As explained by the Christchurch shooter in his manifesto, the rejection of paying taxes is defined as “a sign of racial loyalty”. From this perspective, circumventing the tax system is depicted as a way to sustain the ethno-nationalist cause: a fight for a nation which is defined in terms of assumed blood ties and ethnicity.[i]Indeed, before the Christchurch shooting, back in 2017, Tarrant seems to have adopted alternative methods to raise money[ii], proving that, in practical terms, according to his ideology, avoid taxes to fight for his own ethnicity and oppose to present policies, can legitimize the exploitation of cryptocurrencies and, in some cases, defraud other people.
Even though the references throughout his manifesto indicate that he was mostly immersed in white nationalist internet forums[iii], it is important to understand that, through his extremist angle, it is possible to draw a pattern of how white supremacist narrative can change the way people perceive the world around them causing an infinite number of possible outcomes. Violent acts, exploitation of unregulated financing systems, scams.
It is fundamental to take a step back in order to explain and understand the nexus between his views, ethno-nationalism, and the exploitation of anonymous and alternative economic resources.
The extremist and illicit side effects of defending ethnicity by mocking patriotism
A key part of the extremist ideology expressed on Tarrant’s manifesto is related to the increasing and irreversible weakening of white people that, according to him, is caused by unjustified welfarism of governments towards foreign cultures. From this perspective, the incapacity of politicians of protecting average hardworking white people from economic and cultural threats posed, in particular, by immigrants and ethnic minorities[iv], is causing a sort of “white genocide”.
This point of view is the result of a political line of thought that is growing across Western countries,[v] which is shifting states border control or clash of civilizations from an issue related to State security to a matter of personal security, turning white people into victims or directly responsible for the loss of control over the perceived irreversible and spreading disappearance of white people’s national identities[vi].
Indeed, as explained by the sociologist and anthropologist Anthony D. Smith: ethno-nationalism, is a devotion to the ethnically defined nation, as opposed to patriotism that invokes allegiance to the territorial state.[vii]
Indeed, ethno-nationalism can be merged and fueled with a widespread sentiment of individual responsibility or victimhood towards the perception of a lack of security, subsequently causing a feeling of an imminent call-to-action against the oppressing cultures. This feeling of individual responsibility is founded on the libertarian concept of self-interest (either in terms of ethnicity/heritage or in terms of private property) which, taken in absolute terms, can’t really provide instructive rule of thought simply because, according to this principle, each person is free to achieve in any possible way what is in their best interest. It incites people to fight for their right to “be free to exercise complete control over their own person and property”[viii] thus, even discriminating or fighting against foreign cultures can be interpreted as an essential right of any property owner.
A Decentralized currency for a Decentralized order
Then, the exacerbation of the idea of a nation founded exclusively on blood-ties and cultural heritage is able to depict current governments and politicians which are not able to provide any support to defend their people from foreigners physical and cultural assault, as useless bureaucrats, liars, and enemies.
As a consequence, the tax system and banking system become an unforgivable fraud against white people.
This vision of night-watchmen State (that should serve people only by defending them in the age of crisis)[ix] whose alleged legal framework recognizes sovereignty of the individual, rejects the idea of a centralized state encompassing the political philosophy of anarcho-capitalism by embracing the utopia of establishing a free market: self-ownership, private property and free markets at the very basis of a society able to self-regulate and civilize through the spontaneous and organic discipline of the free market. Decentralize and privatize law enforcement, courts and all other security services which would be selected by consumers rather than centrally controlled by a government through confiscatory taxation[x].
Against this backdrop, Richard Spencer in 2017 claimed on his Twitter profile that “Bitcoin is the currency of the alt-right”. Decentralized, anonymous (even though governments are increasing monitoring procedures on cryptocurrency transfers)[xi], and detached from the banking and tax systems, many of the members and representatives of alt-right and neo-nazi groups[xii] were early adopters and many of them cashed in as the currency’s valuation rose in 2017[xiii]. With all the data collected so far, it is a truism that extremist white supremacist groups have understood how to capitalize on the exponential rise in the value of cryptocurrencies.[xiv]
As in the case of Corey D. Wilson, who gained notoriety for promoting the spread 3D printed guns, funding Hatreon, a website that allowed neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and other extremist figures to solicit crowdfunding online, and for being named by Wired magazine[xv] one of the 15 most dangerous people in the world,[xvi] who recently emptied his personal cryptocurrency accounts and one related to his business, Defense Distributed, totaling almost $1million[xvii].
Not only politics and philosophy but a head for business and popularity
The use of cryptocurrencies by far-right and neo-nazi groups is not at all only related to ideologies rooted in free-market, and aversion to the political establishment.
Indeed, far-right groups became more and more interested in bitcoin as its members were cut off from more conventional payment channels[xviii]: online payment services Paypal and Apple Pay stopped transactions and froze accounts belonging to organizations and right-wing extremist activists[xix].
For instance, in 2017 the Austrian Identitarian Movement, Identitäre Bewegung Österreichs (IBÖ) which is part of a larger far-right Identitarian movement with branches in most Western European countries, North America and New Zealand (the group was calling for “Remigration” for European citizens with migrants background or non-white skin, spreading fear of a great replacement a few days after Christchurch shooting[xx]) and their most famous leader, Martin Sellner (who counts over 90,000 YouTube subscribers and 16,000 followers on Telegram), have increasingly been campaigning for bitcoin donations.
Furthermore, recent investigations have led Austrian police to claim that Martin Sellner, received the equivalent of €1.500 donation in bitcoin from someone whose name was Tarrant[xxi].
Indeed, back to Tarrant’s manifesto, he explains that he worked for a short time before making some money investing in BitConnect, an open-source cryptocurrency and a peer-to-peer payment protocol.
If it was true, he didn’t raise money by investing in cryptocurrencies, but by defrauding other people by becoming part of a Ponzi scheme (an illegal scam in which belief in the success of a non-existent enterprise is fostered by the payment of quick returns to the first investors from money invested by later investors) that has been exposed in early 2018[xxii]. In fact, BitConnect was a fraudulent cryptocurrency that at its height in 2017 was worth approximately $2.5 billion but that after a chain of events that started with state securities regulators sending cease-and-desist letters to the company for fraud, led to the end of the project and a totally worthless cryptocurrency[xxiii].
Connecting the dots
As previously analyzed, the exploitation of cryptocurrencies by white supremacist groups is caused either by ideological aspects, mostly related to the refusal of centralized governments (e.g. taxes and policies unable to support white heritage and cultures) and find an alternative source to finance, store and invest money while circumventing authorities and conventional channels restrictions, increase privacy, and keep on feeding their narrative.
Through this lens, cryptocurrencies become powerfully meaningful: a clandestine instrument to help their own ethnicity. Thus, cryptocurrencies become strictly related to the communication strategies adopted by these groups.
According to the elements that have been documented so far there are three main aspects that can be highlighted and accurately be monitored:
- As already analyzed by ITSTIME, bitcoin still allows to detect and gather clear information about any transactions and all e-wallet connected to any suspicious donation (as happened with the suspects of Tarrant’s donation to IBÖ). On the other hand, there are many other cryptocurrencies, as Monero or Zcasch, which are competing more and more on providing the most privacy-centric product, becoming digital-currencies barely traceable.
Extremist far-right movements are trying to push their communication efforts towards a target represented by young millennials, which are usually already cyber-literate and able to master new technologies very fast. In this context, introduce brand new privacy-centric cryptocurrencies to donate money could be a very easy and quick process.
- As in the case of BitConnect, cryptocurrencies, being uncontrolled nor regulated by any sort of institution or authority, represent a fertile ground for scammers. The idea of pursuing self-interest by circumventing governments could encourage activists and sympathizers of far-right groups to look for quick profit by defrauding internet users
- Focusing on the right to exercise complete control over their own person and property, as in the case of Corey D. Wilson’s 3D printed guns, it is easy to connect cryptocurrencies to dark web illegal markets, in order to spread the use of unauthorized weapons.
This may represent the most crucial aspect: the shift from a virtual/financial threat to a physical uncontrolled threat.
[i] UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (July 2018) Ethno-nationalism denies millions their citizenship rights – anti-racism expert. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/EthnoNationalismDeniesTheirCitizenshipRights.aspx
[ii] B. Kaye T. Allard (April 4, 2019) New clues emerge of accused New Zealand gunman Tarrant’s ties to far right groups. Reuters. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-newzealand-shooting-australia-extremi/new-clues-emerge-of-accused-new-zealand-gunman-tarrants-ties-to-far-right-groups-idUKKCN1RG093
[iii] D. Kirkpatrick (March 15, 2019) Massacre Suspect Traveled the World but Lived on the Internet. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/15/world/asia/new-zealand-shooting-brenton-tarrant.html
[iv] Counter Extremism Project (2018) European Ethno-Nationalist and White Supremacy Groups. https://www.counterextremism.com/sites/default/themes/bricktheme/pdfs/European_Ethno-Nationalist_and_White_Supremacy_Groups_081618.pdf
[v] A. Shalal (June 24, 2018) Migration fight erodes support for German conservatives, far-right AfD gains. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-politics/migration-fight-erodes-support-for-german-conservatives-far-right-afd-gains-idUSKBN1JK0HV
[vi] The Economist (March 21, 2019) Why white nationalist terrorism is a global threat. https://www.economist.com/international/2019/03/21/why-white-nationalist-terrorism-is-a-global-threat
[vii] A. D. Smith (2009) Ethno-symbolism and nationalism. Routledge (108-109)
[viii] J. Ganz (September 19, 2017) Libertarians have more in common with the alt-right than they want you to think. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/09/19/libertarians-have-more-in-common-with-the-alt-right-than-they-want-you-to-think/?utm_term=.1d9d3ac77b22
[ix] G. Iggers (1970) The Cult of Authority: The Political Philosophy of the Saint-Simonians. The Hauge Martinus Nijhoff (73-75)
[x] H. Binswanger (January 24, 2014) Sorry Libertarian Anarchists, Capitalism Requires Government. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/harrybinswanger/2014/01/24/sorry-libertarian-anarchists-capitalism-requires-government-2/#6cb1ad7c7d89
[xi] S. Chandler (October 07, 2018) Government Tracking of Crypto Is Growing, But There Are Ways to Avoid It. CoinTelegraph. https://cointelegraph.com/news/government-tracking-of-crypto-is-growing-but-there-are-ways-to-avoid-it
[xii] M. Bell (December 19, 2016) Meet the identitarians, Europe’s ‘new right’. PRI Public Radio International. https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-12-19/meet-identitarians-europes-new-right
[xiv] J. Ebner (January 24, 2018) The currency of the far-right: why neo-Nazis love bitcoin. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/24/bitcoin-currency-far-right-neo-nazis-cryptocurrencies
[xv] Wired magazine (December 19, 2012) THE 15 MOST DANGEROUS PEOPLE IN THE WORLD. https://www.wired.com/2012/12/most-dangerous-people/
[xvi] L. Beckett (September 19, 2018) Gun rights activist Cody Wilson charged with sexual assault of teen. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/19/cody-wilson-3d-guns-sexual-assault-texas
[xvii] Hatewatch Staff (September 20, 2018) Notorious crypto-anarchist and antigovernment extremist Cody Rutledge Wilson left the country on a flight to Taiwan after he was alerted of an impending investigation against him for his alleged sexual assault of a minor. SPLC Southern Poverty Law Center. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2018/09/20/cody-wilson-lam-1-million-bitcoin
[xviii] D. Gerard (March 19, 2019) Neo-Nazis Bet Big on Bitcoin (And Lost). Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/03/19/neo-nazis-banked-on-bitcoin-cryptocurrency-farright-christchurch/
[xix] M. Steinau (January 11, 2018) How neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists profit from bitcoin. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/neo-nazis-and-right-wing-extremists-profit-from-the-bitcoin-hype-2018-1?IR=T
[xx] J. Ebner (April 4, 2019) Who are Europe’s far-right identitarians?. Politico. https://www.politico.eu/article/who-are-europe-far-right-identitarians-austria-generation-identity-martin-sellner/
[xxi] J. Wilson (March 28, 2019) With links to the Christchurch attacker, what is the Identitarian Movement? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/28/with-links-to-the-christchurch-attacker-what-is-the-identitarian-movement
[xxii] G. Terzo (March 15, 2019) Christchurch Terrorist Invested and Profited from Crypto Scam Bitconnect. CCN. https://www.ccn.com/christchurch-terrorist-invested-and-profited-from-crypto-scam-bitconnect
[xxiii] BitConnect value https://coinmarketcap.com/it/currencies/bitconnect/