Earlier this year we had a spate of reports about the national Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (BLMGNF), a national group which, as the Washington Examiner discovered, had no office, no known director and hadn’t turned in annual paperwork about its finances. The part about the paperwork actually got the group in some trouble and California’s Attorney General sent them a letter saying they could not solicit funds as a charity until the delinquent paperwork was turned in.
But there was one other story in late January which involved an $8.1 million building in Toronto which BLM Canada had purchased without telling members of BLM Toronto. That decision led to a disagreement between the two groups over which one was better representing the organization’s socialist ideals. Two of the BLM Toronto leaders quit the group over the purchase.
And that brings us to a story published today by New York Magazine. It turns out that the national BLM group purchased a $6 million house in southern California the purpose of which seems to have been as a private perk for BLM leaders, at least that’s what it was until a reporter started asking questions.
with more than 6,500 square feet, more than half a dozen bedrooms and bathrooms, several fireplaces, a soundstage, a pool and bungalow, and parking for more than 20 cars, according to real-estate listings. The California property was purchased for nearly $6 million in cash in October 2020 with money that had been donated to BLMGNF.
The transaction has not been previously reported, and Black Lives Matter’s leadership had hoped to keep the house’s existence a secret. Documents, emails, and other communications I’ve seen about the luxury property’s purchase and day-to-day operation suggest that it has been handled in ways that blur, or cross, boundaries between the charity and private companies owned by some of its leaders. It creates the impression that money donated to the cause of racial justice has been spent in ways that benefit the leaders of Black Lives Matter personally.
On March 30, I asked the organization questions about the house, which is known internally as “Campus.” Afterward, leaders circulated an internal strategy memo with possible responses, ranging from “Can we kill the story?” to “Our angle — needs to be to deflate ownership of the property.” The memo includes bullet points explaining that “Campus is part of cultural arm of the org — potentially as an ‘influencer house,’ where abolition+ based content is produced by artists & creatives.” Another bullet is headed “Accounting/990 modifications” and reads in part: “need to first make sure it’s legally okay to use as we plan to use it.” The memo also describes the property as a “safehouse” for leaders whose safety has been threatened. The two notions — that the house is simultaneously a confidential refuge and a place for broadcasting to the widest possible audience — are somewhat in tension. The memo notes: “Holes in security story: Use in public YT videos.”
The fact that BLM couldn’t tell a reporter what the house was for when he asked is a dead giveaway that it’s use probably can’t be justified. But they did eventually settle on a story. On April 1, Sean Campbell, the New York magazine reporter behind this story, got a response saying the house was purchased “with the intention for it to serve as housing and studio space for recipients of the Black Joy Creators Fellowship.” The Black Joy Creators Fellowship was announced the next day. The same spokesperson claimed this had always been the plan, i.e. to use the house as a creative space. But if so, Campbell wonders, why hasn’t it been used to create anything in the past 17 months?
Instead, it seems the house has been used as a place for leaders of the group to film videos, kick back and stay overnight when they didn’t feel safe going home. Patrisse Cullors, one of BLM’s co-founders, claimed that the media stories about her purchase of several houses was an attempt to get her “assassinated” so I’m guessing she spent a lot of nights at the house they call “campus.” Cullors filmed a personal video series at the house called “Patrisse Tries.” In this first installment she’s cooking cobbler in the house’s “glorious kitchen.”
Cullors and Alicia Garza also filmed this video at the house on the 1st anniversary of George Floyd’s death. As you’ll see, there’s lots of self-congratulations going on.
All of this mixing of public charity and personal benefits could be a problem for the group’s tax exempt status.
Nonprofit experts say that any apparent intermingling of resources among BLMGNF, Cullors, and outside entities might jeopardize the charity’s tax-exempt status. Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School who specializes in nonprofits, said the details of the house’s management deserve closer scrutiny. If there are problems with the group’s tax filings, there could be civil and criminal liabilities for the people and organizations involved. He said that investigations by state and federal agencies could be warranted. “They’re all indicators that the money may not be going where it’s supposed to be going,” he says.
Investigations definitely seem warranted but it’s hard to imagine the state of California or the Biden DOJ going after BLM even if the purchase and use of this house stinks to high heaven. But congratulations to the Black Joy Creators Fellowship award winners. I’m sure they’ll be announced soon now that BLM needs to spin this as a creative space.