When all digital spaces are controlled by liberal snowflakes, how’s a guy supposed to earn a living promoting hate online? Three new crowdfunding sites think they have the answer.
While leading figures of the alt-right (and alt-lite) have access to wealthy benefactors like the Mercer family, the income streams of the movement’s B-listers are remarkably similar to anyone else trying to make a living online: donations made by fans through payment processors like PayPal or monthly checks from crowdfunding platforms like Patreon.
Recently, however, these services have started evicting the intolerant. Just last month, for instance, ex-Rebel Media blogger Lauren Southern’s Patreon account was shut down for what CEO Jack Conte called “manifest observable behavior.” What was this observable behavior? At the time, Southern and others working under the anti-immigrant banner “#DefendEurope” had just filmed themselves disrupting a Doctors Without Borders search-and-rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea—and though Southern claims she was not directly involved, Conte outlined why he feels she was an active participant. (The crew of the C-Star, #DefendEurope’s ship which Southern breathlessly vlogged about with “mastermind” Martin Sellner, was later detained for “document forgery and potential human trafficking.”)
However small the market is, there’s decidedly some money to be made financing trolls, and one site is already serving them: Funding for #DefendEurope is currently hosted on WeSearchr—the longest-running alt-crowdfunding site—and has raised some $180,000 there. But distrust for WeSearchr, and its founder Chuck Johnson, runs deep. So much so that its ousted cofounder, disgraced ex-Business Insider CTO Pax Dickinson, decided to create Counter.Fund.
The crowdfund “built by and for the wider Alt-Right counter-culture” has ambitious-sounding but vague plans. Organizationally, Counter.Fund sets to reward its highest earners by adding them to an internal “House of Lords” who will help determine how the collected fees of the site are spent. A lengthy Medium post by Dickinson explains how he intends to ethically and legally insulate Counter.Fund through a parent company.
It’s a dubious strategy, and the crowdfunding portion is still in a pre-registration phase. The fund’s page includes glowing quotes from Richard Spencer and Sam Hyde, high-profile members of the alt-right who both have active funds on one of Counter.Fund’s competitors: Hatreon.
Hateron—the “free speech absolutism” crowdfund—is the work of Cody Wilson, who’s other ventures include Defense Distributed, a business which sells 80 percent complete AR-15 lower receivers, flash drives containing cut codes for 3D printers, the printers themselves, and even the carbine end mills needed to route out the metal—essentially a full service distributor for untraceable “ghost guns.” Reached by Twitter DM, Wilson told Gizmodo “it’s not easy getting processing for gun machines, so I’ve got a few years of experience with alternative processing providers and brokers. It was pretty easy putting this thing together.”
Though he states his motivation for Defense Distributed as working “for nothing less than the despair of the American gun control effort” he describes Hatreon as “virtue signaling to the right.” Among his featured creators is Andrew Anglin, founder of neo-Nazi blog The Daily Stormer. “Demonstrating we would protect ‘extreme’ speech, was the best signal that we were a serious alternative to the current monopoly.”
Whether Wilson considers neo-Nazis the extreme end of his vision or not, Anglin—who, like Southern, also has an active campaign on WeSearchr—is inarguably the highest earner on Hatreon, raking in more than $700 a month. It’s a pittance compared to even moderately successful crowdfunds on the site’s mainstream namesake. (Leftist podcast Chapo Trap House’s Patreon earns nearly two orders of magnitude more.) Wilson sees the road ahead as a difficult one, saying Hatreon “would have to bring in at least 10x more money than it is right now to pay for itself. And I can see scaling being an even bigger headache.” Two of his Featured Creators currently have no patrons at all.
Hatreon and the not-yet-functional Counter.Fund serve mostly to secure recurring funds—so where’s the alt-right take on GoFundMe? That would be Rootbocks.
What do we know about Rootbocks? The platform was launched June 8th, and like every other alt-crowdfunding site it expressly states it’s “censorship-free.” Strangely, Rootbocks does at least some of its payment processing through PayPal. Most of the projects on Rootbocks are travel-based, and the overwhelming majority of those are people asking for money to get to Unite The Right in Charlottesville, Virginia—a rally slated to gather the Nation Socialist Movement, Richard Spencer, Gavin McInnes, and Anthime Gionet, who goes by the moniker “Baked Alaska,” (among others) in front of a statute of Robert E Lee.
The creation of Hatreon, Rootbocks, and Counter.Fund mirror the rush to build an alt-social network when YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other such services realized tacit endorsement of bigots was bad for business. Born from that upheaval were Gab.ai, Wrongthink, and a slew of other platforms which failed to secure meaningful audiences. How could any other outcome be expected? Trolls thrive on conflict. In a digital walled garden of hate, who is there to disagree with?
By providing inadequate fodder for pestering anyone left of far right, the alt-right’s social networks have largely failed. Even if Patreon’s headquarters literally catching fire last night might read as a good omen for competition, it’s easy to imagine these alternative crowdfunding sites floundering as vehicles for a movement which vehemently discourages individual profiteering. While the accusatory power of “cuck” may have expired in alt-right spheres, “shill” remains as damning as ever.
Gizmodo first learned of Rootbocks through the Discord server where Anthime Gionet—one of Unite the Right’s featured speakers—and his fans congregate. An admin of the server directed users to donate to Gionet’s Unite The Right travel fund after a similar GoFundMe was shut down, suggesting Baked Alaska is either lining his own pockets or agreed to speak at an event he can’t afford to attend. That Gionet’s debut book was delayed multiple times and is now listed as unavailable just two weeks after finally being made available for sale suggests the latter. The fundraiser has yet to meet its $1,500 goal.
A comment left on the very first Rootbocks project is perhaps even more telling than the meager dollar amounts these platforms have raised so far, unintentionally capturing the difficulty of soliciting charity in the fractured and paranoid world of the alt-right:
How can anyone trust you’re Alt-Right? Are you friends with Richard and Nathan or any other notable figures in the movement? There has to be some verification. If you really are Alt-Right, I’m sorry for grilling you like this and thank you for your courage and will to power. There are people asking for donations everywhere. [...] If I get solid verification that you’re Alt-Right, meaning you agree with White Identitarianism and have tackled the JQ for yourself, then I can donate something. Not a lot but something. In the meantime, post verification…
Feigning an aloofness unbecoming of a man in his 40s, Dickinson responded to our inquiries via Twitter DM to say: “Write it in the article that when you asked I told you to go fuck yourself.” Rootbocks and Patreon did not respond to requests for comment.