Civitas Institute still linking to anti-Semitic website

Civitas Institute still linking to anti-Semitic website

- in Top Story, Weekly Briefing

Conservative group “reviewing” bigoted attacks; funding from major NC corporations implicated 

Nearly a week after this column reported that the Raleigh-based Civitas Institute has been promoting a bigoted and frequently anti-Semitic website, the conservative group has issued only a brief and incomplete comment on the matter and is still linking visitors to the controversial site from its Carolina Plott Hound web platform.

The Triad Conservative is a website based in Guilford County that frequently publishes bigoted and anti-Semitic commentaries. Last Sunday, it featured a post under the headline “Josh Stein’s Ethno-Lawsuit” in which it alleged that North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, who is Jewish, had joined with other state attorneys general in contesting Trump administration immigration policy initiatives as part of a Jewish conspiracy to dilute the nation’s Christian majority. On Monday, September 11, the post, including a picture of Stein, was prominently featured throughout the first half of the day in an all-caps headline on the Civitas-owned Carolina Plott Hound – a conservative news aggregation site. The headline linked directly to the Triad Conservative story.

In the days since the report in this space, other media outlets have picked up on the story. Last Friday, Raleigh’s News & Observer, the NC Insider and WUNC radio shined a light on the matter. The News & Observer story also pointed out that this was not the first time that the Civitas-Plott Hound site had engaged in such bigoted behavior. As reporter Colin Campbell wrote:

The Stein article isn’t the first time that Plott Hound has linked to controversial blog posts and reposted their headlines. Last year, the banner headline on the site called a departing News & Observer editor who is African-American a ‘doo rag queen’ who was leaving the ‘N&O plantation.’”

Interestingly, Campbell did manage to get an interview with Civitas executive director Francis De Luca (who, perhaps not surprisingly, did not respond to my email). De Luca confirmed to Campbell that his organization owns and controls the Plott Hound site, but did not seem overly concerned about the dreadful content it has been promoting. This is from the N&O article:

‘The truth is, the person who edits it sometimes doesn’t use the best judgment,’ De Luca said. ‘We’re going to review all the policies that surround it, and we’ll also consider whether it fits into the overall mission of what we’re doing. It may be something that we get rid of or we change what it is.’

‘I’m sorry Policy Watch was offended by it, but they’re easily offended. We would never intentionally be derogatory towards anybody or any religion or ethnicity.’”

As of this morning, however, the Plott Hound still provides a direct link to the anti-Semitic Triad Conservative in the list of conservative destinations it features prominently on its website.

Not nearly enough

While one supposes that De Luca’s grudging and partial admission of wrongdoing in this matter is better than nothing, it’s not much better. After all, the Plott Hound has been spreading hateful garbage as a Civitas owned and controlled dog whistler for years, but throughout that period, neither Civitas nor the Plott Hound has made this fact public. Even today, there is no public acknowledgment by either entity of the name of the Civitas employee who edits the Plott Hound.

And, the Triad Conservative isn’t the only loony tunes website to which the Plott Hound redirects visitors. The site also links, for instance, to the ravings of a disturbed individual named Orson Scott Card, who repeatedly compared President Obama to Hitler and claimed that he planned to install himself as national dictator.

Meanwhile, Civitas goes merrily along its way, portraying itself to the mainstream news media, political leaders and the general public as a responsible actor and “North Carolina’s conservative voice.”

The whole matter is rendered even more outrageous, of course, by the fact that Civitas is not some independent rogue actor. Rather, it is a closely integrated component in North Carolina’s most powerful conservative policy machine.

Originally known as the J.W. Pope Civitas Institute, the organization receives the overwhelming majority of its funding – more than $1 million last year – from the John William Pope Foundation – a group headed by the state’s most visible conservative financier, Art Pope, and staffed by Pope’s close confidant and former John Locke Foundation President, John Hood.

De Luca’s admission that the Plott Hound and Civitas are one and the same makes clear that Pope and Hood — two powerful and influential men who go to great lengths to portray themselves as high-minded and principled conservatives with libertarian leanings – are either directly complicit in the Civitas-Plott Hound endeavor or shockingly negligent in reviewing the work of one of their largest grantees.

Not surprisingly, Hood, who has often emailed me on various matters down through the years, has chosen not to reply to the inquiry I emailed him last Monday regarding this matter.

Corporate supporters of Civitas respond

Though the Pope Foundation provides the vast majority of Civitas funding, the group also attracts support from other funders, including some high profile North Carolina corporations. According to the group‘s most recent tax return, this list included Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina ($20,000), Duke Energy ($5,000) and Time Warner Cable ($5,000). When I contacted each of these groups seeking comment on the Plott Hound outrage, I received some unsurprising, but nonetheless interesting, replies:


Blue Cross NC has no relation with the organization that made the comments in question, nor do we agree with or condone discrimination in any form. We receive numerous requests for funding each year, from many organizations.  Among the causes that we support is public education and conversation about health care issues.”

Comment: Though laudable in intent, this statement is almost certainly incorrect. By providing funding to Civitas, BCBSNC did support, at least in some small part, all of the organization’s endeavors, including the Plott Hound.

Duke Energy:

Diversity and inclusion is a core value at Duke Energy. We do not support conduct that goes against this core value. In the past, we’ve provided financial support for Civitas Institute’s annual leadership conference where national speakers discuss policy issues. We’ve made no decisions about future financial support for their leadership conference.”

Comment: Again, whatever Duke’s intent for its contribution, by supporting Civitas it clearly supports all of Civitas’ work.

Charter Communications (nee Time Warner Cable):

Background information

  • Charter isn’t a contributor to Civitas
  • It’s worth noting that the TWC contribution was for its annual meeting, not the website in question, and even so, occurred before the close of the merger in May 2016, and as such was not directed by Charter.”

Comment: Hmmm. All of Time Warner Cable’s past sins were washed clean by the merger that took place in May of 2016? As for bullet #2, see the comments above.

The real test for all of these funders and others, of course, will come going forward. Let’s hope that this latest incident explodes, once and for all, the mythological image Civitas has attempted to create for itself as a responsible participant in the state policy debate that is somehow deserving of respect and financial support from prominent individuals, foundations and corporate funders.

Proud to be offended

If there was a most disappointing aspect to De Luca’s essentially dismissive response in the N&O story, it had to be his smarmy characterization of Policy Watch as being “easily offended.” Apparently, promoting vile, anti-Semitic attacks of the kind one would normally associate with the likes of David Duke and the Klan are no big deal to De Luca – just matters of not using “good judgment.”

Let’s fervently hope that he wasn’t serious about this statement and that it was more akin to the kind of embarrassed, spoke-too-soon response sometimes uttered by a person caught in an improper public act who tries jokingly (and ineffectively) to spin his or her way out of it.

Here is what De Luca (and Pope and Hood) ought to say:

We condemn the outrageous and unacceptable anti-Semitic attack on Attorney General Stein in the strongest possible terms. We are mortified that a website we have supported helped to promote this scurrilous attack as well as other racist and bigoted statements. The person responsible (name here) no longer works for the Civitas Institute and the Carolina Plott Hound website has been suspended until such time that all links to other racist, anti-Semitic and otherwise bigoted sites have been deleted. We apologize to the people of North Carolina.

Until a statement of this kind is forthcoming, we here at NC Policy Watch will be proud to remain thoroughly offended.