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Afghan Airlifts Raise Major Questions for Charities

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Various charities have raised some $50 million to airlift people out of Afghanistan after the American withdrawal, but fundraising has proved far easier than evacuating.

In August, Glenn Beck, the conservative Mormon media star and founder of Blaze Media, raised nearly $30 million so his charity, The Nazarene Fund, could rescue people from Afghanistan.

On August 24, the Christian outlet CBN posted an “incredible update” that praised Beck’s successful fundraising “with no help from the mainstream media” and claimed it had secured “twenty 757’s minimum all lined up, ready to go,” and predicted 7,000 Christians would be flown from Afghanistan within days.

Beck called the effort “truly a MIRACLE” and claimed “1200 Christians evacuated and flown to safety” by August 24.

But it has been impossible to independently verify any of Beck’s claims. Neither Beck nor The Nazarene Fund nor his other charity, Mercury One, are answering any questions from MinistryWatch or other media outlets.

The fact-check organization Snopes reported that Beck’s claims can’t be verified. Snopes also found that Beck used a photo in one of his reports that was used by another group for its flight. Snopes has been waiting for answers from Beck’s two charities since early September.

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A Sept. 23 CBN post hailed Beck for bringing out far fewer people: “Glenn Beck Finally Able to Rescue 100 Afghan Refugees After Weeks of Obstacles.” The CBN post did not address earlier claims that 7,000 people had been flown to safety. It does not appear that CBN independently verified any of Beck’s claims in these two posts on his efforts.

Meanwhile, another airlift effort has floundered, according to a Washington Post investigation. On Aug. 17, a 26-year-old Instagram star named Tommy Marcus (a.k.a. Quentin Quarantino) launched Operation Flyaway, a GoFundMe crowdfunding effort designed to raise $550,000 for flights.

“EVERY SINGLE NICKEL of everything raised will go to either pay for flights, or support these humans through various non-profits,” Marcus promised. Soon, $7.2 million poured in.

Marcus said donor response was a “miracle.” But lacking any prior philanthropic experience, he was rapidly overwhelmed.

Marcus later claimed that Operation Flyaway had helped evacuate hundreds of people, but the Post investigation found that wasn’t true. Marcus also claimed Operation Flyaway evacuated members of an Afghan girls robotics team, even sharing a photo of team members. The Post found that another group evacuated the team. Marcus acknowledged the false report, blaming his “fake news” report on faulty information he had received.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy called Operation Flyaway a “seat-of-the-pants effort” that illustrated an important lesson about “the limitations of money and good intentions.”

A spokesperson for the American Institute of Philanthropy described crowdfunding campaigns as the “Wild West of charity fundraising,” according to The Post, and recommended donors instead support existing charities with specialized expertise. Among other problems, crowdfunding appeals are not incorporated as charities and are not required to release financial reports.

Glenn Beck has declined to answer questions about his airlifts, but acknowledged the efforts had been “far from easy.” He blamed American officials and the Taliban for the failure.

The famously tearful media figure has issued regular “emotional updates” that show him “fighting back tears.” A Sept. 14 update focused on a girl who was not rescued, but claimed “well over 5000” lives have already been saved.

In one report entitled “Glenn Beck reveals SHOCKING details of stalled Afghanistan rescue efforts,” Beck claimed that six full planes ready for takeoff were grounded by members of the Taliban “amid negotiations with the U.S. State Department.”

Another August 25 report said:

From an undisclosed location in a country near Afghanistan, Glenn Beck details the latest on the frantic evacuation efforts of American citizens, allies, and persecuted Christians as the Biden administration’s failures have left him thinking, “I’ve never been embarrassed to be an American before.”

That report also quoted Christian nationalist author David Barton, a Nazarene Fund board member, who claimed he had “evidence of malicious intent from a few members in the State Department,” saying: “The U.S. State Department ‘clowns’ will be humiliated by private sector efforts by this time tomorrow.”

In MinistryWatch’s August report on Beck’s efforts, we raised questions about his charities’ board, leadership, and finances. The $30 million received for the airlifts was four times Mercury One’s 2019 income. That year, Mercury One spent a third of its income on fundraising and salaries for its 27 employees.

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Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.