Extremists raised more than $6.2 million for their activities on crowdfunding sites between 2016 and 2022, according to a new report published Tuesday by the Anti-Defamation League.
The analysis of 324 fundraising campaigns found that white supremacists, neo-Nazis, militias, QAnon conspiracists, and far-right groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys were able to raise millions of dollars across 10 fundraising websites. Some of these donations were used to directly fund attacks or violent events, the ADL found, as well to pay for propaganda and the legal defense of their members. Despite being prohibited by most of these sites’ policies, these campaigns were able to promote extremist rhetoric, from white-supremacist ideologies to anti-Semitic conspiracies, according to the analysis.
“Our findings are very significant, but we’re probably only scratching the surface on this,” Mark Dwyer, an investigator for the ADL’s Center on Extremism who monitors extremist financing online, tells TIME. “Extremists are quick to co-opt other platforms and financial technologies…So when they are de-platformed, they’re going to jump to the next thing.”
Two of the most prominent groups involved in Jan. 6, the anti-government Oath Keepers militia and the far-right Proud Boys, were able to raise at least $879,600 on these crowdfunding sites after being charged with seditious conspiracy, according to the analysis.
The vast majority of the funds—$5.4 million, or 86%—were raised on GiveSendGo, a Christian crowdfunding website that has become a “singularly important platform of the extremist fundraising ecosystem,” according to the report.
While its official policies ban any campaigns “that promote hate, violence, racial discrimination or the financial exploitation of a crime,” at least 230 of the 324 extremism-linked campaigns tracked by the ADL’s Center on Extremism were hosted on GiveSendGo. The site’s lax moderation policies have made it a haven for extremist-linked causes that would be blocked on more mainstream sites. “They pride themselves on being what they call a censorship-free crowdfunding platform, and they take that to the extent of being absolutist in that stance,” says Dwyer.
In recent years, the site has hosted fundraising campaigns for white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville in 2017 as well as for the legal defense of Jan. 6 insurrectionists. GiveSendGo drew national attention last year when it hosted campaigns for the Canadian trucker protest against vaccine mandates after GoFundMe shut them down. Leaked data shared with TIME last year by DDoS Secrets, a whistleblower non-profit which obtained the data after an apparent hack, showed that roughly 75% of the funds raised for the 74 GiveSendGo campaigns that have brought in more than $100,000 have gone to controversial right-wing causes, and sometimes extremist ones.
A TIME investigation last year showed that turning a blind eye to these campaigns also paid off for the site, and provides an incentive to continue hosting them when mainstream crowdfunding platforms won’t. According to TIME’s analysis of the leaked GiveSendGo data, the platform itself received at least $2.6 million in voluntary tips or “gifts” from more than 8,000 fundraisers since July 2017.
Jacob Wells, the co-founder of GiveSendGo, disputed the report’s findings, arguing the ADL does not define “extremist” and that he allowed the hosting of campaigns for the legal defense of individuals charged with attacking the U.S. Capitol because they were “innocent until proven guilty” by the judicial system.
“They might even have some extremist views, but I think many people have views that someone else might consider extreme. It’s such an arbitrary thing,” Wells tells TIME. He said GiveSendGo’s team monitors for illegal activity. “How do you maximize freedom for people, but still not allow crazy things to be spoken on your platform?” he adds.
While GiveSendGo remains relatively obscure, bigger crowdfunding platforms have hosted extremist campaigns as well. Extremists raised at least $580,000 on GoFundMe, the largest mainstream crowdfunding site, according to the report. Most of those funds were raised by a group that calls itself the Black Hebrew Israelites, which raised funds for anti-Semitic documentaries and other propaganda, according to the ADL.
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