Article Thumbnail

Why White Supremacists Are Flocking to Crypto

New research shows how key far-right extremists have built considerable wealth using cryptocurrency — and why it’s intertwined in their ideology and conspiracies

Since 2014, Andrew Anglin, the editor of the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer, has been gathering a small mountain of Bitcoin, operating hundreds of wallet addresses (which serve as digital “P.O. boxes” for donations) and using the coin for mysterious purposes on Russian darknet sites.  

It’s unclear exactly who or how many people sent Anglin the cryptocurrency, but by the end of 2016, Anglin had received and transferred more than $1.1 million in Bitcoin. His right-hand Nazi compatriot at Daily Stormer, Andrew “weev” Auernheimer, also moved a cool million dollars in coin by that time, according to a December report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). 

Anglin was already a key figure in the alt-right scene at that point, and he would gain notoriety for his promotion of the violent 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. That would also be a turning point for Anglin’s platform, however: Web hosts like Google and GoDaddy refused to work with him, and eventually, credit card companies and PayPal banned him, too. All of which, of course, fed into his prevailing ideology that the “Jewish bankers” were out to get him.

And so, hailing the persistent growth of cryptocurrency as a path to freedom from censorship, he pivoted to Bitcoin. Soon, Anglin was a full-on crypto evangelist, urging fellow white supremacists to move their capital to safer harbors, away from the eyes of the government. “We know as an absolute matter of fact that the dollar is going to collapse, and presumably every other fiat currency on the planet is going to get dragged down with it. Maybe property or metals are better than crypto. Maybe even the stock market is better than crypto — I am not a financial advisor and I have no idea. But what we know as a matter of fact is that you want your money somewhere,” Anglin wrote in 2020.

Many of his fellow neo-Nazis, white nationalists and right-wing agitators have followed his lead. Less than a quarter of U.S. citizens own cryptocurrency, but experts are seeing widespread, practically “universal” adoption of crypto within far-right circles, per a new report from the SPLC. While it continues to be difficult to trace how these funds are being used, it’s increasingly obvious that the explosive growth in value of currencies like Bitcoin and Etherium are being used to prop up white supremacist ideologues, platforms and content — and potentially providing their owners a foundation for a comfortable lifestyle of hate. 

Beyond profits, the promotion of crypto as part of the far-right worldview is a powerful tool for white nationalists to build a narrative of victimization, especially after being de-platformed for sowing violent speech and action. The use of crypto is portrayed as a form of resistance to “woke” enemies by Anglin and others, says SPLC researcher and data scientist Megan Squire, who co-wrote the December report with Michael Edison Hayden. “I do think these fascist personalities are going into crypto spaces and trying to ‘redpill’ the people in them. They don’t talk openly about that much on their podcasts and the like, but they talk a lot about Bitcoin and closely tie it to their propaganda,” Squire tells me. 

Squire and Hayden collected more than 600 cryptocurrency addresses in an attempt to track and catalogue the biggest players in the white supremacist network. What they found was that racist far-right figures had compiled tens of millions of dollars in crypto, thanks to early investments and donations that have since exploded in value. Alongside the Daily Stormer’s Anglin and Auernheimer, they found major transactions by racist conspiracist Stephen Molyneux and far-right publisher Greg Johnson, among others. 

For Squire, it’s the newest chapter in the story of how the modern extremist right in America organizes — and how its power players pay for propaganda, agitation and violence. First it was crowdfunding through mainstream sites like GoFundMe, and the evolution of video livestreaming and far-right podcasts as key sources of donations for white supremacist speakers. Now, the future finances of the white supremacist movement are riding on volatile trends, with both “mega-whales” and micro-donors lining up to play. 

I recently spoke to Squire about how the SPLC uncovered this activity, why crypto could be funding criminal acts by neo-Nazis and whether this could potentially backfire if the wrong coin tanks. 

When did you begin to notice that investment into cryptocurrency was more than a fad for white supremacist figures, but rather a core part of their strategy? 

It mostly came from noticing that every time [a far-right speaker] would have a podcast, there would be a Bitcoin address attached to it basically saying, “Send us money.” A couple of years ago, the SPLC published a list of known coin addresses for some of these guys, but it’s really outdated. So we’ve created a new list while tracking more than 600 addresses for this [newest report]. We just found them by looking at these advertisements for donations. 

I started with a guy like Anglin and just began looking at their transactions. Look at address one, make a spreadsheet of how many times it’s gotten a transaction, how much money’s in and out. It’s pretty easy to do this. We used blockchain-explorer sites, and everything we did for the report is publicly available on the blockchain. Where it gets tricky is when they create new addresses and keep moving money around. 

Your report focuses on some well-known figures of the racist far right who are making money through crypto, but were you surprised by any trends in how they’ve collected these funds?

One of the things that I’ve been consistently interested in is not just the person getting the donations, but who’s making them. I’m always wondering, “What are they giving? What are their habits? Who else are they sending to? What’s the crossover? Are they sending to Anglin or also his frenemies?” 

And a lot of it is just these sad little micro donors, honestly. I found a guy the other day when I was looking at Azzmador, an ex-Daily Stormer writer who is now a fugitive from the law. I was looking at his Bitcoin activity and he was part of a group of about eight people that were getting regular donations throughout 2017 from a guy who sat down every Saturday morning and donated 50 cents. He did this every single week. I guess they were his favorite podcasters or something. 

It kind of reminds me of just how mainstream these far-right content creators have gotten — people who once gave to PBS or something now can give to a white supremacist. I mean, with your example, he clearly felt a duty to interact regularly.

Yeah, and some weeks he did give someone a dollar. It was like, “Oh, they must have had a good week.”

On the flip side, it’s obvious that these extremist speakers are rallying around a sort of white nationalist philosophy for crypto: “Yes, we can be free and overthrow the government with Etherium,” if you will.  

There’s always been this rumor of the “libertarian-to-fascist” pipeline, right? Everybody’s tried to prove the hypothesis, pointing to Ron Paul’s newsletters, the ideas of Stephen Molyneux, etc. And [cryptocurrency] seems to be one of those cases where both libertarians and fascists are kind of in agreement that this technology is really cool and that people need to get on board. 

They may give lip service to the need for a decentralized currency, but when it comes right down to it, both groups hate the idea of central banking. They’re kind of bedfellows over that idea. 

And Anglin, for one, has explicitly talked up Jewish banking conspiracies in his case for crypto, not just financial liberty or whatever. 

Yeah, that guy I just mentioned, who gave every Saturday morning to the same eight people? I mean, half of them were libertarian types and half of them were straight up neo-Nazis, so clearly there are fans who think of them as the same. I’m sure some of these guys might take offense at that claim, but the audience doesn’t seem to differentiate much. 

What about the mega-donors? They represent something different than a micro-donor, because they hold a lot of power and are probably deeper in the white supremacist scene, right? 

We definitely see patterns of mega-donors who flip their [favorite] guys a Bitcoin every “X” number of weeks, just for funsies. Infamously, there was a “Bitcoin Fairy” back in 2017 that gave Anglin two large amounts of Bitcoin. So those people definitely exist. 

We’re currently tracking a new figure who has a mega-donor, and in the process of laundering money through a peel chain [withdrawing large amounts of coin through a long series of small transactions], will give a Bitcoin every five weeks or whatever. It’s not as frequent as small donors giving a dollar, $10, $20. But we can definitely see [the whales] operating. 

Are there any important milestones to consider in the rise of crypto as a tool for white supremacists? 

The heyday was the 2017-2018 period, in the run-up to the Unite the Right rally and immediately after it, including mega-donors like the “Bitcoin Fairy” giving donations. There’s been a second wave of newer guys, like the Nick Fuentes of the world, who came in more recently. That crew hasn’t been as successful with crypto, because the banking around it is [more restricted]. The numbers are smaller, the wallets are a lot more sporadic and the technology that they’re using to get the money is more disparate. 

At the beginning, everyone was on Coinbase, had a very solid donation address and the money was really flowing in. But as the space became fragmented, it started getting more complex: “Oh, now you need to use a program like BitPay, you’re going to use a dynamic address each time,” etc. It’s just harder for their fans to keep track of what to do. Plus, there are now more people to give to. 

Many of these far-right figures have spoken about the beauty of crypto because the activity is easier to make anonymous, but as your research shows, it’s not hard to uncover real identities. Is this the nature of crypto today, a fault of bad security or both? 

Kind of a yes to all those things. You can make this activity anonymous, but most of these guys didn’t. A lot of these addresses we tracked were most in use during 2016 to 2019, and it’s clear they were not up to snuff on security whatsoever. I don’t think they really understood best practices for how to use the technology. 

That’s changed a bit over time. Some of them will still advertise a donation address, but what they do after the money flows in is a bit better in terms of security. And, of course, a big change is that many of them are on “privacy coins” like Monero

It’s harder to track them on privacy coins, but the tiny slivers of data I’ve seen show it’s not a great time right now. They’re not as able to get as much money with the platforms they built themselves. The activity might bounce back, but right now, it’s [declined]. 

It reminds me of the argument around de-platforming extremists: It doesn’t necessarily silence them, but making the experience more challenging for the audience curtails access, interaction and the spread of disinformation. 

That’s some of it, and they love to just minimize that, especially Anglin. He was doing all these how-to guides for Monero, and yet, there’s threads on his message boards of people who are saying, “I’m a Boomer, help me out. I can’t figure this out.” Fans are running into a mental threshold of feeling like [using Bitpay] and all these complications are weird and dirty — “Why can’t you just take my credit card?” 

Even the ones who want to buy-in have to get an app, do multiple steps, and if it doesn’t work smoothly, they’ll back out. 

And with more complications come more opportunities for error — wallets with money that can’t be accessed, and whatnot. 

We tried to touch on that — how much risk these guys are taking on by chasing crypto — at the end of the report. I mean, I don’t want them to be making profit free of charge, and white supremacists need to be scrutinized at all times. But if they’re now taking on this level of volatility with their money, I’m not exactly sad about that. 

The more they go toward “privacy coins” and shady exchanges, the more potential problems they’re taking on. Sure, you got a more private coin, but it’s not worth that much and the bottom could fall out at any minute. Also, people are figuring out how to crack the privacy [measures]. Good luck with that — you might want a plan B! It’s a weird space. 

Let’s say that crypto remains the preferred space for neo-Nazis, white nationalists and their ilk to pool funds. Why is this a threat in terms of real-world action? What are the “worst-case” activities this money would be well-suited to pay for? 

I’m always looking for crime — “crime-adjacent” activities or sometimes overt criminal activities. Usually, the worst things that I’ve seen in the data are donations to and from sanctioned entities. People don’t know who the money’s from when you receive a crypto transaction, so perhaps these guys don’t know they’re getting money from someone illegally. But it happens not infrequently. 

There is also speculation about what they’re buying. I know they’re purchasing server hosting, VPN services and what have you — computer stuff. We also know that these guys are training each other on how to cash out using ATMs and gift cards and stuff like that. But right now, it’s hard to find out exactly what’s being funded. We just know there are definitely crime-adjacent behaviors going on, and what bothers me is that they’re educating each other on how to do next-level obfuscation of money being spent.