“Europe is committing suicide,” says British author Douglas Murray in a video published by the far-right educational nonprofit Prager University. The cause? “The mass movement of peoples into Europe…from the Middle East, North Africa and East Asia” who allegedly made Europe lose faith in its beliefs and traditions.
Murray goes on to explain that temporary workers, such as a dark-skinned man illustrated in the video, enjoyed hefty welfare benefits from their new European homes. He laments “multiculturalism” in Europe and offers a seemingly fake statistic that the most popular boys’ name in the United Kingdom was Muhammed. (In 2017, Muhammed was tenth on the list of most popular baby boys’ names, down from eighth in 2016, according to the U.K. Office of National Statistics.)
The video, which has been viewed 3.3 million times on YouTube, features illustrations of well-dressed white Brits and dark-skinned Middle Eastern and North African immigrants, often in ethnic garb. European leaders let black and brown immigrants into their nations, thus committing “the self-annihilation of a culture,” alleges Murray.
The rhetoric of “suicide” and “annihilation” evokes the common white nationalist trope of “white genocide,” the deeply racist and factually inaccurate idea that people of color are swarming Western countries, reproducing at alarming rates, and gradually replacing white people in those nations. Murray uses these terms to describe the loss of European “culture,” something on which he does not elaborate, but not explicitly the lives of Europeans.
Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, doesn’t consider the video fascist or white nationalist but told Sludge, “The video is “filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric. There is certainly prejudice inherent in the video…White supremacists are certainly almost all anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim, so they would certainly agree with a lot of the things that [Murray] says.”
“Europe is far more densely populated, multicultural, and enmeshed in the real social and economic consequences of a refugee crisis than most Americans can imagine,” Alexandra Devitt, communications director at the Anne Frank Center USA, told Sludge. “We must acknowledge that immigrants contribute far more to the economy, culture, character, and fabric of society than they take. Above all, we must respect one another as human beings. Any ‘values’ from any group that inspires hatred are divisive, extreme, and a threat to humanity.”
Here’s what Murray thinks about Islamophobia: “I have no sympathy for this term. The most succinct summary of the problem is often erroneously attributed to the late Christopher Hitchens. It is that, Islamophobia is ‘a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.’” The claim that fascists (which Murray uses to describe the Muslim Brotherhood) invented the term is false, according to a peer-reviewed journal article by Fernando Bravo López.
Murray’s book—“The Strange Death of Europe,” on which his PragerU video is based—is filled with falsehoods as well. “Much of this is familiar [anti-Muslim political party] UKIP territory, of course,” wrote the Guardian’s Gaby Hinsliff. “The book regurgitates the same misleading myths as [former UKIP leader] Nigel Farage about immigration turning Sweden into the rape capital of Europe.” The author ignores British polling of immigrants, according to Hinsliff, while failing to “define the culture supposedly in jeopardy.”
In one passage, Murray laments that London is no longer majority-white. VDARE, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers anti-immigrant and white nationalist, has promoted the book. While Murray’s video doesn’t explicitly engage in the “white genocide” theory, Murray clearly energizes white nationalists with his writing and rhetoric.
Murray’s book is just one notch on his long anti-Muslim record. For example, he defended anti-Muslim British activist Tommy Robinson in National Review in May. He has appeared in a movie produced by Pamela Geller, a noted anti-Muslim activist.
‘The Source of So Much Liberty and Wealth’
Founded in 2009 by right-wing talk show host Dennis Prager, PragerU is funded by the Prager University Foundation (PUF), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. PragerU makes five-minute animated videos featuring right-wing personalities, such as Murray, Charlie Kirk, David Clarke, and Alan Dershowitz. The “university,” which is not accredited and does not offer certificates or degrees, is on a mission to “create the most persuasive, entertaining, and educational case possible for the values that have made America and the West the source of so much liberty and wealth,” according to its website. “These values are Judeo-Christian at their core and include the concepts of freedom of speech, a free press, free markets and a strong military to protect and project those values.”
In 2016, the nonprofit took in roughly $5.4 million, up from $3.6 million the previous year, according to tax documents. Forty percent of PUF’s revenue comes from small donors, PragerU CEO Marissa Streit told Mother Jones earlier this year. But a lot of its funding comes in large amounts, courtesy of well known GOP megadonors. One family in particular has provided a sizeable chunk of PUF’s annual revenues.
Sludge was unable to obtain a 2017 tax document from PUF.
Much of PragerU’s content is infused with conservative Christian ideas, as Rewire explained, and that’s not a coincidence: Its top donors are deeply religious billionaires from Cisco, Texas.
Texas fracking billionaire Farris Wilks, the former pastor of a Messianic Israelite assembly, and his wife, JoAnn, are PUF’s main funders, donating millions of dollars through their Thirteen Foundation. The exact amount is unclear because Sludge was unable to obtain the foundation’s most recent tax return (2017) and the grant details from 2014. But the Thirteen Foundation donated $250,000 to PUF in 2013 and committed $6.25 million “for future payment” that year. The tax return did not specify how many years it would take to deliver that total to PUF. In 2015, the foundation reported giving $1 million to PUF, and it gave $500,000 the next year.
Farris’ brother, Dan Wilks, and his wife, Staci, run Heavenly Father’s Foundation, which donates mostly to religious organizations but gave over $1 million to PUF from 2014 to 2017. In 2013, Dan Wilks said, “I just think we have to make people aware, you know, and bring the Bible back into the school.” His brother said that kids “being taught the other ideas, the gay agenda, every day out in the world so we have to stand up and explain to them that that’s not real, that’s not proper, it’s not right.”
Wilks family members are officers with PUF; as of 2016, Ladd Wilks was treasurer and Josh Wilks was a director.
The Wilks brothers own the Daily Wire, right-wing media star Ben Shapiro’s news and opinion website. They are also GOP megadonors who, along with their wives, contributed $15 million to super PACs supporting Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for president during the 2016 Republican primaries.
The second-largest PUF donor identified by Sludge is the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the well-funded charity of the conservative Bradley family of Wisconsin. The foundation donated $700,000 to PUF from 2013 to 2017, according to tax records and the foundation’s 2017 annual report. The Bradley Foundation “pursues a mission to restore, strengthen, and protect the principles and institutions of American exceptionalism,” according to its website, focusing on limited government, federalism, free markets, private enterprise, “civil society” institutions, and education.
Like the Wilks, the Bradleys are prolific Republican donors. And like the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, their family foundation finances conservative think tanks and corporate legislative groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council. In addition, the Bradley Foundation donates to anti-Muslim organizations, including the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and to anti-LGBTQ groups, such as the Family Research Council.
Amanda Freeberg Donovan, executive director of the California-based Don and Lorraine Freeberg Foundation, which gave $150,000 to PUF from 2014 to 2016, told Sludge that her foundation’s FY 2016 donation to PragerU was its last. “Our Board concluded [after that donation] that their mission does not align with ours, and we chose to focus our grantmaking efforts on other organizations.” The foundation “supports organizations primarily focusing on education, healthcare, children, and veterans,” according to its Facebook page.
The Minnesota-based Sid and Carol Verdoorn Foundation gave PUF $100,000 from 2015 to 2016. Sid Verdoorn is the former CEO of transportation and logistics company C.H. Robinson Worldwide.
Other foundations that have donated five-figure aggregate donations over the past few years include the Morgan Family Foundation ($60,000), the Robert and Nina Rosenthal Foundation ($26,000), and the Blueflash Foundation ($25,000).
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Fidelity Charitable, a donor-advised fund that provides accounts for individual donors and distributes the donors’ money to donors’ selected nonprofits, contributed close to $116,000 to PUF from 2014 to 2016, according to records obtained by Sludge. With funds like Fidelity Charitable, donors have the option of hiding their identities because only Fidelity has to report its donations to the IRS.
Donor-advised fund Donors Trust, often referred to as “the ATM of the Koch brothers,” gave PUF nearly $36,000 worth of “dark money” in 2017, according to the group’s 2017 990 tax form obtained by Sludge. The Kochs, Bradleys, and other Republican billionaire families have Donors Trust accounts, but where their Donors Trust money goes is hidden.
Attempts to reach the Thirteen Foundation and the Bradley Foundation for comment were unsuccessful.
The ‘International Dark Web’
Murray is a member of a loose group of conservatives who call themselves the “Intellectual Dark Web.” Portrayed as intellectual renegades and free-speech champions by New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss, many of these characters either flirt with or directly espouse racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic ideas.
Sociologist Francesca Tripodi told the Southern Poverty Law Center that some PragerU presenters, including Intellectual Dark Web member Dave Rubin, have disturbing connections to white nationalists.
In his PragerU video, Murray criticizes immigrants who don’t “assimilate” to European cultures while praising fellow Intellectual Dark Web member Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Dutch-American scholar, for “[believing] in the principles of the Enlightenment more than the Dutch did.”
Other IDW members collaborate with Murray, including comic and MMA announcer Joe Rogan, who had Murray as a guest on his live podcast in February. IDW member Ben Shapiro, who has said bigoted things about Arabs, Muslims and immigrants, has promoted Murray’s book on his website.
Many IDW members are featured in PragerU’s videos including Hirsi Ali (“Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”—hint: she doesn’t think so), James Damore (“What Happens When Google Disagrees With You?”), Jordan Peterson (“Dangerous People Are Teaching Your Kids”), Dave Rubin (“So, You Think You’re Tolerant?”), and Shapiro (“What is Intersectionality”—hint: he’s not a fan), Christina Sommers (“There Is No Gender Wage Gap”).
With its right-wing content and significant YouTube presence, PragerU draws online conservatives farther to the right, sometimes acting as a gateway to racist “alt-right” content. “If nothing else, it is very blatantly algorithmically connected” to the extreme right content found on YouTube,” sociologist Tripodi told the Southern Poverty Law Center.