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Far-right groups bolstered by cryptocurrency donations, report finds

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A study by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has described how far-right organisations have sidestepped mainstream payment services in their fundraising strategies and called for the UK government to engage with these threats.

According to the report, while the government has focused on stamping out Islamist terrorism - including by disrupting these groups’ finances - the fight against far-right extremists has been comparatively neglected.

This has allowed far-right extremists to build influential international networks in the US and Europe. The far-right threat has become more visible since 2016, when a man with links to the far-right murdered pro-EU MP Jo Cox days before the Brexit referendum. There have been numerous high-profile terrorist acts motivated by far-right hatred since then, including the murder of a counter-protester at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, and the murder of 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The Christchurch shooter is alleged to have been inspired by (and to have donated money to) European white nationalist group Generation Identity.

According to the RUSI report, UK neo-Nazi terrorist group National Action and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka ‘Tommy Robinson’) are among the far-right British actors profiting from these international support networks. Yaxley-Lennon has profited from overseas support from crowdfunding and foreign donors, supporting his failed campaign to become a UK MEP and covering his security and legal expenses.

As far-right terrorism has reached the public conscience, some companies have stopped providing services to these groups, such as by shutting down their social media profilescancelling their site registrations, or refusing to allow them to fundraise on crowdfunding sites.

Speaking to E&T in November, Southern Poverty Law Centre researcher Keegan Hankes commented: “After Charlottesville, we saw so many of these groups get thrown off different services, particularly fundraising sites. Then we saw a rush of [new] sites go up to basically provide fundraising […] one by one, these all failed because each one of these quote-unquote ‘fundraising platforms’ still relied on mainstream infrastructure. Whether you were using Stripe to process credit cards or PayPal to process donations, you were still relying on those to process transactions.”

Since 2017, alternative crowdfunding platforms such as Hatreon have struggled to take off as mainstream services such as Visa, Stripe and Google Pay refuse to process donations. For instance, in June 2017, PayPal limited Generation Identity’s account and in November 2018 it shut down Yaxley-Lennon’s account.

According to the RUSI report, direct peer-to-peer transactions such as bank transfers, PayPal and cryptocurrencies have become “perhaps the most common donation method” today, with neo-Nazis Andrew Anglin and Richard Spencer among the high-profile figures to use cryptocurrency to receive money with relative anonymity; Anglin has even referred to Bitcoin as the ‘Nazi cryptocurrency’. During Yaxley-Lennon’s brief imprisonment last year for contempt of court, he received almost £20,000 in Bitcoin donations.

“Cryptocurrencies have become especially prevalent following the de-platforming of some sites from traditional payment processors and the need to transfer funds internationally, making cash or bank transfers a less practical option,” the RUSI report says. The authors cite cyber-security expert John Bambenek, who has observed that the far-right’s engagement with cryptocurrencies is “underpinned by a historical mistrust of global financial systems, one that is closely connected to the idea of financial institutions as part of a global Jewish conspiracy”.

The report calls on the government to engage with the threats posed by these groups, which could grow in size in the coming years under the influence of “algorithm-induced echo chambers on social media”, which boost extremist views.

“This challenge is exacerbated by the apparently unwillingness of the UK government to engage – at a strategic and political level – with the threats posed by right-wing extremism, leaving a leaderless vacuum in which these groups can flourish,” the report warned.

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