BRUSSELS (AP) — The Daily Stormer website advocates for the purity of the white race, posts hate-filled, conspiratorial screeds against Blacks, Jews and women and has helped inspire at least three racially motivated murders. It has also made its founder, Andrew Anglin, a millionaire.
Anglin has tapped a worldwide network of supporters to take in at least 112 Bitcoin since January 2017 — worth $4.8 million at today’s exchange rate — according to data shared with The Associated Press. He’s likely raised even more.
Anglin is just one very public example of how radical right provocateurs are raising significant amounts of money from around the world through cryptocurrencies. Banned by traditional financial institutions, they have taken refuge in digital currencies, which they are using in ever more secretive ways to avoid the oversight of banks, regulators and courts, finds an AP analysis of legal documents, Telegram channels and blockchain data from Chainalysis, a cryptocurrency analytics firm.
Anglin owes more than $18 million in legal judgments in the United States to people whom he and his followers harassed and threatened. And while online, he remains visible — most days, dozens of stories on the Daily Stormer homepage carry his name — in the real world, Anglin’s a ghost.
His victims have tried — and failed — to find him, searching at one Ohio address after another. Voting records place him in Russia in 2016 and his passport shows he was in Cambodia in 2017. After that, the public trail goes cold. He has no obvious bank accounts or real estate holdings in the U.S. For now, his Bitcoin fortune remains out of reach.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a collaboration between The Associated Press and the PBS series FRONTLINE that examines challenges to the ideas and institutions of traditional U.S. and European democracy.
Beth Littrell, a lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center who is helping represent one of Anglin’s victims, says it’s grown harder to use the legal system to stamp out hate groups because now they operate with online networks and virtual money. “We were able to sue the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist organization, in essence out of existence,” she said. Doing the same today is much harder, she said. “The law is evolving but lagging behind the harm.”
CURRENCY OF THE RADICAL RIGHT
In August 2017, a week after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Anglin received 14.88 Bitcoins, an amount chosen for its oblique references to a 14-word white supremacist slogan and the phrase “Heil Hitler” because H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. Worth around $60,000 at the time, it was his biggest Bitcoin donation ever and would be valued at over $641,000 at today’s exchange rate. The source of the funds remains a mystery. Anglin now faces charges in U.S. court for conspiring to plan and promote the deadly march.
By the time of Charlottesville, Anglin had been cut off by credit card processors and banned by PayPal so Bitcoin was his main source of funding. In his “Retard’s Guide to Using Bitcoin,” published in April 2020, he claimed to have funded the Daily Stormer exclusively through Bitcoin for four years.
“I’ve got money now. I’ve got money to pay for the site for the foreseeable future,” he wrote in December 2020, as Bitcoin’s price surged.
Anglin’s former lawyer, Marc Randazza, argued that political censorship by financial authorities drove Anglin to cryptocurrency by shutting him out of traditional banking, which he said is “more Nazi-like than Andrew Anglin could ever hope to be.”
“Don’t create a black market and then be surprised there’s a black market,” Randazza added.
While Anglin likely turned to Bitcoin for practical reasons, part of the appeal of cryptocurrency to the radical right is ideological.
Bitcoin was developed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis when distrust of the global financial system was running high. It offers an alternative that doesn’t depend on banks. Instead, transactions are validated and recorded on a decentralized digital ledger called the blockchain, which derives its authority from crowdsourcing rather than a class of elite bankers.
As one white nationalist cryptocurrency guide circulating on Telegram puts it: “We all know the Jews and their minions control the global financial system. When you are caught having the wrong opinion, they will take it upon themselves to shut you out of this system making your life very difficult. One alternative to this system is cryptocurrency.”
Richard Spencer, an American white supremacist, has dubbed Bitcoin the “currency of the alt-right.”
It’s hard to tell how large a role cryptocurrency plays in overall financing for the far right. Merchandise sales, membership fees, donations in fiat currencies, concerts, fight clubs and other events, as well as criminal activity, are also common sources of revenue, government and academic research has shown.
What is clear is that early adopters of Bitcoin, like Anglin, have profited handsomely from its increase in value over the years. Bitcoin prices are notoriously volatile. Since April, the currency has shed a third of its value against the U.S. dollar, then took a further drubbing last week when China declared cryptocurrency transactions illegal.
Chainalysis collected data for a sample of 12 far-right entities in the U.S. and Europe that publicly called for Bitcoin donations and showed significant activity. Together, they took in 213 Bitcoin — worth more than $9 million at today’s value — between January 2017 and April 2021.
These groups embrace a range of ideologies and include white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and self-described free-speech advocates. They are united by a shared desire to fight the perceived progressive takeover of culture and the state.
“These people have real assets. People with access to hundreds of thousands of dollars can start doing real damage,” said John Bambenek, a cybersecurity expert who has been tracking the use of cryptocurrency by far-right actors since 2017.
Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, Anglin’s webmaster for the Daily Stormer, has raked in Bitcoin worth $2.2 million at today’s values. The Nordic Resistance Movement, a Scandinavian neo-Nazi movement that’s been banned in Finland, Counter-Currents, a U.S.-based white nationalist publishing house, and the recently banned French group Génération Identitaire have each received Bitcoin that’s now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, Chainalysis data shows.
Two social media platforms that have been embraced by the far right, Gab and Bitchute, received a surge in Bitcoin funding in the lead up to the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection. Since 2017, Bitchute has gotten Bitcoin worth nearly $500,000 at today’s values, about a fifth of which rolled in during the month of December 2020. Gab has gotten more than $173,000; nearly 40% came in during December 2020 and January 2021, Chainalysis data shows. On Aug. 1, Gab announced it was stepping up its fight against “financial censorship” and creating its own alternative to PayPal to “fight against the tyranny of the global elites.”
While cryptocurrencies have a reputation for secrecy, Bitcoin was built for transparency. Every transaction is indelibly — and publicly — recorded on the blockchain, which enables companies like Chainalysis to monitor activity. Individuals can obscure their identities by not publicly linking them to their cryptocurrency accounts, but with Bitcoin they cannot hide the transactions themselves.