Red Cross Stealing Donations from Doorsteps of Churches-Fiction! & Unproven! 

Summary of eRumor:

Protected by Obama-era Executive Order 13603, the American Red Cross stole donations from the doorsteps of churches and resold them for a profit in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

The Truth:

There’s no way to prove or disprove that the Red Cross stole donations from doorsteps of churches after Hurricane Harvey based on available information — but the claim that the Red Cross was allowed to steal those items under an Obama-era executive order are false.

The rumor came from a Facebook Live stream recorded by a woman named Gina Nelms on Sept. 7, 2017. In the stream, which had been viewed more than 4.8 million times within a week, Nelms claims that Executive Order 13603 , signed  by President Obama in March 2012, “gives government power to marshal whatever resources they want.” That order, Nelms claims, has enabled Red Cross workers to steal truckloads of donated items from church doorsteps without any repurcussions:

“While they were unlaoding these supplies, because there were so many supplies coming in and not enough help taking it away to the place they were storing all the goods, the doors of the front steps of the church had literally box after box after box of donations … but the Red Cross began to come in … threaten the good hearted, hardworking men and women out here that are trying to help out with the devastation … they began to steal. Yes, I said it. The Red Cross was physically taking the donations from the doorsteps of these churches and putting them into their trucks. Red Cross came to the church with volunteers and began to steal the donations. They were protected (by Executive Order 13603).”

Those claims quickly spread across Facebook, sparking outrage among viewers who were already questioning the Red Cross’s use of disaster relief donations and CEO compensation.

Red Cross Steals From Church Steps
A Facebook user reacts to false claims that an Obama-era executive order allows the Red Cross to steal items from church doorsteps.

It’s true that President Obama signed Executive Order 13603 on March 16, 2012 — but the order only applies to specific government agencies, not the Red Cross. The Red Cross is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization.

Further, the provision that Nelms cites doesn’t necessarily give agencies permission to “marshal whatever resources they want.” It states that the secretaries of energy, health and human services, transportation, defense and commerce can require the acceptance of “priority performance contracts or orders” for items that are critical to national defense and disaster response. The order goes on to state that secretaries can “allocate materials, services, and facilities as deemed necessary or appropriate to promote the national defense.” That’s not the same as stealing donations from church steps.

And because Nelms didn’t provide specific examples about which churches had donations taken from their doorsteps, there’s no way to independently verify her claims. And there are endless reasonable explanations for Red Cross volunteers taking items if Nelms or someone else witnessed it. Maybe church groups organized donation drives for the Red Cross, and volunteers were just picking them up. Or maybe volunteers mistakenly collected items from church doorsteps that they mistook for items that were donated to the Red Cross.

In the end, we’re calling claims that the Red Cross stole donated items from church doorsteps in Houston and was protected by Executive Order 13603 “fiction” and “unproven.” It’s not true that the Red Cross would have been protected by the order, because the Red Cross isn’t a government agency. And there’s no way to prove or disprove if any items were actually taken because of fuzzy details.

A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

Collected on: 09/13/2017
Hurricane Harvey Red Cross
A Facebook video claiming that the Red Cross was allowed to steal items from church doorsteps under an Obama-era executive order was quickly viewed nearly 5 million times.