ADDED 10/19/2018

The Activists Waging a War to Make The Far Right Go Broke

FROM 10/19/2018 | Splinter

BY Elizabeth King

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It wasn’t so long ago that white nationalist “intellectual” Richard Spencer was the toast of the so-called “alt-right” and was even generously profiled by liberal and mainstream news outlets. His speaking engagements at various public universities attracted headlines for months throughout the 2017-2018 academic year as he faced massive blowback for organizing and attending the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. Now, Spencer barely appears in public and is reportedly broke.

He’s not alone. Though fascists and their ilk fundraised aggressively to cover their legal costs in the wake of “Unite the Right,” many of them, especially the organizers and those directly linked to violence in Charlottesville, appear to be broke and enjoy few options for financial recourse. This comes despite the fact that the GOP, and, all too often the mainstream press, have either embraced or given cover for various violent far-rightists.

“I wouldn’t say they’re faring very well,” Keegan Hankes, a senior research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Splinter of the “alt-right’s” financial status. “The vast majority of outspoken white supremacists or otherwise extremist groups have lost access to fundraising platforms like PayPal, Google Pay, and others like [them] have started enforcing their longstanding terms of services.” The white nationalist movement has by no means been entirely taken out by these efforts, but they’re not exactly rolling in dough right now.

One largely under-reported contributor to these circumstances is the meticulous, ongoing work of anti-racist and anti-fascist activists and civil rights groups. Using a common anti-fascist tactic called “no platform” which denies a person or group a platform to speak or organize (it’s sometimes called “de-platforming”), activists have helped make it difficult for white nationalists to fundraise online, stymying fascist activism by cutting off their income and fundraising capabilities. In a financial context, no platform means cutting the far right off from fundraising—both from crowdsourced fundraising platforms such as Patreon, and from collecting money directly via their own websites.

While tech companies tend to drop far-rightists from their services after activists call the company out publicly—creating bad press and the threat of a PR nightmare—the companies themselves typically deny the decisions have anything to do with politics. For example, when Patreon dropped Canadian “alt-right” YouTuber Lauren Southern last year, the CEO explained that the company didn’t make the decision based on an aversion to Southern’s politics, but rather their assessment that Southern was raising the funds for activities that could “cause loss of life” due to her involvement with “Defend Europe,” a far-right anti-immigrant campaign. The relative lack of transparency around decisions to keep or cut extremist bigots makes it challenging to properly credit activists for their efforts, but evidence that no platform works in this context is abundant.

Even prior to “Unite the Right,” while Spencer was still on his college tour and helping promote the rally in Charlottesville, white supremacists were getting the boot from popular tech platforms. PayPal, GoFundMe, and Patreon were some of the first big tech companies to start “rolling heads” last spring, as the activist behind @deplatformhate, a Twitter account that calls out companies who allow far-rightists to use their services. (The person who runs the account requested anonymity for their interview, because they’re concerned for their safety). As it turned out, PayPal didn’t ban everyone it could or should have, and various far-rightists used it to fundraise for “Unite the Right.”

The stakes rose even higher after Charlottesville, as the city and the nation reeled from the murder of anti-racist activist Heather Heyer. Angry and horrified over the violence, activists and researchers aimed to hold everyone involved—even if indirectly—accountable for the bloodshed. The SPLC released a damning report just days after the horrific events in Charlottesville highlighting the hate groups and individual bigots that used PayPal to fundraise for “Unite the Right.” The list included Spencer, the white nationalist cell Identity Evropa, and The Right Stuff, an “alt-right” website. Apparently that was more than enough: the same day, PayPal dropped many of the groups named in the report.

The loss of PayPal was a particularly brutal blow to white nationalists who rely on peer-based online fundraising, for the simple fact that it is such a ubiquitous service. “The loss of PayPal was devastating for most of these people,” Hankes told Splinter. “[PayPal] was a simple, largely anonymous way to give money, so that was a huge blow. The second that you lose access to any of these providers that serve as intermediaries, there’s suddenly a technical component… the extra step leads to far fewer people doing it.”

Some far-rightists really felt the pain when Patreon cut them off. Southern saidthat Patreon “essentially eviscerat[ed] the majority of my income” when she was banned from the site in August of 2017. In an unusual move, Patreon CEO Jack Conte appeared in a brief video explaining why the company banned all the members of Defend Europe, including Southern, but denied that the motivation for removing the pages was political or ideological (the company banned the anarchist news site It’s Going Down at the same time, a matter Conte also addressed in the video).

Be that as it may, the decision to cut Defend Europe and Southern didn’t come out of nowhere. “Defend Europe” is a project of the European “alt-right” group Generation Identity, which conducts so-called missions to physically impede NGO rescue ships from providing aid to refugees. Concern and anger over Generation Identity grew when the group began these stunts in the spring. Some of that anger was directed at the companies the group worked with, including Patreon. While Conte and others in his position are unlikely to acknowledge it, there is a clear pattern of public pressure campaigns preceding most tech companies’ decisions to ban bigots.

And while tech companies insist that decisions about terms of service are not based on activists’ complaints or political ideology, far rightists themselves sometimes assert anti-fascists are the driving force behind their financial woes, albeit in the form of a warped conspiracy theory that has no basis in fact. In the YouTube video where Southern bemoaned Patreon’s “evisceration” of her income, she says that Patreon’s decision to dump her was politically motivated as she claims without evidence that certain Patreon employees “support antifa.” The far-right website Breitbart has also made baseless claims that Patreon has a “bias” in favor of “antifa” because it allows liberals and some leftists to use its site (leftists do also get banned from these sites on occasion).

The public pressure comes, in part, from people who take the time to monitor far-right fundraising to determine which companies various people and groups are making use of. The anti-racist activist behind the Twitter account @deplatformhate is one of these people.

The activist comes from a background in tech, and started poking around on white nationalist websites after the attack in Charlottesville. “I noticed all these sites had donate buttons. These were hardcore guys like Jason Kessler and David Duke,” they told Splinter. Outraged that bigots were still able to fundraise with relative ease online despite the bloodshed, they decided to start calling out the companies helping racists rake in cash with the idea that possible bad publicity would be enough to force the hands of tech CEOs.

“When a company knows that they’re actively facilitating a platform that is creating an active threat to someone’s life—I don’t know what to think of anyone other than they’re just as complicit in that violence,” the activist says.

The activist says they’ve been able to help “chase” far-rightists off several key platforms. The @deplatformhate account has tweeted many times about AmazonWePay and JP Morgan Chase, PayPal, and others, many of which later dropped Spencer and his various websites from their services.

The “chasing” involves contacting the companies and using Twitter to call the public’s attention to platforms and other service providers that enable fascists to fundraise. In this case, the @deplatformhate account has sought to undermine the far right by primarily focusing on companies that have allowed Spencer to fundraise.

Their tweets leave a lengthy trail of this activity. In March, @deplatformhate was raising hell over the decision by payment company Stripe—perhaps the most prominent outfit still allowing the far right to use its platform for fundraising—to provide services to MakerSupport, a fundraising site friendly to the far right, and Funded Justice, a mainstream online fundraising platform Spencer had an account with at the time. Spencer used Funded Justice for a short time, but after the company was made aware (either via social media chatter or direct communications with the activist behind @deplatformahte) that Spencer was on the site, they banned him and refunded the money he’d raised to his supporters. The activist said that an attorney who represents Stripe has been in touch with them on more than one occasion to discuss their complaints, but so far Stripe has refused to alter its terms of service agreement. (Stripe has not responded to a request for comment about its communications with @deplatformhate.)

Now, after members of the violent far-right “Western chauvinist” group the Proud Boys were involved in assaults in both New York City and Portland last weekend, @deplatformhate has their eyes on the company that services their online shop’s payments: First Data Solutions.

The Proud Boys were involved in numerous bloody brawls over the summer, mostly in the Pacific Northwest region, and their shop sells merchandise such as red duffel bags with the phrase “Make commies afraid of rotary aircraft again,” a reference to the murders of communists carried out by the Pinochet regime. The @deplatformhate activist says they have reached out to First Data about the Proud Boys’ online store, but has not heard back. Splinter has also requested comment from First Data and will update if we hear back.

In an apparent sign of how much @deplatformhate has gotten under the skin of some far right groups, the Proud Boy store features a shirt taunting the activist. “@Deplatformhate has continuously tried to bombard us and take us down,” a note reads. “What they don’t know is that we are always a couple steps ahead. All they have done is make us better at what we do and advertise for us.”

Amid all the de-platforming from big players like PayPal, the far right started making its own crowdsourced fundraising platforms online. Thus, sites with names such as “Hatreon” (created by Cody Wilson, whose claim to fame is designing and selling 3D printed classic firearms and recently getting arrestedin Taiwan, where he fled after being accused of child sexual abuse); “GoyFundMe” (which was run by the Traditionalist Workers Party); and MakerSupport were created as the “alt-right” response to mainstream fundraising services.

Most of these sites didn’t last very long. Hatreon, for example, was suspendedby Visa in November of last year, and still isn’t operational again. MakerSupport has been inactive ever since Stripe permanently banned the site in late April. But these platforms still helped raise significant amounts of money before going dark.

The far-right fundraising site WeSearchr, founded by right-wing techie and troll Charles (AKA Chuck) Johnson and Pax Dickinson, the former chief technology officer of Business Insider (he was fired after Gawker uncovered his racist, sexist tweets), facilitated more than $150,000 in fundraising for Andrew Anglin, founder of the massive neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer. WeSearchr went dark last spring because someone at the company failed to renew the site’s SSL certification. Johnson and right-winger Peter Duke then founded Freestartr as a “free speech crowdsourcing” platform. But Stripe dropped the new site overaccusations that Johnson was using Freestartr to launder money. Hatreon was running around $25,000 per month in fundraising for racists before the site became inactive.

MakerSupport was considered by many observers to be the “alt-right’s” last hope for online fundraising; Spencer himself said in March that MakerSupport was “all we’ve got.” That hope was quickly stamped out when Stripe eventually caved and dropped MakerSupport, which had directly compared itself to Hatreon in promotional materials.

A handful on the far right tried to pivot to Bitcoin, but using the cryptocurrency is complicated, its value is unstable, and not very many people use it. Some others have now been forced to go back to begging for paper checks, now that raising money online is a lot more difficult. For example, the fascist cell Identity Evropa asked for checks to be sent via “check, money order, or cash” in the maila few times in the last year. Spencer also pleaded with his admirers for checks after various web hosts, including Squarespace, shut down the website for the white nationalist “think tank” Spencer runs, the National Policy Institute.

Identifying which platforms continue to enable the far right fundraising is tedious and constant work, but restricting their fundraising capabilities is of the utmost importance. “Like with anything, if you take money out of the equation, it’s going to fold, or at least not flourish,” Daryle Lamont Jenkins, founder and executive director of the anti-fascist organization One People’s Project, told Splinter. “The best way to cure fascism is to starve it to death, and that’s exactly what people are trying to do,” he said.

But Jenkins worries that concerned citizens may see the recent anti-fascist successes and start “resting on their laurels” and stop paying attention. “There are folks within the so-called ‘alt-right’ who came into it with money in their pockets, including Richard Spencer, Gavin McInnes, and even former TWP leader Matthew Heimbach,” he said, adding that he thought “they’re going back underground until another opportunity arises.” And there’s still plenty of work cut out in the meantime on the fundraising front.

Far-rightists still attempt to use platforms from which they’ve already been banned, and companies who have banned some far-rightists have not gotten rid of them all. Because of this, activists often describe the process of dealing with Nazi and other hate group accounts on tech platforms as whack-a-mole-like, a constant process of identifying what services fascists use and lobbying to get them deplatformed.

Stripe in particular is a hassle. “Dealing with Stripe is like pulling teeth, there’s no other way to describe it,” the activist who runs @deplatform hate says. They say that have been urging Stripe to simply change its terms of service so that far-rightists are forbidden from using the service in the first place. But the company has stubbornly continued to service white nationalists despite earlier promises not to work with hate groups. (Stripe did not respond to a request for comment about its policies.)

Stripe has budged some, and banned various fundraising sites popular among white supremacists, including MakerSupport and FreeStartr. But the company still allows myriad other hate groups, including VDARE, a far-right anti-immigrant non-profit organization, to use Stripe on their sites. It also services Gab, a Twitter-like site that is a haven for the far-right. Typical posts on Gab include disturbing threats of violence against journalists and activists, positive discussion of genocide, and a host of nauseating memes laden with fascist imagery.

Even this appears to be changing, though. Gab’s Twitter accounted posted a tweet earlier this month explaining that Stripe is threatening to pull service if Gab does not remove pornography from the site by October 19. Gab CEO Andrew Torba claimed in the tweet that it would be “impossible” to meet Stripe’s demands. Stripe, however, is just one of the payment processing sites Gab relies on—though there’s no doubt losing it would hurt the site.

Further, some organizations within the “alt-right” don’t have to deal with the roadblocks anti-fascist activists put in their way because their funding isn’t grassroots. The billionaire Mercer family, for example, provided mega-funding for Breitbart, the “news” site that once employed infamous (and now also cash-strapped) far-right talking head Milo Yiannopoulos. White nationalist organizations such as the non-profit foundation the Pioneer Fund also receive funding from very rich, very racist people, who can easily transfer funds with or without the assistance of PayPal. These issues are trickier to deal with, but activists contend it’s not impossible.

“I think it’s going to fall on credit card companies and banks [going forward],” Hankes said. He noted that The Right Stuff, the white nationalist magazine and website American Renaissance, and other far-rightists still have credit card processing on their websites.

Financial services companies including Discover Financial Services, Visa, and Mastercard issued statements in the days immediately claiming they will not work with hate groups following “Unite the Right” in 2017 after Color of Change created a petition. And Wells Fargo fired an employee, a now-former mortgage consultant, Andrew Alexander Murphy Harkins, after he was exposed by the antifascist group Pacific Northwest Antifascist Workers Collective as one of the participants of “Unite the Right.” Yet the company is also an affiliate of Stripe. (Wells Fargo told Splinter it has no comment regarding this story.)

For his part, Jenkins, the organizer with One People’s Project, advocates doxxing everyone in the white nationalist movement, especially the more prominent figures. The “opacity” of the movement, as Hankes says, presents a challenge in determining who is still servicing white nationalists. Under attack from the left, far-right groups tend to become more secretive, making it harder at times to track their activities in general. But through uncovering their support networks activists can expose and disrupt their financial lifelines “It’s a daunting task,” Jenkins said, “but it’s still possible.”

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