The Oath Keepers, a far-right, anti-government militia organization, has been utilizing AmazonSmile, the company’s charity partnership program, to raise funds. Several members of the Oath Keepers were just yesterday arrested on charges of conspiracy connected to the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.
The partnership was flagged by Sleeping Giants, an organization fighting bigotry and sexism. Sleeping Giants was one of the biggest supporters of the Stop Hate For Profit campaign against Facebook last summer.
AmazonSmile is a charity initiative that allows shoppers to donate 0.5% of eligible purchases to a charitable organization of their choice; it can be accessed by shopping on smile.amazon.com rather than Amazon’s typical home page. The Indiana chapter of the Oath Keepers lists AmazonSmile as an official “affiliate.” As the Oath Keepers is by no measure a charitable organization — and is, in fact, often called a “hate group” by watchdogs — it’s horrifying that Amazon has allowed the group to be listed on AmazonSmile at all.
Against company policy — As far as charitable affiliation programs go, AmazonSmile is fairly inclusive. According to the program’s official website, the only basic requirement is that an organization be “registered and in good standing with the IRS as a 501(c)(3).” Groups must also be located within the United States. Oath Keepers does fit these criteria, according to its website.
But under the same eligibility requirements, Amazon also lists that “organizations that engage in, support, encourage, or promote intolerance, hate, terrorism, violence, money laundering, or other illegal activities are not eligible to participate.” Amazon says it relies on the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control to determine which charities classify as hate groups.
Here’s the thing: the SPLC does consider Oath Keepers to fall in this category. Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC, once described the group as “an anti-government group who believe in a wild set of conspiracy theories.”
Amazon can’t regulate itself — Amazon is enormous. Because of its size, many of the website’s processes are automated — signup for AmazonSmile likely falls into that category. Given that a quick Google search reveals that Oath Keepers shouldn’t be allowed into the program, there’s probably very little oversight happening for new affiliates. When it comes to stopping hate, it usually takes a large-scale scandal for Amazon to take action. Amazon Web Services continued hosting extremist network Parler, for example, right up until everyone else had dropped it.
The Capitol riot is not the first time the Oath Keepers have been caught supporting hateful violence; its members took to the streets, armed, during the unrest in Ferguson in 2014 (and again in 2015, too).
We’d like to believe that, having been alerted to Oath Keepers’ violation of its policies, Amazon will remove the group from AmazonSmile. But this is the same company that encourages employee spying and capitalizes on global pandemics. So we won’t get our hopes up just yet.