How cryptocurrency has become the ‘currency of the alt-right,’ white supremacists, hate groups
They’re using digital currencies in ever more secretive ways to avoid the oversight of banks, regulators and courts, an Associated Press investigation has found.
The Daily Stormer website advocates for the purity of the white race, posts hate-filled, conspiratorial screeds against Blacks, Jews and women and has helped inspire at least three racially motivated killings.
It also made founder Andrew Anglin a millionaire.
Anglin has tapped a worldwide network of supporters to take in at least 112 Bitcoin since January 2017 — today worth $4.8 million — according to data shared with The Associated Press. He’s likely raised even more.
Anglin is one very public example of how radical right provocateurs are raising big money through cryptocurrencies. Banned by traditional financial institutions, they’ve turned to digital currencies, which they’re using in ever more secretive ways to avoid the oversight of banks, regulators and courts, an AP investigation has found, based on legal documents, Telegram channels and blockchain data from Chainalysis, a cryptocurrency analytics firm.
Anglin owes more than $18 million in legal judgments in the United States to people he and his followers harassed and threatened.
Among them, he owes Muslim comedian Dean Obeidallah $4 million. And he’s supposed to pay Taylor Dumpson, the first Black student body president of American University, $725,000 — all the results of litigation over libel, invasion of privacy, inflicting emotional distress and intimidation via the Daily Stormer.
His victims have tried — and failed — to find him to collect. He has no obvious bank accounts or U.S. real estate holdings.
Online, he’s highly visible — most days, dozens of stories on the Daily Stormer homepage carry his name. In the real world, though, Anglin’s a ghost.
“We were able to sue the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist organization, in essence out of existence,” said Beth Littrell, a lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center who’s helping represent one of Anglin’s victims.
But it’s harder, Littrell says, to use the legal system to stamp out hate groups today because they’re operating via online networks and virtual money.
RADICAL RIGHT’S CURRENCY
In August 2017, a week after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Anglin received 14.88 Bitcoins, an amount chosen for its oblique references to a 14-word white supremacist slogan and the phrase “Heil Hitler.” Worth about $60,000 then, it was his biggest Bitcoin donation ever and is worth over $641,000 at today’s exchange rate.
The source remains a mystery.
Anglin now faces federal charges for conspiring to plan and promote the deadly march.
By the time of Charlottesville, Anglin had been cut off by credit-card processors and banned by PayPal. Bitcoin was his main source of funding.
“I’ve got money to pay for the site for the foreseeable future,” he wrote last December as Bitcoin’s price surged.
Bitcoin was developed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. It doesn’t depend on banks. Transactions are validated and recorded on a decentralized digital ledger called the blockchain, which derives its authority from crowdsourcing rather than bankers.
As one white nationalist cryptocurrency guide circulating on Telegram puts it: “We all know the Jews and their minions control the global financial system. When you are caught having the wrong opinion, they will take it upon themselves to shut you out of this system making your life very difficult. One alternative to this system is cryptocurrency.”
Richard Spencer, a white supremacist, has dubbed Bitcoin the “currency of the alt-right.”
It’s hard to tell how large a role cryptocurrency plays in financing the far right. Merchandise sales, membership fees, donations in fiat currencies, concerts, fight clubs and other events, as well as criminal activity, are also sources of revenue, government and academic research has shown.
Early adopters of Bitcoin, like Anglin, have profited handsomely from its increase in value. Bitcoin prices are notoriously volatile, though. Since April, the currency has shed a third of its value against the dollar, then took a further drubbing recently when China declared cryptocurrency transactions illegal.
Chainalysis collected data for a sample of 12 far-right entities in the United States and Europe that publicly called for Bitcoin donations and showed significant activity. Together, they took in 213 Bitcoin — worth more than $9 million at today’s value — between January 2017 and April 2021.
These groups embrace a range of ideologies and include white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and self-described free-speech advocates, united by a shared desire to fight the perceived progressive takeover of culture and government.
“These people have real assets. People with access to hundreds of thousands of dollars can start doing real damage,” said John Bambenek, a cybersecurity expert who has been tracking the use of cryptocurrency by far-right players since 2017.
Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, Anglin’s webmaster for the Daily Stormer, has taken in Bitcoin worth $2.2 million at today’s values. The Nordic Resistance Movement, a Scandinavian neo-Nazi movement that’s banned in Finland, Counter-Currents, a U.S. white nationalist publishing house and the recently banned French group Génération Identitaire have each received Bitcoin now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, Chainalysis data show.
Two social media platforms that have been embraced by the far right — Gab and Bitchute — saw Bitcoin funding surge ahead of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection.
Since 2017, Bitchute has gotten Bitcoin worth nearly $500,000 today. About a fifth of that rolled in last December.
Gab has gotten more than $173,000. Nearly 40% came in during December 2020 and January 2021, Chainalysis data show.
On Aug. 1, Gab announced it was stepping up its fight against “financial censorship” and creating its own alternative to PayPal to “fight against the tyranny of the global elites.”
MONERO: ‘PRIVACY COIN’
While cryptocurrencies have a reputation for secrecy, Bitcoin was built for transparency. Every transaction is indelibly — and publicly — recorded on the blockchain, which enables companies like Chainalysis to monitor activity.
Individuals can obscure their identities by not publicly linking them to their cryptocurrency accounts, but, with Bitcoin, they cannot hide the transactions themselves.
Because of that, Anglin abandoned Bitcoin n November 2020 — just as Donald Trump lost the presidential election — and asked supporters to send him money only in Monero, a “privacy coin” designed to enhance anonymity by hiding data about users and transactions. He published a new guide in February on how to use Monero, with instructions for non-U.S. donors.
“Every Bitcoin transfer is visible publicly. Generally, your name is not attached to the address in a direct way, but spies from the various ‘woke’ anti-freedom organizations have unlimited resources to try to link these transactions to real names. With Monero, the transactions are all hidden.” Anglin wrote.
Monero, Anglin wrote, “is really easy. Most importantly, it is safe.”
Others have reached the same conclusion.
Thomas Sewell, an Australian neo-Nazi facing criminal charges, is soliciting donations in Monero for his legal defense.
Jaz Searby, a martial arts instructor who headed an Australian chapter of the Proud Boys, is seeking donations — Monero only — to help “spread our message to a generation of young Aryan men that may feel alone or fail to understand the forces that are working against us.”
The Nordic Resistance Movement and Counter-Currents also solicit donations in cryptocurrencies including Monero, and NRM has experimented with letting supporters mine Monero directly on their behalf.
“Do you really think how we operate our economy is any of your business?” Martin Saxlind, the editor of NRM’s magazine Nordfront, said in an email to AP reporters. “Swedish banks have abused their control of the economy to deny us and others regular banking accounts for political reasons. That’s why we use cryptocurrency ... You should investigate the corrupt banks . . .”
The Global Minority Initiative, which calls itself a “prison relief charity” for American white nationalists, also takes donations only in Monero or by postal money order.
And France’s Democratie Participative, a racist, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ website banned by French courts in 2018, solicits donations in Monero only.
“Money is the sinew of war,” the site says. “Thanks to your support we can continue to prevent Jews and their allies from sleeping soundly.”
The AP sought out each of the groups and individuals named in this story. Most didn’t reply to requests for comment. A few were unreachable. Others replied anonymously, sending anti-Semitic and pornographic content.
Shortly before his suicide, in December 2020, a French computer programmer named Laurent Bachelier sent 28.15 Bitcoins — then worth over $520,000 — to 22 far-right entities.
The bulk went to Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist influencer who graduated from Lyons Township High School and was banned from YouTube for hate speech. Fuentes would spend the coming weeks encouraging his tens of thousands of followers to lay siege to the Capitol. One bitcoin went to a Daily Stormer account.
“I care about what happens after my death,” Bachelier wrote in his suicide note. “That’s why I decided to leave my modest wealth to certain causes and people. I think and hope that they will make a better use of it.”
Since getting Bachelier’s money, Fuentes ramped up recruiting for his America First livestream and expanded the reach of his America First Foundation, which says in corporate registration documents it advocates for “conservative values based on principles of American Nationalism, Christianity, and Traditionalism.”
ESTIMATED REGIONAL SOURCE OF FUNDS BY ORGANIZATION
The transactions became public only because of a tip to Yahoo News and the fact that Bachelier left digital traces that linked his Bitcoin address with his email. The money trail offered clear evidence that domestic extremism isn’t purely domestic and showed how wealthy donors can use cryptocurrency to fund extremists around the world with little scrutiny.
Bachelier’s money slipped into the United States without triggering alerts it might have had it landed via traditional banking. That’s because much of it — notably the Bitcoin donation to Fuentes, then worth $250,000 — passed through accounts that weren’t hosted by regulated cryptocurrency exchanges, according to Chainalysis.
Those exchanges, which can convert Bitcoin into dollars and other currencies, generally are regulated like banks, allowing authorities to get access to information or funds.
But cryptocurrency wallets can be “unhosted,” which means users control access. Unhosted wallets — like Fuentes’ — are akin to cash. They don’t have to go through banks or exchanges that could flag suspicious transactions, verify a user’s identity or hand over money to satisfy a court judgment.
he Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based organization that sets global guidelines to protect against money laundering and terrorism financing, in June released its first report on far-right fundraising. It highlighted the groups’ use of cryptocurrencies and warned that transnational links among such actors are growing.
“Similar to their jihadist counterparts, many of these groups have used the internet and social media to share propaganda and recruit ideologically-aligned supporters from around the world,” the report said.
As the COVID-19 pandemic sealed borders, white nationalists continued to gather in virtual communities that allowed them to connect with people from around the world.
On Telegram, posts tagged with different flags stream together. There’s a burly “White Boys Club” in Kyiv, “nationalists” in Minnesota and men with pixelated faces in Greece, each posing around “White Lives Matter” banners. Images of people stomping on or burning colorful LGBTQ buttons and flags roll in from Poland, Slovakia, Russia, Croatia. Men with skull masks and rifles pose after tactical training in the woods in Poland. A person with a fascist flag stands in the rain in France. A man draped with a swastika banner looks out from a hill somewhere in the woods of America.
“The transnational links make people feel they are part of a much larger community,” said Marilyn Mayo, a senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “They can inspire each other and network.”
Blockchain data show Anglin’s donors are part of a global community of believers who sent money to entities in multiple countries. Since 2017, donors to Anglin also have given Bitcoin to 32 other far-right groups and people in at least five countries, according to Chainalysis data.
ESTIMATED REGIONAL SOURCE OF FUNDING FOR 12 FAR RIGHT GROUPS
The data also show money flowed into the sample of 12 far-right groups from cryptocurrency exchanges that serve customers all over the world, with Western and Eastern European-focused exchanges playing a growing role. Chainalysis uses web traffic data and economic activity patterns to estimate where the customers who use a given exchange are located.
European groups like the Nordic Resistance Movement and Génération Identitaire also received donations from North America-focused exchanges. Similarly, U.S. entities like American Renaissance, Daily Stormer and WeAreChange got money via exchanges that serve customers in Western and Eastern Europe.
Kimberly Grauer, director of research for Chainalysis, said the shift to global exchanges “certainly could be in order to obfuscate detection, but it could also be a sign that increasingly donations are coming in from all over the world.”
While Anglin remains hidden, his money virtually untouchable, his debt grows. Each day that ticks by, he owes Tanya Gersh, a Jewish real estate agent in Montana, another $760.88 — interest on a $14 million judgment he has failed to pay.
After Gersh got in a dispute with the mother of white supremacist Spencer in 2016, Anglin published her contact information and used his website to whip up trolls against her.
She got death threats, threats against her as a Jew and threats against her child. She’d sometimes pick up the phone and hear a gunshot. Gersh’s hair started falling out. She had panic attacks, sought counseling and considered fleeing.
The balm for all that came in 2019, when a federal court made clear that targeted anti-Semitic hate speech isn’t protected by the First Amendment. But since that fleeting moment of victory, nothing has happened. Gersh has yet to see a penny of her $14 million.