This is part one of a three-part series
It can be very difficult to grasp or visualize the vastness of the network of left-wing groups in North Carolina. But one way to start is with the key group on the left, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation – and the family that dominates it.
There are literally hundreds of liberal/progressive groups from different areas of the political, public, private and nonprofit sectors. Moreover, groups with different interests and missions work together at a moment’s notice to advocate for each other’s goals, as long as they serve the larger vision of the Left. In addition, many of these groups have carefully selected names that, while not completely lying about their mission, tend to cloak their true intent.
It is for all these reasons that we created Mapping the Left, an online database which helps make it easier to visualize the groups and the activists that make them work. Of special importance, Mapping the Left’s graphics illuminate the connections among these seemingly unconnected groups. The connections are so numerous and so deep that it is necessary to use images to help illustrate them.
Our research has confirmed that the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation has changed radically from its inception as a tribute to Zachary Smith Reynolds, the son of R.J. Reynolds. (Zachary was shot dead in a mysterious incident at their home in Winston-Salem when he was 20.) Over time the foundation has abandoned its original mission and has turned into an organization bent on reshaping NC governance, culture and society. Once it was one of North Carolina’s oldest and most well-regarded philanthropic foundations, known for building schools and hospitals all across our state. But in the latter half of the 20th century, it morphed into a radical activist organization that now leads the charge for public policy that will grow government, increase regulation and weaken the family.
The foundation’s board members have connections to various left-wing organizations, making it not only a microcosm of the liberal/Left in our State, but an integral part of the national progressive movement. Our challenge in the Mapping the Left project is to illustrate these connections, and where better to begin than with the members of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Board of Trustees: They were, and are, unquestionably the most important single force behind the liberal/progressive movement in North Carolina.
David Neal, Hillsborough NC
Let’s start with an individual at the core of this group and its drive to reshape North Carolina.
That would be David Neal, a member of the Reynolds family and the founder of Blueprint NC – the organization that rallied the Left in North Carolina to “eviscerate, litigate, mitigate, cogitate and agitate” the state’s leaders.
David Neal calls himself an “accidental philanthropist,” but a look at his resume suggests otherwise. While Neal is not a direct descendant of R.J. Reynolds or the Z. Smith Reynolds family, he is related. His great-great grandmother, Mary Joyce Reynolds, was R.J. Reynolds’ sister. Neal is the immediate past president of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation’s board of trustees (2010-2014), and has been a board member since 2001.
His life is interwoven with liberal causes and organizations. After graduating from Oberlin College in 1995, Neal served as a volunteer in the Peace Corps in the former Soviet country of Turkmenistan. On his return to North Carolina, he started law school at the University of North Carolina in 1998 and began his active involvement in the work of left-wing nonprofits, inside and outside of North Carolina.
His first involvement was starting at the top as the executive director of the Fair Trial Initiative from 2000 to 2006. The Fair Trial Initiative is a nonprofit activist group established to continually introduce “innovative approaches to the defense of death penalty cases.” Neal founded the group with, among others, Jonathan Soros, son of liberal billionaire George Soros, one of the wealthiest and most powerful liberal activists in history. Jonathan Soros is vice chairman and director of his father’s multibillion-dollar Open Society Foundation, a linchpin of left-wing activism across the globe.
Neal also was a staff member for another nonprofit activist group, the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, from 2001 to 2003. The Center for Death Penalty Litigation is a law firm in Durham that provides representation for inmates on death row. Both the Fair Trial Initiative and Center for Death Penalty Litigation are members of the Z. Smith Reynolds-established and -funded Blueprint NC. (More below.)
In 2006, Neal entered the national scene with an appointment to the board of the Proteus Fund (2006-2012). “Discover the Networks” describes the Proteus Fund this way:
“Proteus is structured like a money-laundering firm. It provides cover for people who don’t wish to be identified with the causes they support, either because the causes themselves are controversial, or because the donors wish to ‘Astroturf’ causes by presenting them as arising from broad-based public support, rather than the product of professional, funded activism.”
In 2007, the State Strategies Fund, a project of Proteus, presented the “Report on Six Emerging Collaborative State Projects” The report hailed projects led by state activists who were attempting to build an integrated progressive infrastructure that would achieve comprehensive social change. North Carolina’s contribution to the report was Blueprint NC.
Blueprint NC is the North Carolina nonprofit that gained infamy in 2013 for a leaked confidential strategy memo that instructed its members to “eviscerate” the state’s leadership. Left-leaning groups themselves claim Neal is a key player in creating Blueprint NC. The Southern Scan Research Project was backed by three liberal organizations, including the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation-funded Institute for Southern Studies. The project published a 2009 report, “Social Justice Organizing In the U.S. South,” in which David Neal is identified as THE founder of Blueprint NC.
That is crucial because Blueprint NC is no ordinary liberal group. It is the central organizing and coordinating nexus for general coordination, lobbying and political activities among groups on the Left in the state. Blueprint NC coordinated much of the Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV) activities leading up to the 2008 presidential election in NC. (Read more here on Blueprint.)
Neal has served on an array of other liberal nonprofits, including the NC Conservation Network (Blueprint NC member), the Common Sense Foundation, and the Orange County ACLU.
David Neal is married to Jennifer Weaver. She works as a researcher for another North Carolina nonprofit that receives funding from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation — Clean Water for North Carolina. This is one of those groups that has a benevolent-sounding name but spends a lot of its time and money supporting a so-called “Water Justice Campaign” and supporting action by the UN on Human Rights and Genocide. A good name does not necessarily translate into more clean drinking water for anyone, just more liberal/progressive policies. Clean Water for North Carolina is guided by these supposed Principles for Environmental Justice.
Neal is no ordinary lawyer or heir to family money. He is the quintessence of a liberal activist and he very much enjoys the access his family money and connections give him to politicians and activists. He has stated that he loves to go to Moral Monday protests. He also is sometimes prominently featured in photos of leaders on the Left holding press conferences or making pronouncements.
David Neal is emblematic of how the heirs of a world-renowned industrialist have decided how to use the wealth he provided for them. They do this as a family and with the assistance of others on the board and the many nonprofits they have established and funded. Their connections and influence may be hard to trace at first, but Mapping the Left will show how they collaborate on turning North Carolina to the left.