New anti-gun group funded by dark money

New anti-gun group funded by dark money
AP Photo/Tony Dejak

Have you heard of Project Unloaded? The anti-gun group has been flying largely under the radar, despite the involvement of many veterans of the gun control lobby. Project Unloaded’s founder Nina Vinik, for instance, has had stints at the Legal Community Against Violence and the Joyce Foundation, while its director of communications and marketing describes herself as “forever Moms Demand” (as in Moms Demand Action) on her Twitter bio. The group’s advisory board is also chock full of longtime gun control advocates like Dr. Garen Wintemute and Erika Soto Lamb, who previously worked as comms director for Moms Demand Action before she was hired as a vice-president for “social impact strategy” at MTV and Comedy Central.

The group’s low profile doesn’t mean it’s not well-funded. In fact, according to Fox News, Project Unloaded is “a project of the New Venture Fund, a nonprofit incubator that acts as a fiscal sponsor to dozens of left-wing groups.” The New Venture Fund, in turn, is one of four non-profit funds run by an outfit called Arabella Advisors; a D.C.-based consulting firm that Fox News reports is at the heart of “the country’s most extensive dark money network.”

The New Venture Fund does not identify Project Unloaded as a fiscally sponsored project in its business filings. The group, however, is identified as such in grants from liberal organizations.

The MacArthur Foundation awarded the group $50,000 this year, according to grants posted on its website, which shows its connection to the dark money network.

“Project Unloaded, fiscally sponsored by the New Venture Fund, is a new effort whose mission is to create a new cultural narrative that guns make the country less safe,” the grant reads. “It approaches gun safety through narrative and culture change, with young people as the agents of that change.”

“With a focus on teens and young adults, Project Unloaded communicates engaging, accessible information about the risks around gun use, via digital media platforms and peer influencers,” it continues. “Its goals are to permeate culture with the central message that guns make us less safe; shift individual knowledge, attitudes and behaviors during the formative teen years; and build a community of like-minded peers to amplify this message.”

… Fox News Digital also identified the Joyce Foundation as a significant funder of Project Unloaded. Last December, the Chicago-based nonprofit that backs gun control advocacy pushed $500,000 to the group, according to its posted grants.

Project Unloaded’s website appears to have gone live around the time of the Joyce Foundation grant, internet archives show. Meanwhile, the group also includes former and current Joyce Foundation staffers.

Project Unloaded’s founder and executive director, Nina Vinik, previously spent 13 years directing the Joyce Foundation’s gun violence prevention and justice reform program. Tim Daly, who took over Vinik’s old position at the Joyce Foundation, sits on the group’s steering committee.

This isn’t a genuine grassroots organization, in other words. It’s pure astroturf, with all the funding necessary provided by outside groups like the Joyce Foundation instead of having attract actual dues-paying members.

It’s also nothing new, at least as far as anti-gun groups like the Joyce Foundation are concerned. According to a 2019 report by Nina Vinik authored before she left the Joyce Foundation, the organization has aided gun control efforts with more than $32-million since 1993, including more than $10-million spent on “non-academic research institutions”; i.e. gun control groups.

That’s a lot of money wasted trying to prevent people from accessing their right to armed self-defense, and unfortunately there’s a lot more where that came from. Developments like the Supreme Court’s decision in NYSPRA v. Bruen, the expansion of Constitutional Carry, and the millions of new gun owners who’ve picked up a firearm for the first time over the past couple of years may have put them on the defensive, but as long as the gun control lobby as access to the ready supply of cash from foundations and anti-gun billionaires like Michael Bloomberg they’re going to continue in their quest to disarm us of our right to keep and bear arms. If and when Project Unloaded is no longer useful to the gun control lobby it will be quietly mothballed and replaced by another, likely with the same longtime anti-gun activists at the helm or involved in some way, shape, or form. In the meantime, however, gun owners and Second Amendment activists should at least be aware of the latest astroturf attempt to infringe on our constitutional rights.