Far-right cryptocurrency follows ideology across borders

Far-right cryptocurrency follows ideology across borders

The Daily Stormer website advocates for 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 and other radical right provocateurs have raised millions from around the world through cryptocurrencies. Banned by traditional financial institutions, they sought refuge in digital currencies, which they are using in increasingly sophisticated ways to skirt 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. His victims can’t find him, and for now his Bitcoin fortune remains out of reach.

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 whose networks and money are virtual. “The law is evolving but lagging behind the harm.”

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.

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 today — between January 2017 and April 2021.

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 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.

“Do you really think how we operate our economy is any of your business?” Martin Saxlind, the editor of NRM’s magazine, Nordfront, asked AP in an email. “Swedish banks have abused their control of the economy to deny us and others regular banking accounts for political reasons. That’s why we use cryptocurrency.”

Anglin’s former lawyer, Marc Randazza, argued that political censorship by financial authorities is driving people underground. “It’s more Nazi-like than Andrew Anglin could ever hope to be,” he said. “Don’t create a black market and then be surprised there’s a black market.”

Despite cryptocurrency’s 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.

Because of that public footprint, in November 2020 Anglin asked his supporters to send him money only in Monero, a “privacy coin,” designed to enhance anonymity by hiding data about users and transactions.

Monero, Anglin advised supporters in February 2021, “is really easy. Most importantly, it is safe.”

Others have reached the same conclusion. The list of people now seeking donations in Monero rather than Bitcoin includes Thomas Sewell, an Australian neo-Nazi; Jaz Searby, who headed an Australian chapter of the Proud Boys; the Global Minority Initiative, a “prison relief charity” for American white nationalists; and France’s Democratie Participative, a racist website banned by French courts in 2018.

Just as the ideologies of the radical right — whether white nationalists, neo-Nazis or self-described “free speech” advocates — are globalizing, so is the financing. Blockchain data shows that Anglin’s donors are part of a global community of believers. Since 2017 his donors have also given Bitcoin to 32 other far-right groups and people in at least five different countries, according to Chainalysis data.

Chainalysis also found that money donated to the sample of 12 far-right entities came from global cryptocurrency exchanges, with a growing role for Western and Eastern European-focused exchanges.

Kimberly Grauer, Director of Research at Chainalysis, said the shift to global exchanges “certainly could be in order to obfuscate detection, but it could also be a sign that increasingly donations are coming in from all over the world.”

In December 2020, shortly before his suicide, a French computer programmer named Laurent Bachelier sent 28.15 Bitcoins — then worth over $520,000 — to 22 far-right entities. The bulk went to Nick Fuentes, an American white nationalist influencer who would spend the coming weeks encouraging tens of thousands of followers to lay siege to the U.S. Capitol. One bitcoin went to a Daily Stormer account.

The money trail shows domestic extremism isn’t purely domestic and highlights the ease with which cryptocurrency can fund extremists around the world.

Bachelier’s money passed through accounts that were not hosted by regulated cryptocurrency exchanges, according to Chainalysis. The transactions only became public because of a tip to a Yahoo news journalist and the fact that Bachelier left digital traces that led to his email.

Cryptocurrency exchanges, which can convert Bitcoin into U.S. dollars and other currencies, are generally regulated like banks, allowing authorities access to information or funds.

But cryptocurrency wallets can also be “unhosted,” which means that users themselves control access. Unhosted wallets — like Fuentes’ — are akin to cash. They don’t have to go through banks or exchanges that could flag suspicious transactions, verify a user’s identity or hand over money to satisfy a court judgment.

Anglin’s wallets are also unhosted, according to Chainalysis.

“The problem with an unhosted wallet is what is your pain point?” said Amanda Wick, who served as a senior policy adviser for the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and as a federal prosecutor before joining Chainalysis as chief of legal affairs. “The only thing we have is civil contempt or criminal conviction. If someone is willing to sit in jail and the money is theirs on the other side because no one can access it, that’s a problem.”