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Young America’s Foundation

Factsheet: Young America’s Foundation

Published on 14 Mar 2018

IMPACT: The Young America’s Foundation is a conservative youth outreach organization that has chapters at high schools and universities across the country. YAF helps bring conservative speakers to college campuses and its speakers roster includes a number of anti-Muslim activists, speakers, and thinkers. One of its university chapters was identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

According to its website, the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) was founded in 1960 at the estate of conservative writer William F. Buckley Jr. with the promulgation of principles directed against Communism and in favor of economic freedom and minimal government, and then again in 1969 when a group of students at Vanderbilt University “started an organization called University Information Services (UIS) to provide students with conservative ideas that were missing in their educations.” YAF is dedicated to increasing the number of young Americans committed to the “ideas of individual freedom, strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values.” It lists itself as a human and civil rights advocacy and education group.

YAF accomplishes its mission by providing “conferences, seminars, educational materials, internships, and speakers to young people across the country.” In 2011, YAF joined with the Young Americans for Freedom group, co-founder of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which serves as the Foundation’s chapter affiliate on college and high school campuses. Currently, the foundation has more than 250 high school and college campus chapters.

A January 2018 article in the Los Angeles Times described YAF as “one of the most preeminent, influential and controversial forces in the nation’s conservative youth movement,” that is backed by $65 million in assets. The organization’s budget comes largely from public donations. Notable donors include Amway billionaires Richard and Helen DeVos, the in-laws of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who gave about $10 million in 1998. From 2003-2012, the DeVos family donated another $15 million. Other donors include brothers Charles and David Koch, two powerful businessmen who use their wealth to influence American politics. The Koch brothers reportedly directly donated “about $20,000 and $50,000 to YAF, respectively.” Additionally, since 2002, the brothers have donated almost $1.5 million to YAF indirectly through two nonprofit funds, Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, affiliated with their family foundations.

The Washington Post reported the current president of YAF, Ron Robinson, is an “ally of the David Horowitz Freedom Center,” whose founder, David Horowitz has been called the “godfather of the anti-Muslim movement,” by SPLC.  Robinson also serves on the Board of the Government Accountability Institute, an organization funded by billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer, and co-founded by former head of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon. The Mercer family foundation has also donated $1.2 million to YAF. Between 2010-2012, YAF “paid Bannon… more than $500,000…to produce three films.”

A Mother Jones article profiling Robinson found he served on the board of Citizens United, and the American Conservative Union, which operates CPAC. Citizens United brought the landmark Supreme Court case in 2010, which “struck down limits on corporations’ campaign expenditures.”

A 2017 article by investigative journalist Alex Kotch found YAF President Robinson to have “white nationalist leanings.” Robinson, along with YAF board member James B. Taylor, “ran a now-inactive political action committee called America’s PAC.” In 2004, the PAC donated $5,000 to the white nationalist group, Charles Martel Society, which SPLC states “seeks to protect what it sees as the white European heritage of America from a perceived ethnic and ideological invasion by non-Europeans.” Mother Jones reported Taylor served as the president of the National Policy Institute, which is run by Richard Spencer, a self-avowed white nationalist.

YAF offers “funding, logistical help, and legal support to conservative groups at colleges across the country.” It holds a repository of conservative speakers, including members of the military and former US members of Congress, to speak on various topics including “multiculturalism,” “radical Islam,” “western civilization,” and “traditional values.” The fees for the speakers range anywhere from $0-$5,000 to $20,000+.

Speakers for the topic of “radical Islam” include a number of anti-Muslim activists, speakers, and thinkers including Robert Spencer, David Horowitz, Ann Coulter, Daniel Pipes, and Nonie Darwish. Other YAF speakers have also made anti-Muslim comments, including Lieutenant Colonel Allen West, whose official Facebook page “shared a meme that said retired Gen. James Mattis will ‘exterminate’ Muslims as Secretary of Defense.”

In May 2017, YAF sponsored a lecture at the University of Buffalo by Robert Spencer, identified by the Center for American Progress as a “misinformation expert” fueling Islamophobia. Spencer’s writings on Islam were heavily cited by the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. The SPLC described Spencer as “one of America’s most prolific and vociferous anti-Muslim propagandists.” A New York Times article noted that YAF had paid Robert Spencer’s $2,000 fee, and “trained the student leader who organized the event and provided literature for distribution.”

YAF supported conservative political commentator Ann Coulter’s controversial appearance at UC Berkeley in 2017. Coulter has a history of making anti-Muslim comments. After the September 11th attacks, she wrote: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” She has also suggested Islam is a “car-burning cult” with a “predilection for violence.” YAF pulled its support for Coulter’s event citing security concerns.

In 2007, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) identified the Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Michigan State University as a hate group, after it organized a “‘Catch an Illegal Alien Day’ game, sponsored a ‘Koran desecration contest,’ jokingly threatened to distribute small-pox [sic] infected blankets to Native American students, posted ‘Gays spread AIDS’ fliers, and invited Nick Griffin, the chairman of the neo-fascist British National Party, to speak on the MSU campus.”

The LA Times described the speakers promoted and approved by YAF as “conservative provocateurs.” On YAF’s roster of speakers includes musician Ted Nugent, who in 2014 called then President Barack Obama, “a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel [and] ACORN community organizer gangster.” The LA Times piece also described the organization’s tactics as “aggressive and confrontational” and that “have become a beacon of right-wing empowerment during the rise of President Trump.”

In 2017, YAF launched its Fred Allen Lecture Series. Speakers for the series include Dinesh D’Souza, Allen West, and Ben Shapiro. Shapiro’s views have been described as “naked bigotry toward Palestinians and Muslims,” by journalist and political commentator, Peter Beinart. Beinart noted that in 2016, Shapiro “promoted an article written on the website he edits, The Daily Wire, which called the Muslim presence in Europe a ‘disease,’” and declared Muslim men “uncivilized.” Shapiro’s talks cost at least $20,000.

In 1998, YAF acquired former President Ronald Reagan’s 688-acre mountain retreat for an undisclosed sum. The reported asking price was $5.95 million.

Notable YAF alumni include current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, and Breitbart News Editor-In-Chief Alex Marlow.

Last updated March 14, 2018