No cash for hate, say mainstream crowdfunding firms after Charlottesville violence

The man accused of ramming his car into a crowd of demonstrators during clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, is due to appear in court on Monday.
People at a vigil in response to the death of a counter-protestor in the Aug 12 Unite the Right rally in front of the White House on Aug 13, 2017.
People at a vigil in response to the death of a counter-protestor in the Aug 12 Unite the Right rally in front of the White House on Aug 13, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Online fund-raising sites are turning their backs on activists looking to offer financial support for James Fields, the man accused of driving his car into counter-protesters at a white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday (Aug 12).

GoFundMe, Kickstarter and other mainstream crowdfunding firms have policies that prohibit hate speech or abuse, the latest example of technology firms making it harder for far-right groups to organise online.

Fields is accused of killing one woman and injuring 19 others on Saturday after the rally in Charlottesville turned violent. Supporters of Fields, who was denied bail at a court hearing in Virginia on Monday, have turned to the Internet to raise money for his legal defence.

GoFundMe, one of the two leading crowdfunding firms, said it has removed multiple fund-raising campaigns for Fields, because the company prohibits the promotion of hate speech and violence.

"Those campaigns did not raise any money and they were immediately removed," said Bobby Whithorne, director of strategic communications at GoFundMe, adding that fewer than 10 campaigns have so far been posted.

GoFundMe will continue to delete similar campaigns if more are created, he said.

Most mainstream crowdfunding sites, which let people fund projects or ventures by raising money online, have policies that prohibit campaigns that promote hate speech or violence.

Kickstarter, which vies with GoFundMe as the largest crowdfunding platform, said it also has a policy prohibiting hate speech or encouraging violence. It said its service focuses on creative projects and has not seen any campaigns related to Fields or the Charlottesville protest.

Indiegogo, a smaller rival, said it has a similar policy prohibiting campaigns that promote threatening or abusive behaviour. It said it is monitoring campaigns but has yet to see any funds supporting Fields.

The block on mainstream crowdfunding is just the latest blow to far-right activists operating online. In the last 24 hours, neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer had its domain registration revoked twice, by GoDaddy and Alphabet's Google, for violating terms of service.


The rejection by mainstream crowdfunding sites means white nationalists have been forced to use other platforms that champion freedom of speech.

Jason Kessler, who organised the far-right rally in Charlottesville, has raised US$2,659 (S$3,615) as of Monday afternoon on RootBocks, a crowdfunding site that is "free from political or social censorship", according to its website.

He started a campaign called the Unite the Right Legal Defence Fund on Sunday night and aims to raise US$50,000 to sue the city of Charlottesville for failing to protect the speakers and protesters at the rally.

Another campaign on RootBocks that opened on Saturday has raised more than US$8,000 of its US$50,000 goal to support a lawsuit against Charlottesville by Nathan Damigo, founder of white-nationalist group Identity Evropa. On Saturday, Damigo said on Twitter he was wrongly arrested at the protest, in violation of his civil rights.

CrowdJustice, a site that focuses on raising money for legal cases, has not seen any funds connected to Fields or others who were in Charlottesville, said chief executive Julia Salasky.

The firm verifies that defendants or plaintiffs have an attorney or non-profit who is taking their case before they can start a fund on the website, Salasky said. "That filters out people who are promoting hatred and without a legal basis," she said.