How Crowdfunding Finances Right-Wing Extremist And Hate Groups

Tyler Dinsmoor under arrest on Whidbey Island

The American right is so awash in grifters weaseling every dollar they can out of their gullibly authoritarian followers’ bank accounts that what used to be a political orientation has just become a massive network of scam artists. Whether it’s Donald Trump ripping off his hordes of fans with bogus email appeals, the “MyPillow” guy and his MAGA cohorts pushing election denialism, Alex Jones and his Infowars operation reeling in the suckers with his health claims, Chris Rufo pitching “critical race theory” and “groomer” rhetoric to the eager media, or white nationalist Nick Fuentes setting up shop in a pricey Chicago suburb thanks to his eager donors, it’s just one big race to suck up those donor dollars.

Crowdfunding at platforms like GoFundMe has become an essential tool for right-wing grifters, notably people like the Jan. 6 insurrectionists who use pleas for legal assistance to suck up thousands of dollars in donations. The Anti-Defamation League this week released a report showing that extremist crowdfunders have generated at least $6,246,072 from 324 campaigns over the past six years—and that their preferred platform by far is GiveSendGo, the conservative “free speech” outfit with a high tolerance for extremism.

Examining the financial records of extremist groups, ADL researchers found that GiveSendGo hosted 230 campaigns “operated by or for extremists and their causes. These campaigns collected more than 86.5% of the funds tracked by the Center on Extremism.”

It also found that crowdfunding campaigns “played a significant role in the January 6 insurrection and Unite the Right rally, as well as other, smaller extremist events.”

As Will Carless at USA Todayexplained, the ADL report examined a broad range of extremist groups, but focused particularly on the insurrectionists like Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and extremist Black Hebrew Israelites, some of whom expound racist and antisemitic beliefs. Among those groups, the ADL found that $4.75 million has been raised for insurrection-related causes through crowdfunding over the past four years.

Although the majority of the crowdfunding campaigns tracked by the ADL raised relatively small amounts—hundreds or low thousands of dollars—a number have also raised much larger amounts, including hundreds of thousands. The money these groups made through crowdfunding provided for travel and supplies, as well as legal and medical expenses.

“White supremacists have used crowdfunding to enable a range of hateful activities, including harassing marginalized communities, covering legal expenses after violent actions, spreading hateful propaganda and purchasing property and supplies for white ‘ethnostates’ or compounds,” the report says.

Center for Extremism investigator Mark Dwyer told Carless that his team began to focus on crowdfunding after observing a significant increase in online fundraising following the January 6 insurrection.

"I would consider this to be the heyday of extremist funding," Dwyer said.

As Carless reports, the ADL also found a number of campaigns with more explicitly hateful and extremist causes, featuring names like "GoyFundMe" and "Hatreon." However, the ADL says these were relatively short-lived sites.

GiveSendGo, notably, took steps following the Jan. 6 insurrection to cut down on extremist fundraising, banning campaigns to raise funds for travel to political events that have a "risk for violence." This, however, simply meant that GiveSendGo became the go-to crowdfunding site—along with a handful of others—for extremists and their supporters.

The report explains:

GiveSendGo was founded in 2015 as a self-described Christian crowdfunding service, and the company has taken stances against “censorship,” providing a platform for campaigns that the “mainstream media had shut down.” Perhaps because of this laissez-faire moderation policy, GiveSendGo quickly became the platform of choice for extremists and conspiracy theorists seeking to raise funds. Since 2016, using Stripe as their payment processor, the platform has facilitated the donation of $5.4 million to extremist-related causes, 86.5% of the total cataloged in this report, and it has been a significant source of fundraising for January 6 defendants’ legal funds.

As an example of how GiveSendGo is providing financial support for extremists, the ADL points to the case of Whidbey Island, Washington, resident Tyler Dinsmoor, who was arrested in June 2022 for threatening his LGBTQ neighbors and issuing threats against an upcoming Pride event in the nearby town of Anacortes. It soon emerged that Dinsmoor’s radicalization was a product of an evangelical church he attends that preaches that homosexuality is a capital crime—namely, Sure Foundation Baptist Church in Vancouver, Washington, which is led by Pastor Aaron Thompson. Sure Foundation is part of the New Independent Fundamental Baptist (New IFB) network, a rabidly anti-LGBTQ Baptist offshoot founded by hate preacher Steven Anderson.

Dinsmoor’s bail was initially set at $1 million, which drew cries of outrage from anti-LGBTQ extremists. It was later reduced by a judge to $150,000, and Dinsmoor was released on bail. Nonetheless, two GiveSendGo campaigns were established to help cover his legal expenses: The first, set up by an associate of Dinsmoor’s, collected $30,650; the second was created by Dinsmoor himself when he discontinued the initial campaign. So far, it has collected $4,000.

As Talia Lavin explained in her expose of the site in The Nation, “on GiveSendGo, hate groups can prosper amid fundraising campaigns for homeless nuns, a church that provides tube socks for the unhoused, or infants with spinal cord injuries. Any backlash by payment companies risks raising the ire of a grievance-drunk right-wing media ecosystem primed to detect the traces of anti-Christian prejudice.”

“GiveSendGo seems to be one of the most significant spaces in which alt-right and Christian right converge,” researcher Chrissy Stroop told Lavin. “Of course, we know there is considerable overlap in ideology between right-wing Christians, white nationalists, the manosphere, 4chan types, etc. It can be difficult to trace the direct connections and networks, so I think the existence of GiveSendGo provides us with a sort of horrifying laboratory in that regard.”

"Crowdfunding is a financial lifeline for various extremists," Segal said. "Major servicers like GoFundMe and GiveSendGo have a responsibility to enforce their terms of service and stop the exploitation of their platforms by people and groups that traffic in bigotry and violence."

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

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Trump's Dark Money Machine Is Designed To Deceive The Public

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Thanks in part to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the phrase “dark money” is heard a great deal these days in connection with U.S. politics. Citizens United, with its majority opinion by libertarian then-Justice Anthony Kennedy, defined campaign and election spending as a form of constitutionally protected “speech.” And it opened the “dark money” floodgates in a major way.

Roger Sollenberger, in an article published by The Daily Beast on January 19, examines the “dark money machine” of former President Donald Trump. According to Sollenberger, that operation is only getting worse — and is purposely designed to be “confusing.”

“Just when it seemed like former President Donald Trump’s dark money maze couldn’t get any darker, it looks like someone shot the lights out,” Sollenberger reports. “At least, that’s the impression experts in nonprofit law took away from a pair of previously unreported tax filings from the dark money arm of Trump’s political machine, America First Works. Those experts said it appears from the filings and other incorporation records that the advocacy group — which raised almost no money in 2021 — has closed down its original Virginia entity and opened another one in Washington, D.C. under the same name, with the same board of directors. The question is why — and it comes as Trumpworld is laying the groundwork for a second Trump term.”

On December 21, 2022, Axios’ Lachlan Markay reported that if Trump wins the 2024 election, he “will enjoy a key asset absent from his 2017 White House transition: a sprawling infrastructure already preparing to staff a new administration and immediately enact major policies.” Allies of the former president, Sollenberger notes, cite that infrastructure as a key difference between Trump and a MAGA Republican he may be running against in 2024’s GOP presidential primary: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — that is, if DeSantis decides to run. Firebrand author Ann Coulter, pundits at Fox News and Fox Business and writers for the National Review have all been pushing DeSantis for 2024.

“2021 was essentially a rebuilding year for Trump’s dark money machine,” according to Sollenberger. “That work not only came at a cost, it also appears to have happened in a black box, adding another layer of opacity on top of a fundraising and advocacy network that’s already grown so convoluted even legal experts have a hard time untangling it. In this instance, not only is it hard to follow the money, it’s hard to say for sure whether there’s all that much money to follow in the first place. At least, there appears to be a lot less of it flying around in the fractious 12 months after Trump left the White House.”

Sollenberger goes on to explain why America First Works fits the definition of a dark money operation.

“AFW is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, which are often colloquially called ‘dark money’ groups,” Sollenberger explains. “These groups can raise funds in unlimited amounts, and while they don’t have to disclose their donors’ identities, the organizations can use a chunk of that unattributed money for political activity. According to its 2021 tax filing, which was first obtained by The Daily Beast, AFW — which raised about $51 million the previous year — doled out millions of dollars in transfers and grants. That filing shows that the funds all went to a handful of groups that make up a financial and political support network behind the former president.”

The Daily Beast reporter adds, “Those transactions included a $3 million grant to AFW’s 501(c)(3) counterpart, America First Policy Institute, and an additional $250,000 to Make America Great Again Policies — a lesser-known entity which has reported having a cost-sharing agreement with a new pro-Trump super PAC. AFW also paid another $250,000 for ‘research’ to Republican opposition research firm America Rising, according to the document.”

Sollenberger points out that if Trump’s dark money “maze” is “maddeningly difficult to follow,” that is “almost certainly part of the point,” according to government and campaign finance watchdogs.

Interviewed by the Beast, Brendan Fischer (who serves as deputy director of government for the watchdog group Documented), discussed the drop that occurred with America First Works in 2021 and told the Beast, “America First Works served as the dark money arm of Trump’s campaign in 2020, and it is not uncommon for a politically active dark money group to see a decline in revenue during a non-election year. But this drop is precipitous, and can’t be explained by election cycles alone…. The in-kind contributions of staff time and office space indicate that AFW employees were still working and on the payroll in 2021…. It also would be understandable if AFW was just going to spend down its existing funds and close up shop, but that’s not what’s going on either.”

The “name changes” with Trump-associated “dark money” operations, according to Sollenberger, are designed to be confusing.

“Last December,” Sollenberger reports, “an AFW spokesperson told the Daily Beast it wasn’t a name change; America First Policies had been ‘sold’ to America First Works 'in a private deal’…. However, previously unreported tax filings now show that another ‘America First Works’ was created that same year, this one in Washington, D.C. AFW1 reported a $140,100 grant to the new America First Works (AFW2), which AFW1 cites as a related entity.”

Sollenberger continues, “But The Daily Beast also obtained AFW2’s tax filing, which shows that the two groups share a slate of directors and that the grant comprised all of AFW2’s revenue for 2021. Almost all the money — around $132,000 of it — was spent on a ‘security deposit,’ the document shows, though it discloses no other underlying assets. Again, all of these moves and name changes seem designed to do one major thing: confuse.”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.