Tuesday, May 18

American Far-Right Extremists Making Millions Through Social Media And Cryptocurrencies | The far right


Dozens of extremist groups and individuals, including some involved in the attack on the Capitol, have used social media platforms, cryptocurrencies, tax-exempt status, and other fundraising tools to raise about $ 1.5 million in the past year, according to reports. experts.

Two recent studies by groups that track the funding of extremists, the Global Disinformation Index (GDI) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), underscore the growing threat posed by far-right extremists, including those who they attacked Congress to stop the certification of 2020. election results.

Recent studies and testimony given to a House committee by SPLC and GDI representatives in late February showed that the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and others with white supremacist and anti-immigrant biases made windfall gains through the DLive streaming platform, cryptocurrencies and others. fundraising methods.

Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University and a senior fellow at the SPLC, found that from April 15 to early February, 55 extremist individuals and groups used the DLive video streaming platform, which allows content donations based on in cryptocurrencies. at just under $ 866,700.

“The idea that various hate groups can raise tens of thousands of dollars a month with cutting-edge technology and a small group of donors should be scary, not boring,” Squire said in an interview. “This is the canary in the coal mine, and we ignore it at our own risk.”

In a statement, DLive noted that its guidelines prohibit hate speech and incitement to violence, and that after the attack on the Capitol, it “indefinitely suspended the accounts of people who used DLive to broadcast live since the riots” and its access to any “token they have been given”. by members of the community ”.

According to GDI co-founder Daniel Rogers, 44% of the 73 hate groups he has studied have benefited from obtaining tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service.

In testimony before the House financial services subcommittee on February 25, Rogers revealed that the founder of Oath Keepers Stewart rhodes last year I used a podcast hosted by Mike Adams of Natural News, a conspiracy theorist departure, to raise money for a tax-exempt affiliate called the Oath Keepers Educational Foundation.

In an interview, Rogers said that many groups that “are trying to overthrow the government” receive tax-exempt status for register as a charity or welfare organization. “There has been a downgrading of the application at the IRS,” he said.

An IRS spokesperson declined to comment on the basis of federal disclosure law, which prohibits discussion of individual cases.

The avenues that extremists have tapped to raise funds are expected to face increasing scrutiny with the ever-widening federal investigations of the January 6 attack that have so far led to charges against more than 300 people.

Squire noted in an interview that Nick Fuentes, a leader of the the so-called Groyper Army, used DLive to raise nearly $ 94,000 from last April through January (when he was banned from the platform after the Capitol attack), and received around $ 250,000 in bitcoin last December. from a mysterious French donor with far-right ties.

Rogers said that at least 24 people indicted by the Justice Department for their role in the attack on the Capitol, including eight Proud Boys, have used the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo to raise nearly a quarter of a million dollars to help with costs. legal, medical and travel. .

Jacob Wells, GiveSendGo’s chief financial officer, said in a statement that “there have been no campaigns on GiveSendGo to raise funds for illegal activities.” But Wells said he saw no reason “to prohibit people from raising funds for their own legal defense.”

More broadly, Rogers said in his testimony before the House that the tax-exempt status enjoyed by so many extremist groups provides them with “automatic access to a whole spectrum of charitable fundraising tools, from Facebook donations to Amazon Smile. “. Rogers found that the most common fundraising platform used by these groups was Charity Navigator’s “Donation Basket” feature.

Some former Justice Department prosecutors also expressed grave concern that numerous extremist groups have been able to obtain tax-exempt status from the IRS for years, saying that under the Donald Trump administration, the IRS was especially lax.

“Many of the IRS enforcement mechanisms have been actively dismantled or simply allowed to weaken,” said Phillip Halpern, who resigned last fall as a federal prosecutor after 36 years handling corruption cases in California.

“This has created a dangerous gap in our police safety net where extremist groups can find refuge,” added Halpern. The IRS “which has been largely sidelined due to political interference – will have to catch up on any fight against domestic terrorism.”

Despite their success in fundraising, experts emphasize that in recent months and after the attack on the Capitol, extremists have been quick to adjust their fundraising given the acceleration of investigations.

When an underground group or individual “is operating under pressure, they tend to change their strategies,” including fundraising tactics, Squire said in an interview. “They face increased scrutiny from both law enforcement and social media platforms.”

Squire noted that some extremist groups like the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer have recently switched from seeking bitcoin donations to soliciting Monero, an extremely difficult cryptocurrency to track.

Historically, the growth of extremist activity has been well documented: the SPLC in 2019 reported that the number of declared white supremacist groups doubled from 2017 to 2019.

Pressures to curb funding for extremists are likely to mount as the FBI and the Justice Department have launched a broad network – in addition to the more than 300 people from at least 42 states charged so far for their roles in In the attack on the Capitol, Justice Department officials have opened files on about 540 people in total according to CBS News.

FBI Director Chris Wray told a Senate committee last week that the FBI called the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol “domestic terrorism” and that white supremacists make up the “majority.”

Attorney general candidate Merrick Garland pledged in his confirmation hearings to do “everything in the power of the justice department” to stop domestic terrorism, a project likely to involve investigating how extremist groups are financed, former prosecutors say. of the Department of Justice.

Paul Pelletier, former acting chief of the Justice Department’s fraud section, suggested in an interview that new legislation will be needed to mount a serious attack on domestic terrorists.

“To curb the flows of money that are used to support domestic terrorism by these extremist groups will require legislation that prohibits material support similar to the laws used with respect to foreign terrorist organizations.”


www.theguardian.com

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