with violent imagery.
“Three missiles are seen flying through the sky as the video opens,” the Center continues. “Blindfolded men are shown kneeling iwth guns pointed at their heads, and children are shown training with weapons “to defend the caliphate.'”
The “travel” ad for the “Islamic State of Germany” invited visitors to “celebrate the arranged marriages of future jihadi soldiers” at a pork and alcohol-free version of Oktoberfest.
The “Islamic States Of America” version run just days before the election showed the country after Syrian refugees took over, with the Statue of Liberty wearing a burka and holding a star and crescent.
In the American video, the 9/11 attack is celebrated as an Islamic victory.
While Facebook and Google have been portrayed as victims of Russian efforts to pervert the American election, the two high tech companies were active accomplices in this campaign who actively competed for the business.
“They helped target the ads to more efficiently reach the intended audiences,” reported Bloomberg, citing sources and internal reports from an ad agency.
The content was so slanted it made some employees of the ad agency, Harris Media of Austin, Texas, “feeling uneasy,” reported Bloomberg, citing ads that were anti-Hillary Clinton and anti-Islam.
“It was designed to strike fear in people’s hearts,” said a former ad agency employee.
There was also SAN ads that linked specific Democratic candidates with Syrian refugees and terrorists. One ad blared: “STOP SUPPORT OF TERRORISM. VOTE AGAINST CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTRO,” who was a Democrat running for the Senate.
The IRS and Federal Election Commission (FEC) are supposed to monitor activities by these specialized non-profits to make sure they don’t actually spend money on political causes and politicians, but enforcement is between weak and non-existent.
“The IRS isn’t likely to catch the discrepancy on its own,” reports the Center for Responsive Politics. “The agency does not systematically analyze FEC reported political spending to catch discrepancies in what groups report on their tax returns.”
It was the Citizen’s United ruling by the Supreme Court that opened the door to an avalanche of “dark money” spending by billionaires, mostly conservatives, who use their wealth as a blunt instrument to get candidates and policies put in place they favor, and who will favor them with legislation, court rulings and endless favors.
What Mercer, Lauder, Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers and others know is that their money may not guarantee a win every time, but it can make a difference a lot of the time, and that results in open access for them to government officials and an inside view of the political system no regular voter will ever see.
The American political system is broken and only an overwhelming grassroots movement can stop the “dark money” of the alt-right from perverting democracy for their purposes, and even when that happens, the money crowd will return as soon as the dust settles.
Trump loves to talk about the “deep state,” but the truth is that these few dozen billionaires are the real deep state as they act relentlessly in their pursuit of power.
They are willing to use ethically challenged methods like the Islamic travel ads to fool the 99 percent of Americans who are not super-rich into voting against their own self-interests over and over again.
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