Naperville chamber membership for Awake Illinois’ nonprofit affiliate sparks questions, review

Awake Americans’ membership in the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce is under review because of its affiliation with Awake Illinois, the Naperville-based group criticized for its positions on transgender and gay issues and its opposition to suburban drag events.

Awake Americans was founded in late April by Naperville resident Shannon Adcock as a tax-exempt affiliate to Awake Illinois. The group was welcomed this month as a new chamber member.

NACC President and CEO Kaylin Risvold, speaking in an email, said because some chamber members have raised questions about Awake Americans being part of the organization, “the matter is under advisement.”

“The comments shared are being carefully reviewed as NACC leadership takes the concerns of our membership and community very seriously,” the chamber said in a statement posted on multiple social media platforms.

Awake Illinois was politically active during the spring municipal elections, especially those involving school boards, and has launched several campaigns, including one aimed at stopping a drag show at the UpRising Bakery and Cafe in Lake in the Hills.

In one Twitter comment about the show, the group said they “blasted this perverted event” and warned, “They’re coming for your kids, McHenry County.”

In another campaign, Adcock attended a Downers Grove Public Library Board meeting to speak out against a drag bingo night, an event that was eventually canceled.

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union Illinois, said he assisted two suburban residents who were threatened with defamation lawsuits because they publicly criticized the Awake Illinois organization and its agenda.

In a response to the lawsuits, ACLU attorney Rebecca Glenberg said, “Awake Illinois and its leaders frequently accuse their opponents of nefarious motives or deeds and use hostile epithets — such as ‘groomers,’ ‘hateful,’ ‘perverts’ and ‘criminal lying bastards,’ — to characterize those who disagree with them. Yet when others express their frank opinions about Awake Illinois, it responds with demands for silence.”

Yohnka said Awake Illinois seeking to clamp down on any voice that disagrees with them “seems odd for a group that claims it’s defending free speech rights.”

In the purest sense, he said, it’s a case of “free speech for me, but not for thee.”

While the Naperville chamber is private organization and has the right to set rules for membership, they also need to apply them equally to everyone, Yohnka said.

NACC members include a variety of businesses and business-related ventures as well as family, community and civic organizations, government and education groups, and individuals. Religious groups and elected officials are among those who have memberships.

Adcock said Awake Americans, with a more national outlook, expects to bring people from around the country to its campus headquartered on the second floor of CityGate Centre near Route 59 and Interstate 88.

“We’re having public events open to empowering citizens on our First Amendment right to free speech, constitutional rights,” she said, “and so it really fits with what is going to be good for the commerce of Naperville, on top of also empowering people on nonprofit advocacy ... it’s really hitting both of those marks.”

The new nonprofit will celebrate its launch by hosting a June 12 event at the Hotel Arista in Naperville titled, “Woke 101: Is Marxism in America?”

It will be the first of many events, Adcock said.

Not only will the speakers and guests be staying at the hotel, they’ll be dining and taking in what Naperville has to offer, she said.

“That’s a huge benefit to Naperville commerce and we’re glad to support it,” Adcock said.

As an organization with a 501(c) (3) status, Awake Americans has a tax-exempt status and is prohibited from focusing on a single political candidate or party. In contrast, Awake Illinois has a 501(c) (4) status, which means it is not tax-exempt and can donate to and lobby for political candidates and parties.

Adcock has been a lightning rod for controversy in the past. When it became known that she was being considered as a candidate for the city of Naperville’s Special Events and Cultural Amenities Commission last year, critics who said her political opinions were too extreme made their opposition known through social media posts, newspaper letters and council meeting comments.

Ultimately, her nomination was pulled from consideration.

subaker@tribpub.com