This article is published in partnership between Salon and the Center for Media and Democracy.
Since the deadly "Unite the Right" events of August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, online sales and payment platforms have cracked down on white nationalist groups that used their services.
But a new report from the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has found that dozens of groups that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) considers white nationalist, neo-Nazi or neo-Confederate hate groups are still able to accept donations and sell products with the help of mainstream companies such as Amazon, DonorBox and Stripe.
Among the more egregious examples are two notorious white nationalist groups that share leadership and hold conferences together.
The Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white nationalist hate group that is the modern incarnation of the mid-20th century White Citizens Councils, considers black people to be "a retrograde species of humanity." Its website helped radicalize the young Dylann Roof, who read about alleged "black-on-white crime" online and then gunned down nine African American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
Earlier this month, a donate button on the CCC website triggered a Wordpress widget created by DonorBox that allowed users to contribute to an allied white nationalist hate group, the American Freedom Party (AFP), via credit card, facilitated by payment processor Stripe. The DonorBox plugin is free, but if an organization takes in $1,000 or more per month, DonorBox charges a 1.5 percent platform fee. Stripe charges recipients a 2.9 percent fee plus 30 cents per card transaction. AFP's own site also had a DonorBox button.
A DonorBox spokesperson told CMD that the two groups violate its Terms of Service and had already been banned, but "they have resorted to using fraudulent names and email addresses to sign up again." The company banned AFP and CCC once more, but since then, AFP was able to set up yet another account. As of April 25, AFP's site still had an active DonorBox donation option.
While AFP's DonorBox account was shut down earlier this month, it was still able to receive money through Stripe. On the morning of April 6, a new "Donate" button appeared on the group's website, which linked to a GiveForms web form that facilitates donations to AFP. As of April 25, both groups' sites had active GiveForms donation options.
GiveForms, a paid plugin, explicitly bans "the promotion of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, terrorism, or intolerance of any kind." Founder Philip Lester told CMD that SPLC's hate group designation alone was not enough to ban AFP from GiveForms. "Unfortunately, a third party's accusation of someone being racist or a hate group doesn't violate our terms," he said. "There needs to be concrete evidence of this from their own communications" on the group's site, social media, or other public platforms.
Founded in 2009 by Southern California racist skinheads as American Third Position, AFP advocates the deportation of all non-white U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants. The group believes that "whites deserve a nation of their own," and "non-whites endanger white culture and society," according to SPLC.
AFP's current mission statement reads, "The American Freedom Party is a party that represents the interests and issues of White Americans and all Americans who support our mission."
After calling this emphasis on white Americans "concerning," Lester corresponded with the administrator of the AFP site and decided not to shut down the account. "He makes a point," said Lester of their exchange. "If other cultures are encouraged to promote their culture, why is it racist for white/European people to promote theirs?"
"Philip Lester's statements betray a categorical misunderstanding of the history of racism in the United States and its central role in upholding white supremacy," Howard Graves, senior research analyst at SPLC, told CMD. "While the group might moderate some of its views in more public forums — such as its website — its leadership and ranks include notable white nationalists and anti-Semites, often operating behind the thin veneer of advocating for ‘white civil rights,'" Graves said.
Jamie Kelso, a white nationalist organizer and former member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, joined AFP as an officer in 2013 and described both himself and the group as a "bridge" between the white supremacist movement and more mainstream conservative groups.
The Political Cesspool, an SPLC-designated hate group and podcast created by CCC members and advertised on the CCC website, uses Stripe to process credit card donations on its site. A director of AFP, James Edwards, is also a board member of CCC and co-hosts The Political Cesspool.
"A Deep Fear of Demographic Change"
Last year, there were 940 active hate groups in the U.S., according to an SPLC report. This total includes new white nationalist groups, which increased in number by 55 percent since 2017, as President Donald Trump has energized such groups. White nationalists have contributed to a rise in hate crimes, including terrorist attacks on synagogues and mosques, and a Walmart store in a heavily Latino area of El Paso, Texas.
A false conspiracy theory, which is promoted by many of the white nationalist hate groups that use online fundraising services, is driving these acts of violence.
"The most powerful force animating today's radical right—and stoking the violent backlash—is a deep fear of demographic change," reads the SPLC report. "This fear is encapsulated in the conspiratorial notion that a purposeful ‘white genocide' is underway and that it's driving ‘the great replacement' of white people in their ‘home' countries by foreign, non-white populations."
Terrorists such as Roof and the suspected gunman who killed 51 people in New Zealand last year have murdered African Americans, Latinos, Jews and Muslims because of alleged "white genocide."
This fear of demographic change links the white nationalist, neo-Nazi and neo-Confederate groups that are still able to use online fundraising platforms. Despite a clear correlation between the promotion of this ideology and racist hate crimes, a number of online merchants and payment processing companies either don't enforce their terms of service consistently or don't have strong enough policies to ban dangerous hate groups.
Because of CMD's inquiry, DonorBox initiated investigations into the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, which sells books by white nationalist authors, and major white nationalist media outlet Red Ice. As of April 25, roughly three weeks later, both groups still had active DonorBox fundraising accounts.
While DonorBox currently services three white nationalist groups, at least nine organizations that SPLC considers white nationalist or neo-Confederate hate groups use Stripe to raise money. The company has done very little to bar bad actors from using its services and did not respond to CMD's requests for comment.
A private fintech startup that has been valued in the tens of billions, Stripe says it will not work with "any business or organization that ... engages in, encourages, promotes or celebrates unlawful violence toward any group based on race, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, or any other immutable characteristic." By basing its terms on the promotion of violence, rather than hateful ideology that could lead people to violence, the company allows itself to earn money from clients that are hate groups but may not explicitly encourage physical harm.
"Let's be clear: public speech promoting ideologies of hate always complements and correlates with violent actions," Brandi Collins-Dexter, senior campaign director of media, democracy and economic justice at the racial justice nonprofit Color of Change, told CMD.
South Carolina-based neo-Confederate hate group Dixie Republic sells clothing, flags, stickers and other racist paraphernalia on its website. Interested parties can purchase items using a webform processed by Stripe. Dixie Republic made SPLC's hate group list not because it sells Confederate memorabilia generally, but because of its owner's affiliation with the white nationalist hate group League of the South and because it sells clothing made by another neo-Confederate hate group, Identity Dixie, which grew out of the white nationalist podcast network The Right Stuff.
The Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, operates FGF Books and sells books by white nationalists Joseph Sobran, a Holocaust denier, and Samuel T. Francis. Visitors to the site can purchase books and ebooks via Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Apple Books, and can donate to the foundation via DonorBox and Stripe. In 2017, Apple Pay cut off some white nationalist sellers, but Apple Books still sells white nationalist literature.
An influential white nationalist, the late Francis feared a demographic threat posed by "immigration, nonwhite fertility and whites' own infertility" and called for ending immigration, deploying armed forces at U.S. borders, and deporting all undocumented immigrants.
Online media operation Red Ice, "one of the most prominent video news outlets for white nationalists," according to SPLC, accepts donations via DonorBox, processed by Stripe, as well as through cryptocurrency. Users can also pay for Red Ice membership with a credit card through a payment system using Stripe on its website. The propaganda outlet traffics in white nationalism, antisemitism, Holocaust denial and the white genocide myth.
White nationalist media group Renaissance Horizon raises money in several ways, including via its website with payments facilitated by Stripe.
The Right Stuff is a white nationalist network with a website that features a blog and podcasts hosted by network leader Mike Peinovich, who is "among the most influential and significant figures of the contemporary racist right," according to SPLC. The site publishes several podcasts including The Daily Shoah and Fash the Nation. Users can purchase memberships, which grant them access to paywalled content, by paying by credit card via Stripe. Local chapters have scored on-the-ground recruits by using a members-only forum on the site.
The VDARE Foundation is a Virginia-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that runs an anti-immigrant hate website that regularly publishes the writings of prominent white nationalists, race scientists and anti-Semites, including Sam Francis and white nationalist Kevin MacDonald, known for his extreme anti-Semitism. It is led by British-American white nationalist Peter Brimelow.
"There's ethnic specialization in crime," said Brimelow at the 2017 American Renaissance conference, referencing Trump's hateful statements on Mexican immigrants. "And Hispanics do specialize in rape, particularly of children. They're very prone to it, compared to other groups."
Users can donate to the foundation through a web form on the VDARE.com site, facilitated by Stripe.
The white nationalist H.L. Mencken Club is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded by Paul Gottfried and "alt-right" leader Richard Spencer with funding from William Regnery, who is also the founder of two other white nationalist hate groups run by Spencer, the National Policy Institute and the Charles Martel Society. The H.L. Mencken Club hosts annual conferences that have featured leading white nationalists, including VDARE leader Brimelow, who gave a talk titled "The Festering Immigration Problem" in 2017.
Visitors may click a "Donate" button on the group's website to access a Squarespace checkout module and make a tax-deductible donation by credit card via Stripe, according to the page's source code. H.L. Mencken Club is paying for its site, which may be hosted by Squarespace as well.
Squarespace's current Acceptable Use Policy prohibits content that incites violence or condones or promotes "violence against any person or group based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual preference, age or disability."
Previously, the company did not allow users to "advocate bigotry or hatred against any person or group based on their race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual preference, age or disability," according to an archived version of the policy from October 2017. Under that policy, it took down several white nationalist sites, including at least one associated with Richard Spencer.
The company did not respond to CMD's request for comment.
In a statement shortly after the Unite the Right hate rally, PayPal said, "Regardless of the individual or organization in question, we work to ensure that our services are not used to accept payments or donations for activities that promote hate, violence or racial intolerance. This includes organizations that advocate racist views, such as the KKK, white supremacist groups or Nazi groups."
This payment processor's "Acceptable Use Policy" states that PayPal may not be used for activities that "relate to transactions involving ... the promotion of hate, violence, racial or other forms of intolerance that is discriminatory." PayPal has selectively enforced this policy, often in response to media and public criticism, by banning the likes of H.L. Mencken Club, Spencer's National Policy Institute, Red Ice and alt-right figure Stefan Molyneux.
When CMD conducted its research for this report, at least four white nationalist hate groups used PayPal to raise money, all of which were already under review, according to a PayPal spokesperson. By April 23, the accounts of American Patriots USA, which is led by a former Ku Klux Klan leader, the Cursus Honorum Foundation, which funds a legal defense effort for white nationalists, and the white nationalist militia Real Republic of Florida were "currently unable to receive money," according to their PayPal donation pages. The site of white nationalist bookseller Scott-Townsend Publishers no longer has a PayPal option.
Color of Change has worked with PayPal to "remove hate donations, starting a few months before the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right' riot," Collins-Dexter told CMD. "They continue to be the most proactive on ending service to hate groups as we track them in 2020, though they still have plenty of room for improvement and frequently need to be pressured to do so."
Jeff Bezos' giant online store has profited from hate for years. A 2018 report by the Action Center on Race & the Economy and the Partnership for Working Families found that Amazon spread white supremacist views, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia by selling merchandise featuring hate symbols, books by bigoted publishers and hate music.
Amazon has removed Nazi-themed merchandise, but its policy restricting "offensive and controversial materials," which prohibits the sale of "products that promote, incite, or glorify hate or violence towards any person or group," doesn't apply to books, music and videos. Over the last year and a half, however, Amazon banned the sale of books by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party. Still, several white nationalist publishers and authors continue to make money from Amazon's marketplace.
An Amazon spokesperson told CMD, "As a bookseller, we believe that providing access to the written word is important. That includes books that some may find objectionable, though we have policies governing which books can be listed for sale."
After CMD's inquiry, Amazon and ABE Books, an Amazon subsidiary, removed a book called "Behold the International Jew," written by Jack Mohr, "one of the fieriest anti-Semites in America," according to SPLC.
The Colchester Collection is "the Web's largest pro-White bookstore," according to the collection's Gab profile. Its site makes hundreds of racist titles available for free in PDF and HTML formats and links to purchase hard copies, most often from Amazon. Many titles are available in Kindle format, meaning they're sold by Amazon.com Services LLC.
Amazon sells the books of white nationalist twin brothers Sacco and Vanzetti Vandal, known collectively as Vandal Brothers, LLC. Sacco Vandal, an ex-Marine alt-right figure, created the "white Sharia" meme and advocates "extreme tribal patriarchy in the ethnostate" of rural America. These militant white nationalists call for a violent "race war" against feminists, African Americans, Muslims and immigrants.
The Shieldwall Network's founder Billy Roper sells his books on Amazon and ABE Books. The Arkansas-based Shieldwall Network wants to build a white ethnostate around the Arkansas-Missouri border. "I have a lot of empathy for him," Roper told New York Magazine, referencing Dylann Roof. The network "trains in military-style formations," according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Amazon sells a Radix Journal ebook, as well as an expensive paperback version, called "The Great Erasure: The Reconstruction of White Identity." It was edited by Richard Spencer and includes writings by Kevin MacDonald, Sam Francis, Colin Liddell and others. White nationalist hate group Washington Summit Publishers published the volume.
The Alexandria, Virginia-based Washington Summit Publishers "reprints a range of classical and modern racist tracts, along with books on eugenics, the discredited ‘science' of breeding better humans," according to SPLC. Washington Summit Publishers is run by Spencer and publishes the Radix Journal, also a white nationalist hate group and a project of Spencer's National Policy Institute. Amazon sells another book edited by Spencer, published by Radix.
Arktos Media, a Europe-based publisher of white nationalist books and music, sells its books and ebooks on Amazon and audiobooks on the Amazon-owned Audible, and it streams music on Apple Music, iTunes and Spotify. It also produces a podcast that's available on iTunes, Spotify and its own YouTube channel. It uses Mailchimp to manage its newsletter.
Among the more extreme titles written by fascists and sold by Arktos is "Guillaume Faye and the Battle for Europe," "a compilation of postings from American neo-Nazi websites including Vanguard News Network and National Vanguard." The Vanguard News Network has been blamed for murders motiviated by anti-Semitism. Arktos is closely tied to Richard Spencer, Red Ice and the white nationalist terrorist group the American Identity Movement (AIM).
More Fundraising Methods
Despite having booted neo-Nazi forum Stormfront and white nationalist Richard Spencer's AltRight.com off of its servers, GoDaddy is supporting the white nationalist online store Our Fight Clothing. Users can select clothing, music and stickers on Our Fight Clothing's website via the GoDaddy online store, a paid service that sellers can use within sites designed with GoDaddy Website Builder. Our Fight Clothing raises money, through sales of a "free RAM" shirt, for the legal defense of a white nationalist gang known as the Rise Above Movement, according to a Rise Above post on the hate-friendly social media platform Gab.
SPLC considers both Our Fight Clothing and the Rise Above Movement to be white nationalist hate groups. According to its website, Our Fight Clothing is the exclusive U.S. distributor of merchandise from Be Active Front, a SPLC-designated racist skinhead hate group. It also carries products made by Right Brand Clothing, a SPLC-designated white nationalist hate group.
Until CMD sent out inquiries for this article, a user could order merchandise through the GoDaddy Online Store and receive an email from Our Fight Clothing with a link to the site of Wave Payments, a payment processor made by Wave Financial USA, a division of Canadian firm Wave Financial. Tax preparation company H&R Block owns Wave Financial. The user could pay with credit card, debit card or bank transfer.
Hours after CMD requested comment from Wave, the processor closed Our Fight Clothing's account because the site clearly violated the Wave Payments Terms of Service.
"Frankly we were both very surprised and concerned when we received your email," said Les Whiting, who is Wave's chief financial services officer and personally wrote the Wave Payments Terms of Service. "Let me be clear, there is no place for hate and violence in any form on the Wave platform."
Neo-Nazi hate store PzG Inc. uses American and Russian payment processor Ecwid to sell a wide range of reproduced Nazi items such as Hitler Youth armbands, daggers, SS skull rings, coins, clothing, books and posters on its website. Amazon sells CDs of recordings from the Third Reich produced by PzG Inc.
Tennessee-based white nationalist media group Blood River Radio uses software made by eProcessing Network to accept donations online. The group says its mission is "to fight the rising tide of global White genocide; to serve as an advocate for the White race; to act as a White civil rights and civil defense group."
Neo-Nazi publisher Third Reich Books sells books on behalf of the NDSAP/AO—the German acronym for the National Socialist German Workers Party/Overseas Organization—a modern, U.S.-based incarnation of the former German party. After a user fills out a form on the Third Reich Books site, Montreal-based payment technology company Nuvei sends the buyer a payment request, which links to a Nuvei portal where users can pay via credit card. Nuvei's merchant agreementdoes not appear to address hate groups.
Another neo-Nazi hate group, NS Publications, sells books, posters and cassette tapes about the Third Reich, the Waffen SS, "the Jewish question" and other related topics. The site instructs users to email the owner with a purchase request, and the owner will send a payment link, where users can pay via credit card through ProPay, a Utah-based payment processing company and subsidiary of the payment firm TSYS/Global Payments, a publicly traded company and member of the S&P 500.
ProPay's High Risk Acceptable Use Policy states that the sale of "products/services that promote hate, violence, harassment or abuse" is prohibited. The company did not respond to CMD's request for comment.
Two white nationalist groups, Red Ice and Renaissance Horizon, recently accepted donations through Cash App, a mobile payment provider developed by Square. White Rabbit Radio, a white nationalist "online cult," according to SPLC, accepted subscribers' payments via Square. After CMD alerted Square to these groups that used their service, the company deactivated all three accounts and declined to comment on the record.
A Visa spokesperson made it clear to CMD that the company would not ban Patriotic Flags from its services. However, after CMD's inquiry, Visa alerted the bank that does business with Patriotic Flags so the bank can conduct its own review into whether the site is in compliance with its policies and any applicable legal requirements.
White nationalist hate website Affirmative Right, which is co-edited by white nationalist Colin Liddell, has a Patreon account, which only publicly posted once and takes in $47 per month. It also has an active YouTube channel. Patreon has banned white supremacists and people associated with the alt-right in recent years. A Patreon spokesperson told CMD that she was not familiar with Affirmative Right's page but flagged it for the company's Trust and Safety team.
By allowing dangerous white nationalist groups — which spread the false "white genocide" theory and sell goods promoting racist hate — to use their services to raise money, mainstream tech companies are increasing the likelihood that more hate crimes, inspired by these ideas, will occur.
"The rage will continue" this year, states SPLC's report on hate groups active in 2019. "As the 2020 election approaches, many white supremacists see Trump's re-election as a last stand to stop the impending erosion of a white majority."
Because of this pervasive problem, some institutions have taken action. Over the last few years, Color of Change has run a "Blood Money" campaign, tracking online marketplaces, payment processors and credit card companies that help hate groups make money and giving users ways to contribute research and take action. The Change the Terms coalition, a coalition of organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Color of Change and SPLC, formed to reduce hate online has created model policies for tech companies to adopt in order to reduce hate online. But there's much more to be done, especially as the current economic crisis worsens, said Collins-Dexter.
"The crisis we are now in warrants an even stronger examination into how corporations are enabling the rise of white nationalist groups," she said. "The combination of an economic freefall, massive unemployment, racist scapegoating, idle hands and increased online presences means that we're going to see greater recruitment for and activity from hate groups. You only need to look at the phenomenon of ‘Zoombombing' — coordinated cyberattacks against black users on Zoom — to know that this will be a growing problem as every single aspect of our life moves online."
Read the full CMD report, "Funding Hate: How Online Merchants and Payment Processors Help White Nationalists Raise Money."
Photo credit: Image adapted from photo by Evan Nesterak.