An arm of the radical group MOVE was given tax-exempt status in 1977 and early this year was approved by United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania as a potential recipient of charitable contributions, according to documents sent to The Washington Post and confirmed by United Way officials.
MOVE fosters a bizarre blend of back-to-nature primitivism and armed anarchy. Its latest encounter with police in May left a Philadelphia West Side block of 61 homes devastated and seven adults and four children, believed to be MOVE members, dead.
Last January, the Community Action Movement (CAM), the self-described training arm of MOVE, applied for and was granted status as an approved agency in the United Way's donor option program, according to program manager Raymond W. Smith Jr.
The program permits eligible agencies to be designated as recipients of tax-deductible contributions by United Way donors. Smith declined to say how much, if any, money it has channeled to CAM. Neither he nor anyone at United Way was aware they had granted eligibility to a MOVE organization, he said, adding that he could not predict what, if any, action United Way will take.
On the handwritten application, CAM's purpose was described as follows: "Provide work projects to provide healthy alternatives to problem adults and youths, to provide basic counseling technical assistance and instructional methods to meet org. goals. CAM is a non-profit org. operated by committed MOVE members dedicated to the teachin [sic] of John Africa, the MOVE org. uses money donated to MOVE or that MOVE members earn to finance CAM projects. CAM is a trainin [sic] program that MOVE members go thru before becommin [sic] MOVE members."
The application was signed by the group's executive director, Gerald Ford. A person answering the phone at the number given in the application said that Ford was out of town and could not be reached.
Copies of the documents were mailed to The Post in a plain envelope with no return address and no explanation. Officials of United Way and the Internal Revenue Service said the information on the papers matched their records.
On a page headed "By Laws of Community Action Movement," apparently submitted with the application, the objective of the group is described, in part, as "to actively engage in the elimination of all forms of addiction in the community; to establish, promote and maintain a working program to serve as an alternative to such addiction . . . ."
Members of the heavily armed group, founded in 1972, prohibited the use of soap, threw garbage around their homes, allowed animal and human feces to accumulate, welcomed the resulting rats as part of nature, delivered their babies without medical assistance, and preached tolerance while shouting obscenities at neighbors through an electronic bullhorn.
An IRS spokesman here confirmed that a Philadelphia group called Community Action Movement was granted tax-exempt status under section 501f(c)(3) of the federal tax laws, but noted that the address on file is different from that in the more recent United Way application. Both addresses are in the West Side area where MOVE was based.
Because the IRS has been unable to establish contact with CAM recently, it has been placed on inactive status and will not be carried in the next official published listing of tax-exempt groups. That does not mean CAM has lost its tax-exempt status, officials said.