Exclusive: Extremists raised $6.2 million on crowdfunding websites in 'heyday' of financing

Extremists raised more than $6.2 million on crowdfunding websites from 2016 to 2022, according to an Anti-Defamation League study provided exclusively to USA TODAY. The bonanza shows that America is in the "heyday of extremist fundraising," an ADL expert said.

Who is raising money, where, for what?

ADL researchers tracked 324 fundraising campaigns connected to extremists, including:

  • The Proud Boys

  • The Oath Keepers

  • White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan

  • Extremist Black Hebrew Israelites. (BHI is a new religious sect whose followers believe Black people are the "true" Hebrews. A subset of the group holds racist and antisemitic beliefs.)

Researchers tracked campaigns across 10 crowdfunding sites. Most were housed on GiveSendGo, which calls itself a "Christian crowdfunding" website founded in 2014. GiveSendGo campaigns accounted for $5.4 million of the total fundraising tallied by the group.

As USA TODAY reported in 2021, participants in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, have used GiveSendGo and other crowdfunding sites to raise money for their legal bills and other expenses.

The ADL report concluded $4.75 million has been raised in the past four years for insurrection-connected campaigns on these sites.

The ADL also found what it described as "several small, short-lived sites that were dedicated to extremist and hateful causes." They included sites with names like "GoyFundMe" and "Hatreon."

Many of the campaigns tracked by the ADL are small, raising amounts in the hundreds or low thousands of dollars. But some have raised tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection, GoFundMe banned fundraising for travel to political events that have a "risk for violence." But other sites, particularly GiveSendGo, have become the go-to for extremists and their supporters.

Crowdfunding Hate: Crowdfunding hate: How white supremacists and other extremists raise money from legions of online followers

Jan. 6 online fundraising: Insurrection fundraiser: Capitol riot extremists, Trump supporters raise money for lawyer bills online 

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, leads a rally outside the White House on June 25, 2017.
Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, leads a rally outside the White House on June 25, 2017.

Are extremists raising more money than before?

Mark Dwyer, an investigator for the ADL's Center on Extremism, monitors funding sources such as cryptocurrency and online donations. Dwyer and his team decided to focus on crowdfunding after seeing a sizable rise in online fundraising since Jan. 6, he said.

"I would consider this to be the heyday of extremist funding," Dwyer said.

What is a crowdfunding site's responsibility? 

Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL Center on Extremism, called on crowdfunding sites – particularly GiveSendGo – to limit fundraising by extremist and hate groups.

"Crowdfunding is a financial lifeline for various extremists," Segal said. "Major servicers like GoFundMe and GiveSendGo have a responsibility to enforce their terms of service and stop the exploitation of their platforms by people and groups that traffic in bigotry and violence."

GoFundMe and GiveSendGo respond

GiveSendGo did not respond to multiple requests for comment. It describes itself as a conservative alternative that does not censor crowdfunding campaigns as mainstream platforms do.

Its policies prohibit campaigns that promote hate, violence and racial intolerance. But co-founder Jacob Wells said in testimony before the Canadian Parliament in March that GiveSendGo would host campaigns for the Proud Boys if the group planned to spend the money on legal expenses.

"We believe deeply, to the core of our being, that the suppression of speech is much more dangerous than speech itself," Wells said.

The largest crowdfunding platform, GoFundMe, says it also prohibits campaigns that spread hate and violence.

"We will continue to vigorously enforce our zero tolerance policy against hate, violence, harassment, discrimination or intolerance of any kind," GoFundMe spokesman Jalen Drummond told USA TODAY.

According to the ADL, campaigns have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for antisemitic documentaries and propaganda networks and represent 94% of the extremist or hateful campaigns the ADL identified.

After declining to comment about that question in response to USA TODAY's questions, GoFundMe later said it had banned a prolific Black Hebrew Israelite from fundraising on the platform.

"We do not tolerate antisemitism. Period," Drummond said, adding that the ADL has commended GoFundMe for quickly enforcing its policies.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: GiveSendGo, GoFundme helped extremists raise millions, report finds