Questions about financial misconduct have arisen over a viral Antifa crowdfunding campaign that raised over $100,000 on the promise of supporting Portlanders in need during the coronavirus pandemic.
A week before Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued a state-wide stay-at-home order on March 23, a group of left-wing activists in Portland started a GoFundMe campaign. The “PDX COVID-19 Mutual Aid Network Fundraiser” was an immediate success. Accompanied by a logo of a raised fist in between roses (Portland is known as the “City of Roses”), the campaign instantly surpassed its initial goal of $5,000. The page, which said it will be “withdrawing funds and delivering them to community members on a rolling basis,” was shared and retweeted far beyond the Pacific Northwest. It promised to center those who are “targeted and marginalized under capitalism.” Local food co-ops joined in by asking patrons if they wanted to donate to the fund during check-out. Artists and other activists organized their own sub-campaigns where proceeds were donated to the GoFundMe. With the outpouring of international support, the organizers raised the donation goal several times. The goal eventually was raised to $100,000—a near 2,000 percent increase. Within a few weeks, this goal was met.
But just as quickly as the campaign went viral, cracks began to show. Several posted on social media that they didn’t receive aid.
“My 3 teens and I counted on that box,” wrote Rissa Vega in March. “I’m sick and quarantined. They need to eat.” No one responded to her comment on the group’s Facebook page. “I filled out a form about five days ago,” wrote Suzanne Stoughton. “My sister and I are over 64 and have health issues, are we going to receive assistance?”
Formally organized by self-described “anti-fascists” Sophie Robertson (who uses the pseudonym “Sophie Lord”), Maya Edelstein, Molly Case and Chloe Faison, the campaign promised to provide financial assistance, food and supplies to those who applied. Robertson did not respond to The Post Millennial’s questions or requests for comment. Edelstein, Case and Faison could not be reached for comment.
The four women knew each other from activist circles in Portland, and the campaign boasted of having connections with a number of charities, most notably nonprofit, the Oregon Food Bank. The project models itself on “autonomous mutual aid,” a grassroots organizing method that aims to support community members without state involvement. Mutual aid was especially welcome in Portland, where a large, left-wing sector of the populace was hostile to the Trump administration.
While donations were pouring in during the early days of the campaign, the endeavor seemed to operate faster and more efficiently than local and federal governments, boosting the appeal of autonomous mutual aid. “‘They feel hope': 2,300 volunteers sign up to deliver vital resources to community,” declared a headline on a local news site about the project. The project even caught the attention of Portland-area congressman Earl Blumenauer, who promoted the group on his official site.
But now, two months later, the whispers of criticism have turned into loud, widespread online protest from aid applicants, donors and other supporters.
For almost all of April, the campaign went dark on GoFundMe. On Instagram, the group posted occasional graphics criticizing capitalism and gave instructions on how to apply for aid, but did not provide financial updates on how funds were being spent. On May 12—nearly two months after the campaign launched—the organizers released their first substantive update.
“As of 05/09/2020, we have spent $13,906 on groceries/supplies for the community,” read an Instagram post. No receipts or financial statements were provided. The last time the group announced the number of completed deliveries was six weeks earlier, when they said they delivered 116 packages. Two months after the crisis began, less than 15 percent of funds had actually been used on aiding the community, according to the group’s own figures.
The responses were blistering.
“This is shameful that y’all have raised all this money on the community’s good faith and are simply holding onto it while people are out here suffering,” responded user “Jackdilemma” on Instagram.
Those who volunteered to help the project distribute food raised alarm about being ignored or underutilized.
“I’ve only been asked to shop once (in late April) since I signed up [the] day this account opened,” wrote Christen Glenn. Iva Dubyak, another volunteer, wrote: “I've been ‘signed up’ as a delivery driver for over a month and there have been many days where there aren’t any ‘needed’ deliveries to be made.”
The backlash prompted the organizers to release another statement three days later. “We hear the asks for more transparency and clarity around this network and the GoFundMe. So, we are compiling all of our receipts (including screenshots of emails with GoFundMe, specific numbers, bank statements, etc.) to give more context of how we got here,” reads the statement. The group did not include any further information.
The project was a bait-and-switch, said a 32-year-old disabled transgender applicant to the mutual aid. The person asked not to be identified, telling The Post Millennial they feared retribution from the close-knit network of activists in Portland who have championed the project. The person said they applied for and received donation drop-offs filled with fresh groceries and VISA gift cards worth between $10–30 on three occasions in the early weeks of the project’s launch. This was while the GoFundMe was active; positive testimonies were reflected in photos and posts shared in the group’s Facebook, leading to more donations. However, the applicant says that in April—just two weeks after the project’s launch—the quality and frequency of the drop-offs took a nosedive.
There was no way to actually get in contact with a human to check on an application status, they said. Emails and direct messages were unanswered. Every additional day of waiting added stress to the applicant, who is currently unemployed. But what they eventually received after three weeks of waiting was unusable: there were rotting vegetables, and the gift cards that had come with earlier boxes were no longer included. The applicant says their request for an urgent medication pickup was ignored or forgotten.
Rissa Vega, one of the earliest aid applicants who raised issues in the group’s Facebook page in March, said her first application was ignored and the second one resulted in a seven-day wait for emergency food aid.
“I had three kids here who needed food,” Vega tells The Post Millennial. The 41-year-old worked at Walmart until recently and says she is frustrated that people who offered to help did not follow through or responded incompetently. “It had caused me a huge hardship that week. It also made me think there wasn’t much help for people like myself and my kids out there.” She did not apply for aid again.
After The Post Millennial sent questions to the project’s donors, volunteers and aid applicants, the campaign released a statement on its Facebook and Instagram pages.
“It’s been brought to our attention that Andy Ngo has been attempting to contact people about the Mutual Aid network,” the statement reads. “Freeze that jackass out and let’s solve this together.” Several people in the mutual aid project community who had previously responded to inquiries cut off contact.
However, various individuals’ social media posts responding to the fund had similar complaints.
“I also reached out for food assistance in the very beginning. Got a partial text about 4 weeks later saying something about a box from the food bank. No way to respond, reach out or contact them,” wrote Lanie Santoyo on Facebook. “Frex Lysandra” posted on Facebook that a request for aid was responded to “weeks later” with a drop-off of dry beans, rice, apples and pears—groceries they had not requested specifically and which fell far short of the promised $50 value. Several others also said the deliveries were not enough to feed a family.
The project’s finances are not the only opaque aspect of the group. While four women are listed as organizers on the GoFundMe, it appears that the former head of the Montavilla Neighborhood Association, Johnnie Shaver, is also involved—although his role has been obscured. The MNA is a nonprofit that serves residents who live in a northeast Portland neighborhood.
Shaver has a number of posts on Twitter under a pseudonym where he expresses support for antifa and violent extremism. In October 2018, he tweeted, “All. Cops. Are. Bastards. And. Murderers.” The slogan is chanted by antifa around the world and has become ubiquitous in Portland following 10 consecutive days of rioting in reaction to George Floyd’s death. Next to smashed windows and looted businesses in downtown, “ACAB” is written. At the end of May, President Trump announced that his administration would be treating antifa as a domestic terrorist organization.
Shaver also tweeted in 2018 an image of a raised fist holding a bat next to an antifa symbol. The text declared: “Talk shit, get hit.” On another post, Shaver posted images of a shirt with a quote attributed to the “George Jackson Brigade,” a former Seattle far-left revolutionary group named after a Black Panther member. The group carried out a number of violent and criminal acts in the 1970s with the stated aim of overthrowing the government. Shaver’s photo read, “armed and dangerous and we will raze the fucking prisons to the ground.” Similar sentiments have found renewed resonance in Portland as far-left rioters and agitators have attempted to break into the Justice Center, which houses inmates who held for processing with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.
Beyond Shaver’s extreme political views, he has been accused of financial impropriety. Five years ago, Shaver was accused of misappropriating funds from the neighborhood nonprofit group he used to lead.
According to MNA board meeting minutes from September 2015 and seen by The Post Millennial, Shaver, who was then known as Jennifer Shaver, allegedly kept a cash box and cash gift card that belonged to the organization.
“She promised by phone to get it back to us soon,” the minutes read. Meeting notes four months later, on Jan. 11, 2016, state the property allegedly in Shaver’s possession was ultimately declared unrecoverable. “Benjamin announced Jennie Shaver has been unresponsive to communication requesting the association’s cash gift card and cash box,” the note says. “Items are declared no longer recoverable and considered a loss.” A police report was never filed and Shaver was not called for a hearing.
Some of those involved with leading the neighborhood association in 2015 declined to comment, stating they do not recall the exact monetary value that was lost, but did not dispute the allegation in the approved meeting minutes. One former member who was a part of the association during this time estimated the gift card to have “around $200” in funds. He does not know how much was in the cash box. Shaver later resigned from the organization.
Shaver did not respond to repeated The Post Millennial’s inquiries for comment. He also removed the Montavilla Emergency Warming Shelter from his Facebook page in mid-May and locked-down his social media accounts. In Facebook posts that have since been deleted or hidden, Shaver explicitly linked himself to the PDX COVID-19 Mutual Aid project.
“We’ve definitely gone beyond the usual group of folx who make sh— happen with no resources or money,” Shaver boasted on March 15. “There are more than 2,100 people signed up in our system to offer support (delivering supplies, paying for meds, etc), and we fundraised $20k in the first day to pay rent, bills, medication etc. for folx who request it.”
One of the main groups helping the PDX COVID-19 Mutual Aid project is the Montavilla Emergency Warming Shelter, a nonprofit founded and run by Shaver. Its listed secretary is Sophie Robertson, the real name of one of the mutual aid project’s declared organizers, “Sophie Lord.” The phone number shared with applicants to reach the Mutual Aid project is the same number listed for the Montavilla Emergency Warming Shelter, suggesting a close connection, at the least. The group is listed as one of the designated recipients of money from the mutual aid’s GoFundMe, should there be additional funds after aid requests are filled. As of late May, this would be the overwhelming majority of the remaining balance.
Shaver is also on staff with the Oregon Food Bank and organized the formal partnership between the two, according to Ashley Mumm, the public relations manager for the Oregon Food Bank. She directed inquiries related to the mutual aid project to Shaver. The Oregon Food Bank is the largest food bank in the state, distributing food aid through a network of partners. In April, Governor Brown announced an additional $8 million in funding for the charity, with a majority being reimbursed by the federal government.
Photos released of the mutual aid group’s food boxes show they originate from the Oregon Food Bank. (Shaver is seen in some of the photographs.) The food bank, a nonprofit, is funded through public and private donations, and does not charge their partners for food. In other words, the Mutual Aid group would not have needed to use its own funds in order to supply Oregon Food Bank groceries to applicants.
Additionally, the mutual aid project stated on their GoFundMe that they will “prioritize” undocumented, trans and queer, black, and indigenous people of color for aid. This appears to violate the Oregon Food Bank’s nondiscrimination policy that partners are obligated to follow.
The Oregon Food Bank did not respond to further requests for clarification of the groups’ relationship.
During the rioting and protests that broke out following the killing of George Floyd, GoFundMe has become one of the main crowdfunding tools for far-left extremists to raise funds to bail-out or support their comrades. Many of those campaigns were also called “mutual aid.”
The PDX COVID-19 Mutual Aid Network group launched its own website separate from its social media pages in late May. A link to request support, such as financial assistance, leads to a page that says the project is “no longer accepting responses.” However, a link to donate through PayPal is functional, despite the campaign saying donations were closed due to the goal having been met. The group recently released its first spreadsheet, which purports to show how much money has been spent and how many requests filled. According to the document, as of June 6, 249 aid packages utilizing the group’s funds have been delivered. That’s around 19 packages a week for a campaign that boasts of having 3,000 people who have volunteered to help.
The project’s last Instagram update on June 2 apologizes for the “silence” and says it will work on addressing issues of “whiteness” and “white supremacy” in the leadership.
Recently, an anonymously-run site was launched calling for “complete financial transparency” from the group. The site decries the “gatekeeping” of the project and has published screenshots of alleged conversations between organizers and applicants or volunteers. The mutual aid project has not publicly responded to the demands. They have announced plans to host future “community forums,” though dates have not been set.