If every narrative needs its powerful villain, mainstream media hasn’t hesitated in making the alt-right appear a scarier boogieman than it really is. Following 2016’s electoral win of Republican President Donald Trump, many activists and political pundits expressed shock in the belief that these fringe white supremacist movements rose to dangerous popularity overnight.
While the deplorable egos of fascists are undying, still persistent in their racist views for several decades, their movement remains the larping embarrassment of modern politics.
As we reach the one year anniversary of the deadly “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — which saw the tragic death of counter-protestor Heather Heyer and 2 U.S. soldiers — a second rally is currently scheduled for this weekend. Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe has now called for an official “state of emergency” as 400 far-right activists expected to flood into Washington D.C. and other parts of the country on August 11th. Ahead of these rallies, prominent outlets such as Forbes, The Daily Beast, The Hill and Mic.com have reported that far-right bitcoin donations are “rapidly growing.”
This wouldn’t be a problem if we were just talking the ethics behind these donations. There’s certainly an argument that even just one penny going towards rallies known for their violent radicals is too much. The issue is we can’t allow these radicals to have us turn off our critical thinking. The big scary number the outlets cite is this “$10,000 surge in bitcoin donations” ahead of the upcoming Washington rally. This is absolutely concerning… but there’s a catch. To use the word “surge” implies that individuals, in some recent populist wave, are all donating money in a floodgate-like manner.
However, this isn’t reality.
Consider the chart provided by Forbes. They cite another scary number saying the alt-right trash blog, The Daily Stormer, “attracted some $60,000 in bitcoin and cryptocurrency donations” as a result of Charlottesville. How did these Nazi pull together so many funds from so many hateful Americans? Well, they didn’t. According to their own BTC tracker source and blockchain records, $56,000 of those donations came from one bitcoin address.
“While cryptocurrency is often anonymous, if you’ve made your public address available and it’s known to be linked to you, then people are able to see the wallets incoming and outgoing funds via the blockchain,” cybersecurity analyst John Bambenek told Forbes of his tracker. “I even came across one neo-Nazi using an Israeli bitcoin exchange, which I found quite ironic.”
The reason behind the amount has significance within the neo-Nazi community, the $56,000 at the time amounting to exactly 14.88 bitcoins, a nod to the iconic 14 words of their white supremacist ideology. The 88 is popularly thought to correspond to the eighth letter of the alphabet, HH, signifying “Heil Hitler.” If you think that sounds equal parts pathetic and dumb as shit, that’s because it is.
Despite the staggering amount of money $60,000 is when one considers it in the hands of a wretched outlet like the Daily Stormer, when 93% of that figure comes from one entity, it seems mildly disingenuous to characterize it in a way that leaves readers imagining hordes and hordes of populist-driven $20 donations, a la Bernie Sanders.
This new “surge” is no different.
That recent $10,000, when examined through the blockchain transactions, turns out to be comprised more than 80% from just two accounts on the 27th of July. Again, any donation made to organizers like the Daily Stormer’s Jewish webmaster, Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer and Chris “Crying Nazi” Cantwell, should be reported to the public. These are deplorable people will use any money they can to incite deplorable levels of violence. But it doesn’t help to pretend these people are any more powerful than they actually are.
Even The Southern Poverty Law Center, the absolute crying wolf of watchdog organizations admit the likes of Jason Kessler have embarrassing incomes of only $55 over the past two months. Not all Nazis can be Weev, reportedly worth $1.8 million in cryptocurrency.
It’s entirely possible that these “mystery donors” could be Weev himself, tumbling bitcoin back into the Daily Stormer’s coffers.
While we’re on the subject, let’s remember that we’re talking about cryptocurrency here. Much of the apparently deep pockets associated with these bitcoin donations may be newfound wealth, a side effect of the explosion in the value of cryptocurrencies over the past couple of years. As we’ve seen since January, that wealth can evaporate as quickly as it was created in the first place. We also have no way of knowing who these people are, or indeed where they are in the world. If we are going to continuously accept narratives regarding foreign influence in the affairs of American politics, ought this not be given careful consideration as well? Might there be an interest in artificially inflating the perceived size and threat of American neo-nazi groups purely for the purpose of creating political upheaval?
Let’s also remember that the alt-right, despite their desperate desire for some all-powerful ethnostate are outnumbered wherever they appear, including last year in Charlottesville and most likely again this weekend in D.C. And rightfully so. And polling routinely suggests that we need not fear Americans changing their feelings about neo-nazis or the alt-right any time soon.