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Who Funds the Statue-Topplers?

This summer, a prominent statue of Christopher Columbus was destroyed by activist vandals. But this was no spontaneous act of passion.
Christopher Columbus Statue Torn Down at Minnesota State Capitol

In the general chaos of the summer of 2020, it was a typical moment. At the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, a band of activists—primarily from indigenous-rights groups—had slung ropes around the neck of a statue of Christopher Columbus and pulled it down by force.

The moment meant different things to different people. For the woke left, it was another culture war victory in the age of 1619 and BLM—a small and long-delayed comeuppance for the colonial oppressors. For the right, it was the latest advance in the onslaught of the cultural arsonists—as cities were burning and statues falling down, it seemed that little would survive the spontaneous rage inspired by the death of George Floyd in that same city just two weeks before.

But it was hardly spontaneous, and it had little (if anything) to do with the death of Mr. Floyd. The destruction of the Columbus statue on the Capitol grounds—installed by Italian immigrants in 1931 as a pushback against discrimination—had long been an explicit goal of the region’s American Indian activists. The eruption of riots in the early summer simply provided an excuse. As destruction reigned, Twin Cities native activists decided to join in, taking the opportunity to follow through on something they had wanted to do for decades.

It’s actually fairly representative of what happened in major cities across the country this summer: local activists had an axe to grind, and the superimposition of a national narrative gave them all the cover they could ever need. (Any outburst of disorder that happens to have occurred after late May is qualified in the media as a “protest following the death of George Floyd”—a carefully crafted non-descriptor.) It’s representative, too, of the interplay among the unholy trinity of the modern activist left: grassroots radicals, big-money donors, and the big money itself—concentrated in funds where the donor foundations invest their dollars.

The St. Paul statue-toppling was organized by a man named Mike Forcia, a member of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Forcia is also the chairman of the Twin Cities branch of the American Indian Movement (AIM), and of AIM Patrol.

AIM—the most prominent network of indigenous activists in the country—is commonly billed as a grassroots organization. In some ways this is true. AIM was founded in Minneapolis more than half a century ago, as the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 and other federal policies geared toward assimilation created sizable urban communities of Indians drawn away from reservations. Over the years, much of AIM’s public profile has been shaped by scattered bands of activists engaging in highly visible stunts, such as the occupation of Alcatraz from 1969 to 1971.

Even today, the national network remains fairly decentralized—sometimes ostentatiously so. After Forcia’s arrest, AIM’s national president Frank Paro “was adamant that the rally was not sanctioned by A.I.M. or associated with the organization,” according to court documents. Paro even went so far as to assert “that Mr. Forcia is not affiliated with the National AIM organization”—an interesting claim, given Forcia’s identification as chairman of AIM of the Twin Cities.

It’s certainly possible, though—AIM’s decentralization leaves a door open for false claimants, and even the recognized national organization underwent a schism in 1993. Whether or not Forcia is associated with Paro’s national AIM organization—and regardless of who has the strongest claim to the trigram—it is certain that he is extensively connected in the activist movement of the Twin Cities. The Facebook page he runs for the region under the AIM banner has over 12,000 followers. As of 2010 he was vice chair of the Minneapolis American Indian Center, one of the city’s most important hubs of native activity (political and otherwise). He revived and sustains AIM Patrol—a sort of neighborhood watch on steroids, founded to limit police presence in the urban Indian community—which had been dormant for decades. And at the very least, he commanded enough influence in the community to organize and execute a protest which drew no small crowd and successfully destroyed a public monument that had been standing for nearly a century. Mike Forcia is no mere unlovable rogue; he is a key player in a network that remains as lively and robust as it was when Minnesota’s first Indian radicals began to organize three generations past.

But it would be a mistake to think that the Twin Cities’ indigenous activism remains “grassroots” in any meaningful sense. In fact, the cause is supported by some of the region’s biggest philanthropic organizations, which in turn support themselves by extensive activities in finance capitalism.

The most notable of these is the Bush Foundation, founded in 1953 by Archibald Bush, a childless executive at 3M. At his death in 1966, Archibald Bush left his fortune to be put toward good works, with no political caveats. Over the intervening decades, the Bush Foundation has shifted ever leftward in tandem with the philanthropic establishment at large; under current president Jennifer Ford Reedy, the foundation has gone fully woke. Institutional connections have been made with the flagship establishments of far-left big money, such as Borealis Philanthropy and the mother of all wokeries, the Tides Foundation. But the Bush Foundation is especially known for its contributions to indigenous causes—totaling just under $100 million from 1982-2019, with most of that total concentrated in the last few years as the foundation amped up its focus on the cause. This includes over $1 million to the Minneapolis American Indian Center, where Mike Forcia was vice chair.

Another of Bush’s biggest beneficiaries is the Minneapolis Foundation, a sizable organization whose scope is limited to the local community, and the recipient of over 40 Bush Foundation grants. Interestingly, the Minneapolis Foundation’s Director of Impact Strategy, Economic Vitality—as well as director of grant-making and special projects, according to her LinkedIn—is a woman by the name of Jo-Anne Stately who is active in indigenous affairs herself, including a six-year stint as vice president of development at the Indian Land Tenure Foundation. (The ILTF is another recipient of over $1 million in Bush Foundation funds.) In 2013, the Bush Foundation provided a grant of $100,000 to the Minneapolis Foundation to support the Northside Funders Group, a third impact investment organization where Stately happens to serve as co-chair. (Whether Ms. Stately is any relation either to the late Elaine Stately, co-founder of AIM and namesake of its Peacemaker Center in Minneapolis, or Angel Stately, associate of Mike Forcia and prominent witness to the death of George Floyd, remains unclear.) What is clear is that the indigenous activist network of the Twin Cities (and likely elsewhere) has moved far beyond the ragtag band of urban Indian change-makers in the first decades after relocation.

Of course, like big philanthropy in general, these organizations aren’t drawing their funds from static coffers. Archibald Bush left the foundation endowed with just about $300 million, a number dwarfed by current assets of more than three times as much. The Bush Foundation, and the Minneapolis Foundation, and Tides and countless others, all rely on investment to sustain and grow their resources. The Bush Foundation’s 990 disclosures show just how extensive that reliance is, including substantial investments in Sequoia, one of the nation’s leading venture capital firms. Such relationships are sure to raise questions about the dependence not just of progressive groups on capital, but of capital on progressive groups. How long could firms like Sequoia survive without groups like the Bush Foundation underwriting them? That’s a question that must be asked, and the exact same question should be directed at the radical groups that this relationship enables, like those who took down Columbus in St. Paul.

The lesson here is not that there’s some massive, shady conspiracy behind the people who destroy our cities. It’s that no conspiracy is necessary. All that’s required is a seemingly innocent, and entirely unguided, process. Money falls into the wrong hands: the hands of the woke, or even the merely progressive. Sustained by the kind of mega-scale investment that now defines our economy, that money allows so-called community organizations to function without any real dependence on the community, and thus without accountability to it. The connection to such national networks also seems to muddy the mission of such organizations, folding them into a broad and ever accelerating progressive agenda.

And when the cultural green light goes live—this time George Floyd flipped the switch—the combined power of big money and the radicalism it sustains is unleashed. Then down come the statues, and heaven knows what else.