Prominent members of the so-called alt-right and other right-wing movements often rely on crowdfunding platforms and online payment processors to fund their causes (and sometimes even their bail), but lately they’ve been having trouble accessing the money donated by their supporters. Over the past five months, PayPal has banned or hobbled the accounts of several prominent people and groups that promote far-right politics. Crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe, Patreon, and YouCaring have also cut fundraisers for alt-right–associated causes and people.
To many right-wingers, this fight over online payments is yet another battle in what they perceive as a nationwide war on their protected speech. Now some are attempting to build their own crowdfunding and payment processing platforms that will be sympathetic to their divisive politics.
The trend began earlier this year when PayPal limited the alt-right white supremacist site Occidental Dissent’s account on May 1. The next day, PayPal limited the account of blogger Roosh V, a pickup artist associated with the men’s rights movement, whose views often align with the alt-right. On May 4, the company banned the alt-right–associated personality Kyle Chapman, known on the internet as Based Stickman. And the alt-right crowdfunded investigations site WeSearchr also found itself on PayPal’s “currently limited” list in early May, but PayPal said that hold was because of business compliance issues, not a violation of its anti-hate policies.
The loosely organized alt-right is difficult to define, especially after some have distanced themselves from the term in recent months because of its racist connotations. Not everyone involved in the recent payment processor and crowdfunding bans necessarily identifies as a member of the alt-right, but many of them promote ideologies that at least partly align with the movement.
PayPal is restricting accounts outside of the domain of the American alt-right, too. The French anti-immigration group Generation Identity told BuzzFeed News it had to refund €30,000 to its donors after PayPal limited its account on June 14. And the PayPal account of the anti-Islam site Bare Naked Islam was blocked on April 30.
“PayPal’s a shittily run company, it’s a bad user experience, and they’ve gone Left over the years. There’s an effort to no-platform us. A lot of us on the Right have had similar experiences with them,” WeSearchr’s founder, Charles Johnson, told BuzzFeed News.
PayPal wouldn’t specify why each account was banned, citing a policy of not commenting on individual accounts. It also wouldn’t specify which accounts it had flat-out banned, and which ones were only limited. But it told BuzzFeed News that it does not “allow [its] services to be used for activities that promote hate, violence or racial intolerance.”
PayPal added, "Achieving the balance between protecting the ideals of tolerance, diversity and respect for people of all backgrounds and upholding the values of free expression and open dialogue can be difficult, but we do our best to achieve it."
Chapman did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Roosh V told BuzzFeed News that PayPal had frozen his account, but he was able to withdraw his funds. Hunter Wallace, the owner of Occidental Dissent, characterized PayPal’s cancellation as another example of “a coordinated attack by the Left on our community since the election” in a post on his site. He warned that he would “adapt and ... become even angrier.” Wallace told BuzzFeed he was able to withdraw his funds as well but believes the suspension was permanent.
Malik Obama, the half-brother of former president Barack Obama, who’s made a name for himself in the alt-right community as a “shitlord” on Twitter, also criticized PayPal for its crackdown on certain alt-right–associated accounts, including his own. He did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Right-wingers have also encountered issues on crowdfunding platforms where they solicit donations, like GoFundMe and Patreon.
In early May, GoFundMe banned Chapman, and in late July it barred alt-right personality (and former BuzzFeed employee) Tim Gionet, aka Baked Alaska, from fundraising. When asked about the dismissals, GoFundMe said, "We don't tolerate the promotion of hate or intolerance of any kind, and if a campaign violates GoFundMe's term 7, we'll remove it from the platform."
On Twitter, Gionet said that the company had blackballed him with "no reason given," calling it a "left-wing garbage site." He said his account had only been active for 24 hours before being permanently cut off. And Chapman has started an alternative crowdfunding site, backtheright.org, but it isn’t attracting much attention: There are only 10 campaigns listed on the site and 36 registered members. The site uses Stripe as a payment processor. Stripe declined to comment, citing a company policy of not commenting on individual accounts.
Lauren Southern, a right-wing Canadian blogger and YouTuber who works with Generation Identity, said Patreon “essentially eviscerat[ed] the majority of my income” when the crowdfunding site banned her earlier this month. In a YouTube video uploaded July 21, Southern shows an email from Patreon that reads: “It appears you are currently raising funds in order to take part in activities that are likely to cause loss of life. We have therefore decided to remove your page.”
Southern was recently involved in a viral stunt obstructing a refugee search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean and had made plans to do it again on a larger scale. Jack Conte, a cofounder of Patreon, took to YouTube on July 28 to confirm and explain the decision. He said that Patreon’s trust and safety team judges accounts by their “manifest observable behavior ... what a camera has seen, what an audio device has recorded.” He pointed to Southern’s video of herself directing her coconspirators to veer in front of a rescue ship and her plans for a second such excursion as evidence.
In a statement sent after the publication of this story, Patreon said, "The purpose of using Manifest Observable Behavior is to remove bias of the evaluator’s personal political beliefs, whether they’re on the left or the right of the political spectrum — and that’s a very important distinction for us." Conte made a similar point in his video.
In early July, the crowdfunding site YouCaring rejected a lawyer’s attempt to raise funds for lawsuits she plans to file against Black Lives Matter activists, ostensibly on behalf of police. YouCaring said it was not a platform “for airing grievances or controversial public opinion.” The lawyer was able to set up a GoFundMe page for the suits instead.
“First you get people banned from crowdfunding sites like Patreon," Mike Cernovich, a pro-Trump media personality, told BuzzFeed News. "After being banned, the person will seek out direct funding via PayPal. Then you get the person no-platformed from PayPal. If the person moves to Stripe or Square, you attack them at that vector as well.
"Until no-platforming became an issue, there wasn't a need for another PayPal.” Cernovich himself maintains a PayPal account under his publishing imprint Danger and Play Publishing.
Back in June, Cernovich warned about “the payment processor risk” on Twitter and called for a “Free Speech alternative to PayPal.” He told BuzzFeed News that Counter Fund, a new site that bills itself as “an ideological crowdfunding platform and self-governing political party,” may solve the new right media’s problems with crowdfunding but that the site will still need its own payment processor.
The technical, financial, and regulatory barriers to creating a new payments platform are high.
Some have already started turning to these alternative, alt-right–friendly options for crowdfunding. Wallace, the founder of Occidental Dissent, has taken to a new site, Rootbocks, to set up a fundraiser to rent a van for eight people and hotel rooms to travel to Charlottesville for the right-wing event “Unite the Right Free Speech Rally."
Praised by the alt-right for its mission statement, Rootbocks says that it “will not shut down a project simply because it is unpopular, controversial, politically incorrect, or because we receive complaints about the person and/or group that created it.” Rootbocks allows donors to pay via PayPal or directly by credit card. Baked Alaska has adopted the platform as well.
And a new, invite-only crowdfunding site called "Hatreon" that launched in June has garnered attention from Richard Spencer, the white nationalist credited with coining the term "alt-right." Hatreon told BuzzFeed News that it currently hosts 50 campaigns supported by about 130 donors who send roughly $3,000 per month in total. The company said these numbers represent a soft launch and that its site will be available to the public soon. Cody Wilson, a cofounder, said he and others started the site after Patreon kicked right-wing content creator TV KWA off its platform at the end of May.
But some members of the alt-right think the real issue is asking for funding from supporters in the first place. Joey Gibson, a libertarian activist who organizes rallies under the nickname Patriot Prayer, has paid for sound systems, signs, permits, and transportation for right-wing rallies on the West Coast himself. He's hosted Chapman, Gionet/Baked Alaska, and others at recent demonstrations at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and in downtown Portland. He works as a real estate agent flipping houses.
Gibson said he hoped refraining from soliciting outside funding would send a message that he wasn’t putting on these rallies for money. He did say he’s also wary of the online bans that have taken place and of fake donation pages he’s seen impersonating other right-wingers.
“I don’t want to accept money. I think it’s a cleaner way to do what I’m doing,” he told BuzzFeed News.
This story has been updated to include additional comment from PayPal and Patreon.
Blake Montgomery is a reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
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