Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
If white supremacist groups across the country thrive on donations and profitable merchandise, who is allowing it to happen and how? A new tracker called “Blood Money,” from the non-profit group Color of Change, has found an essential component of the funding of hatred seen in Charlottesville—the credit card companies and online payment processors that authorize these transactions.
In Fast Company’s recent profile of Color of Change, Blood Money found that Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express are complicit in “processing funds for over 100 hate groups.”
Blood Money, Color of Change, as of August 22, 2017.
As Color of Change notes, these groups include those “responsible for numerous hate crimes, murders, and radicalization of terrorists such as Dylann Roof, Timothy McVeigh, Wade Michael Page and Anders Behring Breivik.”
This allowance has led to outrageous profit—roughly 20 of the most prominent hate groups have raised more than $20 million in sales, grants and contributions. Lesser-known groups that don’t receive massive contributions find income by soliciting on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and through the sale of racist music and merchandise on inconspicuous websites. Sometimes this merchandise is sold on Amazon.
These companies essentially enable the white supremacist groups, giving them the opportunity to hire staff, arm militias, travel to militant rallies, and create radical content.
As hate groups “publicly share their agenda and terrorize those who disagree,” they conjunctively “encourage others who are equally radical to give more,” according to Fast Company’s interview with Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson.
“Each time they do something like they did in Charlotte[sville], they are seeing a lot of publicity, a lot of visibility, and they’ve got a direct line to people who might be sympathetic or supportive to move resources to them,” said Robinson.
What’s most concerning is not the sponsorship, but the “blood money” these companies receive. For every transaction or donation, “these companies take anywhere from 1.4 percent to 3.5 percent of the money for themselves,” according to the Color of Change program. “These companies are not just helping white supremacist groups to raise tens of millions of dollars—they are also profiting off this hate.”
Though Color of Change can’t calculate exactly how much money each hate group is raising and how much companies are earning, the Blood Money tracker highlights which card companies and online payment processors white supremacist hate groups are using to fund their activities. The tracker shows which hate groups are allowed to use Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, PayPal, ApplePay and Amazon. Red dollar signs signify active relationships and green checkmarks note which groups have been blocked.
Though there are a number of groups that have been partially or fully blocked, the visual representation of the many ways hate groups receive funding is overwhelming.
What is frustrating for the organization is the response toward other terrorist organizations. According to Fast Company, payment processors actively work toward halting service for international terrorist organizations. In 2010, Visa and MasterCard also attempted to suspend payments to WikiLeaks, according to the Associated Press. Companies that did not comply such as PayPal and Swiss bank PostFinance received an influx of cyberattacks through junk web traffic that temporarily took down both sites, according to Forbes. Even Venmo suspended a user who purchased a T-shirt for Isis (the band), mistaking the show of musical appreciation for support for the terrorist group. Yet the designation of terrorists not worthy of transactional support seems to stop when it comes to domestic hate groups.
Color of Change has created the tracker to raise awareness and bring an end to this practice. It first began urging companies in February, but none of the companies agreed. After a member of the Facebook group Alt-Reich killed Richard Collins III in May, Color of Change began work on the program, which it unveiled to the processors a month in advance as a tool of encouragement (as well as a threat of public humiliation). However, they were once again met with little response.
Following Charlottesville, Color of Change notified the offending companies that it was finally time to reveal to the public what was going on.
In response to the tracker, which went live August 16, some companies are beginning to cut ties. ApplePay and PayPal, whose relations with these groups are “sporadic,” immediately began to suspend service to the offenders, according to Fast Company. Robinson told Fast Company that Discover claims it will do the same.
Color of Change has been the force behind changing many company practices, urging Airbnb to stop the service’s discrimination against black people and simultaneously blocking white supremacists traveling to Charlottesville from using the home sharing service. Airbnb confirmed which “Unite the Right” rally-goers were using its service and banned them. The organization also worked with Soundcloud to delete bigoted podcasts, according to Fast Company.
Alongside the tracking program, Color of Change encourages readers to sign its petition, which reminds companies that these groups have “played a major role in the recent and rapid rise in anti-black, anti-Jewish and anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in the last year and a half… By profiting from donations to hate groups you are directly enabling the rising violence and vitriol directed at marginalized communities.”
If little changes, Color of Change will move toward a campaign asking petitioners to “take collective actions, like calling top executives, sharing a new social media campaign, or funding billboards to increase public awareness.”
“We know companies can shift to make more proactive stances,” said Robinson. “But you’ve got to work and push to change the culture and force them to see it as part of what they value.”
Jennie Neufeld is a junior writing fellow at AlterNet. She has previously worked for the Observer, the Wild and Nylon Magazine. Follow her on twitter @jennieneufeld.