Payment processors including PayPal and Stripe have repeatedly promised to stop helping white nationalists and other racist groups raise money online. But a year after the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a bevy of openly racist individuals and groups still use mainstream payment providers to process credit card payments and crowdfund their efforts, HuffPost has found.
Over the past several months, Charlottesville headliners, such as Richard Spencer, Chris Cantwell and Jason Kessler, have lost access to several mainstream financial platforms. But white nationalist websites that publish Spencer’s racist rants, including VDARE and American Renaissance, still use Stripe to process credit card payments, according to the source code on their payment pages.
Stripe also works with Fash the Nation, a neo-Nazi blog; Oath Keepers, a far-right anti-government militia; League of the South, a white supremacist group; and Red Ice, a Swedish white nationalist website. Square processes payments for National Vanguard, a neo-Nazi group; Barnes Review, a Holocaust denial website; and Occidental Quarterly, a racist journal. PayPal works with the Three Percenters, a militia group whose members provided security to white nationalists in Charlottesville last year; Proud Boys, a far-right group of “Western chauvinists” that attracts fascists; and Gab, which is like Twitter but with a lot more Nazis. And Anedot, a smaller fundraising platform, processes payments for Joey Gibson, the head of the far-right Patriot Prayer group, which holds violent rallies in the Pacific Northwest.
Online payment processors and fundraising platforms have repeatedly shown they have the ability to identify and remove white nationalist users — if there’s enough public pressure to do so. These companies, including Stripe, PayPal and GoFundMe, cut Spencer off after he led the neo-Nazi march through Charlottesville. It worked: “As much as I hate to say it, these attacks have been extremely detrimental to my ability to move forward,” Spencer said.
Payment processors have already cracked down on certain categories of behavior. Stripe, for example, bans the sale of pornography and Facebook likes. Anedot bans porn and the sale of drugs. Square prohibits users from selling guns. But there’s nothing in most platforms’ terms of service that suggests they are particularly concerned with white nationalist users.
“As much as I hate to say it, these attacks have been extremely detrimental to my ability to move forward.”
PayPal is among the rare exceptions. It explicitly prohibits the promotion of hate and racial discrimination. The company has a team of investigators to assess potential violations of the company’s acceptable use policy, PayPal spokeswoman Kim Eichorn said.
Stripe and Square did not respond to requests for comment. Anedot CEO Paul Dietzel declined to take a position on whether white nationalists should be allowed to use his platform. “Anedot is a private corporation that provides service to tens of thousands of customers,” he wrote in an email to HuffPost. “We do not discriminate, and it is impractical to police how our customers choose to exercise their First Amendment rights outside of Anedot’s software.”
Companies that provide financial services often claim they can’t police all of their users. But the law already requires them to have an idea of who their clients are. Payment processors that work with banks are required to collect information on their users in order to prevent money laundering, corruption and terrorist financing, and to assess potential reputational risks. These so-called Know Your Customer regulations were passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as part of the Patriot Act and were designed to detect suspicious financial transactions.
In practice, companies are often hesitant to kick users off their platform based on the information they’ve uncovered if they aren’t legally required to, because they risk exposing themselves to accusations of discrimination, Dennis Lormel, a former head of financial crimes at the FBI, explained. There’s no law that requires platforms to take action against white supremacists. So it’s up to companies to decide on an individual basis whether the reputational risk of working with these actors is worth it, Lormel said.
In the absence of a coherent effort by payment processors to bar white nationalists from their platforms, outside groups and individuals have launched their own campaigns to pressure these companies to act.
In early 2017, Color of Change, a racial justice organization, started quietly reaching out to financial service companies to offer assistance in identifying hate groups and denying them service. PayPal was the only company they reached out to that accepted the offer, Brandi Collins, the media justice director at Color of Change, said in an interview. The portal banned about three dozen organizations after the Southern Poverty Law Center identified it as an “integral” fundraising tool for the white nationalists who planned the Charlottesville rally. PayPal also cut off several hate groups included on a “blood money” list compiled by Color of Change.
After the Charlottesville rally, Color of Change went public with its “blood money list,” a catalog of platforms that provided financial services to hate groups. That got the companies’ attention: They bombarded Color of Change with calls asking how they could avoid being publicly associated with neo-Nazis, Collins said.
Another activist, an anonymous user called @deplatformhate, tweets almost daily to the heads of financial service companies to ask why they do business with neo-Nazis. The Twitter user requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the work. The account has fewer than 500 followers but appears to have already scored several wins: Spencer, Cantwell, former KKK grand wizard David Duke, and the neo-Nazi groups Atomwaffen and Identity Evropa were booted from various financial services platforms after @deplatformhate intervened.
In a private Twitter conversation with @deplatformhate, Dietzel, the CEO of Anedot, was frank about why his company isn’t more proactive in screening racists: He doesn’t think it’s a big issue, and he doesn’t know much about the subject.
Last month, @deplatformhate messaged Dietzel to let him know that Gibson, the Patriot Prayer leader, was using Anedot to raise money ahead of a rally in Portland, Oregon. “He’s part of proud boys and patriot prayer and all those idiots,” @deplatformhate told Dietzel.
“Whoa bro look just because you disagree with people doesn’t mean they are idiots,” Dietzel wrote back. “Don’t spread hate. The only thing that beats hate is love.”
When @deplatformhate asked Dietzel if he would feel guilty if he discovered that Anedot was used to raise money for the Charlottesville rally last year, Dietzel responded, “You are referencing something that wasn’t one-sided (forgive me I don’t know all the details surrounding the cville events).
“Riots always have two sides,” Dietzel continued. “One side is violent and the other side is violated. The violated can then turn to violence as well.”
He declined to comment on his conversation with @deplatformhate.
It’s unlikely that the CEO of a fundraising platform would cite ignorance as an excuse for aiding Muslim extremists, Collins said.
“Some of the passing of the buck, saying, ‘We can’t keep track of everyone,’ so are you saying you have a lot of members of al Qaeda selling T-shirts on your platform?” Collins said. “I doubt it.”
UPDATE: While Square initially declined to comment at the time this story was published, a spokeswoman for the company contacted HuffPost on Feb. 22 to note that it does not currently work with the groups mentioned in this story. “Square’s Terms of Service prohibit the use of its platform for hate,” Square spokeswoman Samantha Verdile wrote in an email. “When we determine accounts violate our terms of service, we take swift action. We do not currently process for the groups listed in the article.” Citing company policy, Verdile declined to specify whether Square ever had processed for those groups in the past.