The internet’s foremost purveyors of racist bile faced an unprecedented backlash in the wake of the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. White nationalists and other hate groups were kicked off of mainstream social media and web hosting sites in droves, pushing them onto platforms created to cater to their niche audiences.
But these sites, such as anti-censorship crowdfunding platform RootBocks and WeSearchr, the crowdfunding site co-founded by far-right blogger and agitator Chuck Johnson, have little name recognition and limited reach. That creates mini-echo chambers where a self-selecting group on the far-right fringe can trade memes and fund each others’ legal fees.
“It further pushes these people to the margins of the internet, not that they were anything more than marginal to begin with,” Hatreon founder Cody Wilson told TPM in a Monday phone interview. “Yeah, some of their stuff began to get purchase with Trump and campaign ’16 but again it’s always vastly overestimated.”
Hatreon, which describes itself as “a platform for creators, absent speech policing,” is a far-right take on Patreon, a platform that allows podcast hosts and other creators to solicit paid subscriptions from their fans. Wilson, whose primary occupation is running a company that develops and publishes open-source gun designs that can be 3-D printed, told TPM he was “sympathetic” to the “alt-right” but personally was “not right-wing.” He said he created the platform so that the loose band of white nationalists, anti-Semites and misogynists who compose the “alt-right” could “have a leg in this conversation and not be banished from the internet.”
Jared Taylor, head of the white nationalist publication American Renaissance, complained of the “terrible setback” imposed by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other large-scale tech companies in preventing leaders of his movement from reaching new audiences.
“It is a reversion to the pre-internet days when in order to really have access to the public you had to own a newspaper or a magazine or a television network or radio station,” he told TPM in a recent interview. “The internet has vastly democratized this process and made it possible for people not just like us but like Donald Trump to bypass the gatekeepers. What we are going back to is a kind of snuffing out of dissident views. It reminds me of the Soviet Union.”
A number of extremist activists and leaders interviewed by TPM were optimistic that these new platforms would eventually gain more members and clout. But for now, the numbers speak for themselves.
Wilson claimed that he spends “$12 grand a month” of his own money to fund Hatreon as a passion project, saying the site “doesn’t make money” and estimating it has approximately 900 registered users. By contrast, Patreon has over 50,000 registered users and is on track to pay creators over $150 million in 2017, according to a recent company blog post. Facebook boasted some 2 billion users as of this summer; even social media sites with comparatively smaller user bases, like Twitter, with 328 million users, remain central to the national conversation, especially in the Trump era. White nationalists can’t get an accidental retweet from the President if they’re using a fringe platform he’s never heard of, after all.
The refusal of companies like PayPal and Amazon to process payments from certain sites also limits fundraising options for those groups. RootBocks, for example, only accepts cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Dogecoin at the moment.
As Taylor observed, “You can’t make a living just accepting donations only in Bitcoins.”
Peter Brimelow, founder of the site Virginia Dare, which features articles from white nationalist contributors, told TPM in an email last week that his site, which was booted from PayPal, was “earning significant income from Google Adsense [and] Amazon before they purged us.”
Companies have also been dropping the domains of white nationalist sites and shutting down their servers, and there’ve been claims of hacker collectives targeting those sites with spontaneous disruption of service campaigns. As Utsav Sanduja, chief communications officer and global corporate affairs director for Gab, a Twitter alternative popular among the far-right, told TPM, “We’ve actually been targeted by far-left social justice warrior mobs and groups that have been DDOSing us on a regular basis and trying to bring down our site.”
Sanduja, whose Gab bio features a nod to Trump, insists that his site is run by and open to people from a range of ideological backgrounds who want to engage in “politically incorrect discourse.”
“We want a discourse that is free and civil and peaceful as opposed to people getting censored and going to the dark web, where there is criminality,” Sanduja said. “We’re trying to moderate it, essentially, this dialogue, and prevent it from getting violent.”
Other sites are more focused in their target audience and demographics. TPM reached out to Pax Dickinson, who was fired as chief technology officer at Business Insider for his racist, misogynist views and went on to found Counter.Fund, a fundraising platform “built by and for the wider Alt-Right counter-culture.”
His response: “Fuck you, Talking Points Memo bullshit artist, I wouldn’t talk to you if you paid me.”
Wilson, of Hatreon, was flip when asked about the long-term viability of these alternative platforms catering to white nationalists.
“If they can’t find alternatives, they’re not mature enough as a group,” he said. “I think this severe reaction to them [from mainstream companies] is necessary. If they have something they really believe in, they should be able to overcome it.”