Cryptocurrency like Bitcoin and the technology that supports it, blockchain, have been making headlines for several years. Once a topic reserved primarily for techies, it is virtually impossible to utilize social media, read magazines, or even listen to news reports without encountering references to blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.
From the volatility of cryptocurrency itself to the use of blockchain technology for revolutionizing industries with freight coin and mint health blockchain, you cannot turn on your television without hearing about issues of cryptocurrency market ebb and flow, ICO startups, and lawyers like Aaron Kelly helping businesses navigate this new world of tokens and smart contracts.
More recently, however, has been a growing concern that cryptocurrency, an anonymous digital currency, will be utilized to fund and forward actions by extremist groups. Extremists, looking for means and ways to operate beyond the reach of governmental control, were certain to find cryptocurrency tempting. While the level of anonymity inherent in cryptocurrency is not quite clear, the ability to stealthily fund activity is certain to entice people who are interested in taking part in activity unsanctioned by society.
The very thing that is meant to protect a citizen’s private information in business transactions is particularly useful when potential extremist groups utilize it. And while the cryptocurrency industry intended to disrupt the financial status quo, redistribute wealth, and promote prosperity, it is possible that such technology can play a huge role in increasing racial tensions in America.
Richard Spencer, for example, a prominent and outspoken member of the alt-right that advocates racist, anti-Semitic, and sexist views, went so far as to declare bit “the currency of the alt-right” in a Tweet in March of 2017. The cryptocurrency is attractive to those, like Spencer, who believe in anti-Semitic conspiracies about Jewish overlords who are engineering society through the control of the central banking system.
More than a means to make money, the decentralized, deregulated currency is also a political statement of sorts. Believing that the banks are part of a world conspiracy means that extremists will believe in only two ways to conduct financial transactions. “It’s either cash or bitcoin,” states John Bambenek, the developer of the neo-Nazi bitcoin transactions tracker and renowned cybersecurity expert. And after the Charlottesville protests, many white nationalists, having lost their access to money-transferring services like PayPal, turned to bitcoin and created wallets to explore and experiment more fully with the apolitical cryptocurrency.
In the past six months, while the price of bitcoin has soared, white nationalist wealth has grown, allowing some of American’s most pernicious celebrity racists to rake in thousands of dollars in a single day. According to Jack Smith of Mic, “Bitcoin’s been particularly useful for Andrew Anglin, a neo-Nazi leader who’s been in and out of the public eye since the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a potentially debilitating lawsuit against him. Bambenek has estimated that Anglin has taken in about $250,000 in bitcoin since 2014.”
The Daily Stormer, an American neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and Holocaust denial news website, “withdrew $64,353, reaping the early rewards of the bitcoin boom, shortly after making about $2,202 in just one day.” So, what does all this mean for the future of Bitcoin and its contribution to the ever-increasing racial tensions in America?
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is currently tracking an estimated two hundred Bitcoin wallets owned by right-wing extremists, and researchers indicate that they have seen an increase in people on the far right moving their assets into the digital currency. While it appears they are currently utilizing it “for ordinary purposes,” it must be noted that Bitcoin, particularly because of its characteristic anonymity, “allows people in the movement to go beyond cash in an envelope or a check,” says Heidi Beirich, Intelligence Project head at SPLC.
And this is likely to continue. According to the Business Insider, neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists will continue to utilize the cryptocurrencies. As online payment services like Apple Pay and PayPal continue to stop transactions by alt-right organizations and activists, and tech companies like Google ban right-wing extremist users or disband their websites, there will be little alternative for them but to capitalize on the blockchain technology that continues to develop and the cryptocurrencies associated with it.
Even in countries other than the US, right-wing extremists like the Identitarians in Germany, whose accounts were frozen, have turned to Litecoin and Ripple to fund and forward their agenda.
What are your thoughts about the connection between technology and cryptocurrency and the proliferation of the alt-right agenda?