Whose America? Right-wing group hides behind flowery, feel-good language
Publicly ‘Our America’ says it promotes unity. Behind the scenes, it’s a dark money group with MAGA ties and a swing-state focus.
In July 2022, a press release was sent out touting a new “cultural movement pushing back on those who attack and divide the country.” The release announced a new ad campaign and organization called Our America, with a vision of uniting the country around civility, diversity, and coming together.
Since then, Our America has spent over $1.1 million on Facebook and Instagram ads touting unity, diversity, and the American Dream. But behind the scenes, FWIW found the group is overseen by some of the biggest names in conservative dark money politics.
In this week’s FWIW, we’ll break down who’s behind Our America and what they’re focusing on ahead of 2024. But first…
By the numbers
FWIW, political advertisers spent just over $9.7 million on Facebook and Instagram ads last week. These were the top ten spenders nationwide:
Right-wing media company Daily Wire spent a jaw-dropping amount of cash on Facebook and Instagram ads last week, the majority of which was to promote a Black Friday sale on Daily Wire+ memberships. The ads, run through multiple Facebook pages, urged people to not “spend your Black Friday money on woke companies that hate you.”
Eugene Vindman, brother of anti-Trump #resistance celebrity Alexander Vindman, is running for Congress in Virginia’s 7th Congressional district and is spending big online to do so. Last week, he dropped over $100,000 on these fundraising ads to build grassroots support in his campaign to keep the swingy Virginia district blue next year.
Meanwhile, political campaigns spent $1 million on Google and YouTube ads last week. Here were the top ten spenders nationwide:
The United Democracy Project, a pro-Israel super PAC tied to AIPAC, is running video ads on YouTube this week that attack members of the progressive “Squad” for allegedly refusing to stand with Israel:
A conservative dark money group called More Jobs, Less Government is running video ads supporting Republican Tim Sheehy, who is running to unseat Sen. Jon Tester in Montana. See those ads here >>>
…and on Snapchat, political campaigns and organizations in the United States have spent around $2.7 million on advertising in 2023. Here are the top ten spenders YTD:
Your 2024 digital dispatch
FWIW, here’s how much money the 2024 presidential candidates and their affiliated PACs have spent on Facebook + Google ads to date (1/1 - 11/25):
…and here’s how weekly digital ad spending compares between the Trump and Biden campaigns (this data includes MAGA Inc, a super PAC supporting Donald Trump):
Nikki Haley received the endorsement of the Koch brothers’ influential conservative political network, Americans for Prosperity. AFP is historically a major spender on digital political ads, so we’ll be monitoring the space closely to see if they launch major ad campaigns in support of Haley in the coming weeks.
A new video from POLITICO analyzes how struggling 2024 candidates (*cough* Vivek Ramaswamy *cough*) are adopting influencer marketing tactics in an attempt to win over voters.
Gavin Newsom’s political operation raised at least $325,000 for Joe Biden’s re-election bid yesterday
From around the internet:
Misinformation on Facebook is alive and well. This week, we found 2 right-wing pages have recently spent $75,000 promoting deep fake videos that claim the U.S. will soon be attacked and 300 million people will die. Despite its recent pronouncements about prohibiting the use of AI in political ads, Facebook continues to allow these ads to run and reach millions of Americans.
Speaking of Facebook policy announcements, Meta emailed major political advertisers this week to let them know that it will reinstate its ban on new political ads for the final week of the 2024 election. Ads that are approved and running before that “blackout period” goes into effect will be allowed to run through Election Day.
This week, Elon Musk told his platform’s largest advertisers to “go f*ck themselves,” and asserted that they are going to kill the company - an admission that things may not end well for Twitter after the owner’s continued spread of anti-semitism and conspiracy theories.
Whose America? Right-wing group hides behind flowery, feel-good language
In July of 2022, a press release was sent out touting a new “cultural movement pushing back on those who attack and divide the country.” The release announced a new ad campaign and organization called Our America, “led by” a “Former ANTIFA Activist” and “Former Democrat Candidate,” with a vision of uniting the country around civility and coming together. Presumably targeting people of color and young people, the group announced its first $500,000 television ad buy would run on BET, Univision, and MTV, along with a few other cable networks.
Feel good stories
Our America’s website and social media presence prominently feature stock images of people of color coupled with flowery language about pride in America, unity, and diversity.
The group regularly publishes innocuous stories of “Hometown Heroes” - mostly fluffy testimonials about “coming together” or getting involved in one’s community. It also reposts viral feel-good videos on social media.
“Unite. Stop the hate. Stop the shouting. History is ours for the making.” reads one Facebook ad the group has run. “Whenever I act, I do it with the intent of building a more unified America.” says another.
But aside from the slick aesthetic and mindless copy that ChatGPT could have written, Our America has actually spent over $1.5 million to reach Americans in key battleground states with conservative messaging.
Since April 2022, Our America has spent $1.1 million on Facebook and Instagram ads nationwide, with its most recent campaign exclusively targeting Americans in Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. The group's ads promote a litany of conservative policy mainstays, like increased policing, lower taxes, “religious freedom,” charter schools, and stopping “cancel culture.”
Our America has had difficulty walking the fine line between identifying as overtly conservative and appealing to a wider audience. While the group’s first ad run in April 2022 mentioned the “radical Left,” later ad campaigns used less politicized language. This summer, the group’s ads became much more focused on promoting conservative policy solutions around crime and taxation.
The only publicly listed staffer on Our America’s website is National Director Gabriel Nadales, a self-described “avid dog trainer and dancer” who identified as an Antifa activist in high school and then became conservative in college when he read about Milton Friedman. (We’re not making this up.) Nadales has been involved in the conservative movement for nearly a decade, holding various roles at Young Americans for Liberty, Campus Reform, the Charles Koch Institute, and The Leadership Institute.
Nadales didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Another national director, Barrington Martin II, was announced alongside Nadales last summer, but he is no longer with the organization. Martin caused controversy earlier this spring when he tweeted a message sympathetic to “kind slaveowners” “who wanted their slaves to be in the best shape.”
Despite Nadales and (formerly) Martin’s publicly stated leadership of the organization, Our America has actually been led by President and CEO Christian Robey since its founding. Robey is a longtime conservative activist who has spent over a decade working for the far-Right Media Research Center. (More on MRC below.) Before his work at MRC, he held roles at The Leadership Institute and Atlas Network.
On the surface, it is unclear who is funding Our America or its ad campaigns, but we’ve found evidence the group is well-connected to MAGA circles. In February 2023, Robey represented Our America at a convening of major Trump allies: the Conservative Partnership Institute’s “Winter Leadership Conference.” FWIW uncovered an agenda for that event buried in a Congressional Ethics Disclosure form, which showed Robey and Our America were featured on a panel titled “Conservative Innovators” and its description was “hear from conservatives who have found new and innovative ways to advance conservative principles and stop the woke agenda.”
Others in attendance included Trump co-conspirator Mark Meadows, along with longtime ally Stephen Miller, election denier Cleta Mitchell, and far-right activist Charlie Kirk. Christian Robey also attended the Trump White House’s “social media summit” in 2019.
A 501(c)4 “Dark Money” Group
From what we can tell, Our America is not currently a nonprofit organization formally on file with the IRS. In order to find out who was behind the group, we made a $2 contribution via its website earlier this spring and checked our credit card statement to see what legal entity accepted the contribution. As it turns out, Our America has served as a public-facing brand for a 501(c)4 “dark money” organization called American Movement.
According to its first IRS form 990, filed in November of last year, American Movement was founded by Christian Robey in 2021 with an initial fundraising haul of $2,000,000. On this IRS form and in mandatory Facebook ad disclosures, the group shares an office address and phone number with the Media Research Center.
American Movement’s Board of Directors includes a who’s who of conservative dark money operatives, including John Tillman, CEO of the American Culture Project; Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center; Adam Brandon, the President of FreedomWorks; David Martin, EVP of the Media Research Center; Melissa Lopez, also of the Media Research Center; and Robey. Like Robey, none of these individuals are listed on the Our America website.
American Movement’s IRS filing also reveals its largest program expenditure in 2021 involved a “targeted persuadable voters focus group.”
It is possible that American Movement was the organization's initial legal name when it was founded and has since changed its name to Our America, which could be reflected in its next IRS filing.
Similarly, the operation has an affiliated 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which is publicly named the Our America Foundation. While that entity has a website, we could again not locate past IRS filings for an organization with that name. Instead, we found a filing for the American Movement Foundation, which lists Christian Robey as its Executive Director, and more conservative heavy hitters on its board, including Lawson Bader, the CEO of DonorsTrust, and Jim DeMint, Chairman of the Conservative Partnership Institute.
Public-facing versus Private-facing brand
Through Our America, operatives tied to the Media Research Center have built an interesting legal and digital infrastructure to run under-the-radar campaigns reaching Americans online.
It makes sense why conservative dark money types would seek to create a sterile, public-facing brand like Our America to reach different groups of voters. Americans - especially younger voters and people of color - may be more likely to engage with a campaign or be persuaded by its content if they are unaware of its ties to a right-wing political group.
We’ve reported on various clever online political marketing campaigns like these in the past, both on the Right and Left, with varying degrees of sophistication. What’s most surprising about Our America is (1) the lack of mainstream media attention to its work, (2) the discrepancy between its public-facing messaging and deep conservative ties, and (3) its lack of transparency about its staff, Board of Directors, funding, and even legal name.
These types of efforts come and go every few years, completely reliant on big money donations to keep them afloat, and it's unclear if Our America will be successful in its endeavors. Regardless, heading into 2024, it's important to understand what groups like these exist and how prominent conservative operatives are trying to reach new audiences of Americans online.