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The IRS and White Supremacists Case


Racial segregation has long been a subject of moral debate, particularly in the United States. McShane (2016) reports that “four prominent white nationalist groups received the government go-ahead to raise nearly $8 million in tax-deductible donations over the last 10 years” (para. 1). The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows such groups to be tax-exempt according to section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (Exemption requirements, n.d). Organizations eligible for the requirements of this section are charitable and act exclusively in the public interest. Moreover, they do not have the right to participate in the political agenda and influence legislation (Exemption requirements, n.d). However, from a moral perspective, white supremacy groups can be considered hate groups that promote ideas of racial segregation. Despite this, this issue has a mix of components that is rather complex for an unambiguous solution.

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Cases with White Nationalists Groups

White nationalist groups had historical roots in the United States when biological differences justified racial segregation. In particular, they appeal to the theories of evolution that have no evidence in modern science (Ehrenfreund, 2017). Amarante (2018) notes that their “primary activity is to disseminate pseudo-scientific racist rants” (p. 2047). However, it is important to note that such groups position themselves not as anti-blacks or opposed to racial integration but exclusively as pro-whites (Amarante, 2018). Thus, white supremacist groups avoid direct manifestations of racist rhetoric and justify their activities by believing that racism has a biological basis.

They do not influence the political agenda, although they openly supported the election of Trump. White nationalist groups considered the presidential campaign a crucial event for people opposing immigration and multiculturalism (as cited in McShane, 2016). However, they did not have a direct impact on the promotion of any political views, which does not contradict the requirements of the IRS. Thus, such groups can only be viewed from the perspective of social values ​​and personal moral beliefs, which may be subjective. For this reason, IRS officials emphasize that they “don’t make decisions on (c)(3) status based on whether we like their views or not” (as cited in Ehrenfreund, 2017, para. 12). In contrast, some claim that “the tax status should make people uncomfortable that the government is subsidizing groups that espouse values that are incompatible with most Americans” (as cited in McShane, 2016, para. 12). While it may be obvious to many people that the ideas of white nationalism are morally false, the issue is still controversial within the legal framework.

The main confusion, in this case, is the definition of a point of view that differs from the neutral one. The IRS needs to establish the same rules for every organization, as the non-profit sector “should advocate for and support entities and legislation promoting justice for all” (Harvey, 2020, para. 4). The main difficulty lies in the fact that within the framework of the legislation, it is impossible to determine who advocates for correct moral values ​​and who for false ones. Specifically, the argument is that one cannot discriminate against people who oppose certain groups, such as Blacks, while at the same time supporting those who praise the same minorities (Volokh, 2016). In other words, there is no unified legally-established system for assessing moral values, which allows the IRS to judge only on the basis of criteria that can be accurately measured.

This framework includes active participation in the promotion of certain legislation and actions that discriminate against members of certain groups. In this regard, it is important to note that the IRS cannot deny tax exemptions based on hate speech or what the organization advocates for (Volokh, 2016). Amarante (2018) gives an example of how “the IRS revoked Bob Jones University’s 501 (c) (3) status because the school prohibited interracial dating and marriage among its students” (p. 2048). The Supreme Court then upheld the decision, stating that the school acted against public policies aimed at eradicating racial discrimination in education (Amarante, 2018). Involvement in educational activities along with active bans, led to the revocation of tax exemptions.

By analogy, this reason could be applied to organizations supporting white nationalism, but they are not related to the spread of segregation in education. They do not advocate their point of view directly among young people in educational institutions but only verbally advocate for racial differences among the general public. Therefore, formally, they do not take direct action to spread their ideas but only declare the existence of their alternative opinion. Thus, it is impossible to deny tax exemptions on the basis of treating white supremacists as a hate group.

In this regard, it is also important to note the status of most of the groups using the opportunities provided by section 501 (c)(3). According to existing data, at the end of 2016, about 60 hate groups had the status of the “educational organization” (as cited in Can hate groups have 501(C)(3), 2017). In particular, it includes the National Policy Institute (NPI), an organization of white nationalists. The group lost its non-profit status several years ago, not because of its views and beliefs but because of incorrect paperwork (Amarante, 2018; Ehrenfreund, 2017). However, it also managed to regain its rights under section 501 (c)(3). In this case, the issue consists of defining an educational organization that is not directly established by the Internal Revenue Code (Can hate groups have 501(C)(3), 2017). However, such a framework is set by the Treasury Regulations that provide unambiguous terms that are not of much help to direct the IRS.

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These definitions offer clear descriptions of what constitutes an educational organization. This includes schools, educational material providers, and zoos, museums, orchestras, etc. (Amarante, 2018). However, the Treasury Regulations also state that educational organizations participate in “presenting public discussion groups, forums, panels, lectures, or other similar programs” (as cited in Amarante, 2018). Thus, this category includes advocacy, which is what white nationalist groups are engaged in. Despite the IRS’s attempts to establish a test to identify propaganda under the guise of educational institutions, it was not considered fair and objective (Amarante, 2018). An organization can be considered educational if it has a certain viewpoint but provides a sufficiently complete range of factors on it, on the basis of which the public can form its independent opinion (Can hate groups have 501(C)(3), 2017). According to the methodology test, which is currently applied to applicants, the organization cannot be defined as educational “if it fails to provide a factual foundation” (Can hate groups have 501(C)(3), 2017). However, most organizations, including white nationalist groups, easily meet this requirement and pass as non-commercial.

Thus, the current situation is extremely controversial since it is impossible to objectively determine who promotes morally false statements and who advocates for morally correct ones. This problem is based on the very definition of morality and social values, which in modern society are considered as a diversity of opinions. Government entities such as the IRS are forced to establish a framework that would exclude discrimination of any belief and point of view. The desire to develop a valid testing system for educational organizations identifies the awareness of this problem at the legislative level but the inability to solve it.

It cannot be said that the IRS errs about white supremacist groups when they are qualified as nonprofit organizations. On the one hand, at the present time, the whole world supports multiculturalism and racial integration, which makes the opinion of radical groups less valuable to the majority. On the other hand, according to this logic, the IRS would also have to refuse to support organizations that protect the rights of various minorities. The IRS would have to perform the function of the determinant of moral values, which is impossible to imagine in a democratic society.

Nevertheless, the desire of the modern public to support all opinions, including the polar ones, often leads to controversy, as illustrated by the case of the IRS and white supremacists. Harris (2010) offers a solution to the moral dilemma that has arisen, although it requires a detailed examination. In his TED talk, he emphasizes that there are many radical opinions in the world that represent moral peaks. The moral landscape consists of such peaks, which can be either negative or positive. The perception of certain values ​​depends mainly on the cultural characteristics of a particular society, which causes a variety of opinions. Harris (2010) gives an example to illustrate the manifold polarity that exists in the world. He emphasizes that in Islamic countries, some women wear burqas that completely cover their bodies, while in European society, an almost naked female body is freely displayed. This difference is presented as two opposite opinions that have a right to exist.

However, despite the fact that these extremes depend on how a certain phenomenon is perceived in society, there is something in common between them. Harris (2010) emphasizes that from a moral perspective, everyone understands well what constitutes “human flourishing” [00:11:45]. In particular, he stresses that human well-being depends solely on biological rather than ideological variables. Harris (2010) continues by explaining that there is “someplace on the spectrum between these two extremes that represents a place of better balance” [00:12:25-00:12:36]. Thus, people do not have to respect all polar opinions that exist because there are objective indicators of which moral values ​​work and which do not. Human flourishing is built precisely on certain values ​​that prevail at a particular time. What was common before will not necessarily be in demand and relevant in the future.

Based on this argument, the speaker emphasizes the importance of expertise in determining the moral values ​​of society. Harris (2010) explains that certain groups may not have a sufficient understanding of a particular phenomenon in comparison to experts in the field. Thus, the values ​​of certain groups may not coincide with the objective determinants of human well-being. Harris (2010) states that “if we’re going to talk about human well-being, we are, of necessity, talking about the human brain” [00:03:55-00:04:01]. Since white Supremacists base their arguments on the biological superiority of the white race, their beliefs can be viewed as irrelevant and outdated. Modern genetics proves that there are no biological differences between representatives of different races, except for the obvious ones (Chou, 2017). Thus, the advocacy of white nationalists is currently false, as it is contrary to conventional wisdom. That is why society needs experts who would establish a framework for morally acceptable statements that should really be considered values. Otherwise, respecting any opinion that is based on delusion or tradition, society is forced to face such controversy constantly.

Groups such as white nationalists nowadays should be classified as representatives of alternative opinions that do not carry social value. They do not contribute to the development of society at the global level but only promote the ideological agenda. Such groups should be given the right to articulate their viewpoint and support their community but not raise money for these purposes. Only publicly significant organizations should be publicly funded and protected by the government. Such groups should not be given the status of non-profit, as they have no value for society as a whole but only for a specific community. However, one should also not stigmatize them with any negative statuses so as not to express open disdain for their ideas. Thus, groups such as white nationalists should exist, but they should not be supported, either legally or publicly.

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Justifying the Validity of the Opinion

The presented opinion, although based on materials that identify general dissatisfaction with this case, can still be challenged. In this regard, it should be noted that society has previously determined morally correct and false values, which is also typical for the history of the United States. In particular, the same case with white nationalists and the issue of racial segregation can be considered. For example, in 1865, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which abolished slavery in the United States (Landmark legislation, n.d). However, in the Southern states, this measure did not seem correct and justified; they responded with the introduction of Black Codes in 1865-1866, which were a number of laws restricting the free activities of former slaves (American history, n.d). However, in 1866 “the Radical Republican congress reacted by placing the south under military rule as part of their program of Reconstruction and to pass various laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 14th Amendment” (American history, n.d). Thus, the view of the Southern states on the legitimacy of the existence of slavery was challenged by public moral values.

This historical episode illustrates that society establishes what is morally right and wrong. Without the abolition of slavery, the further development and prosperity of the United States would have been impossible. This idea is also emphasized by Harris (2010), explaining that the values ​​of a society are shaped by culture and transformed over time. As in 1865, and at the present time, the public realizes that the ideas of white suprematism are outdated, and new, more progressive agendas are needed. The answer is more than just opinion because it is built not only on existing materials but also on historical evidence.


Modern society is characterized by a variety of opinions and support for all points of view. However, sometimes this policy leads not only to public discontent but also to legislative controversies. Currently, the ideas of white supremacism are based on outdated concepts about biological racial differences. Using historical experience, society can identify morally correct and false concepts that need to be supported or ignored. This practice will help avoid controversial situations, as well as stimulate development and progress.


Amarante, E. F. (2018). Why don’t some white supremacist groups pay taxes? Emory Law Journal Online, 67, 2045-2068. Web.

American history: The Civil War and Reconstruction: Amendments, acts and codes of reconstruction. (n.d). Lloyd Sealy Library. Web.

Can hate groups have 501(C)(3) educational status? (2017). For Purpose Law Group. Web.

Chou, V. (2017). How science and genetics are reshaping the race debate of the 21st century. Harvard University: The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Web.

Ehrenfreund, M. (2017). Why the IRS puts white-nationalist groups in the same category as orchestras, planetariums and zoos. The Washington Post. Web.

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Exemption requirements – 501(c)(3) organizations. (n.d). IRS. Web.

Harris, S. (2010). Science can answer moral questions [Video]. TED Conferences. Web.

Harvey, N. (2020). A nonprofit path to racial justice: Linking policy to moral leadership. Nonprofit Quarterly. Web.

Landmark legislation: Thirteenth, fourteenth, & fifteenth amendments. (n.d). United States Senate. Web.

McShane, L. (2016). Four white nationalist groups were given nonprofit status, and permission to raise nearly $8M in tax-deductible donations. Daily News. Web.

Volokh, E. (2016). Opinion: No, the IRS may not deny tax exemptions on the grounds that a group is a supposed ‘hate group. The Washington Post. Web.

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