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How Australian far-right extremists fundraise online

Posted By on August 20, 2021 @ 14:00

As the Australian parliament continues its inquiry into extremist movements and radicalism [1], it’s vital that attention be paid to the ways online funding mechanisms can be exploited by individuals and groups promoting right-wing extremist (RWE) ideologies in Australia.

In a new report from ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre, Buying and selling extremism [2], I provide a preliminary map of the local RWE online funding ecosystem. The report examines nine Australian Telegram channels that share RWE content and finds they are linked to more than 20 different potential funding mechanisms. These include microdonation websites, merchandise sales and cryptocurrencies, as well as new live-streaming platforms such as DLive.

In general, these platforms weren’t built for RWE content. But while mainstream fundraising services such as PayPal and Patreon were found in the sample, the increased scrutiny paid to RWE content by mainstream social media companies appears to have encouraged these groups to move to a range of alternative online platforms that provide additional ways to earn money. In fact, even if accounts have been stripped of their ability to earn money on DLive and YouTube, for example, new services such as Entropy encourage users to port a livestream from those sites and continue to receive paid ‘chats’.

While some funding requests were for specific purposes, such as paying legal fees, others seemed framed largely as a means of supporting the production of content, such as livestream shows in which RWE content is discussed and promoted. This may mirror a social media ‘influencer’ model, in which individuals are rewarded for the entertainment value and perceived credibility of the material they create online—or for ostensibly ‘living’ the ideology they propagate, much like wellness ‘influencers’ who use online platforms such as Instagram to embody their health approach and build audiences [3] ‘off the appeal of intimacy, authenticity and integrity’.

Of course, the online funding ecosystem could also lead people to make RWE content simply to court money and attention rather than to demonstrate an ideological commitment. However, distinguishing between the social harms caused by those who are dedicated to right-wing extremism and those who are only exploiting a fundraising or profile-raising opportunity is complex. This ‘influencer’ model also demonstrates a potential impact of more leaderless or decentralised strategies [4] on fundraising approaches.

The fundraising facilitated by these alternative platforms has the potential not only to increase the resources of groups and individuals linked to right-wing extremism, but also to be a means of building the RWE community both in Australia and with overseas groups, and to be a vector for spreading RWE propaganda through the engagement inherent in fundraising efforts. The funding platforms being used in Australia mirror those used by RWE figures overseas [5], and funding requests being made here are being boosted online by foreign actors.

Indeed, another important factor is how funding drives can act as an additional point of connection between RWE entities in Australia and overseas. We found that fundraising requests published by some Australian individuals and groups are being forwarded and promoted in British, Canadian and American RWE Telegram channels, some with tens of thousands of subscribers, potentially helping to build ties between Australia-based RWE ‘influencers’ and similar figures overseas.

For example, we observed pleas for support for Thomas Sewell’s legal fund forwarded into North American RWE Telegram channels (see figure 1). Again, some of them have tens of thousands of subscribers. Sewell is associated with the white supremacist National Socialist Network, among other groups, and faced armed robbery, assault and violent disorder charges [6] as recently as June 2021.

Figure 1: Calls for funding created in March 2021 in a Telegram channel associated with Tom Sewell and forwarded into a sample of Australian and overseas RWE and conspiracy theory channels (channel subscriber numbers recorded in July 2021)

Any response must, of course, include strong policies and programs to address the drivers of right-wing extremism. However, another strategy that Australian law enforcement, intelligence agencies, policymakers and civil society should explore involves scrutinising the financial incentives that can help sustain and grow RWE movements. This response should include examining whether emerging online funding platforms have obligations under Australian laws aimed at countering terrorism financing, as well as enhancing the transparency and accountability of platform policies and enforcement actions related to fundraising activity by individuals and groups promoting RWE and other extremist content.

The Australian government should also create systems to better monitor hate crimes and incidents that can be used to assess linkages of crimes to extremist ideologies and groups, and to track trends to inform the formulation of policy responses related to RWE fundraising. Likewise, more research should be supported to examine the relationships between online content creation and fundraising by RWE online influencers, radicalisation and mobilisation to violence, and the potential financial and social-influence appeal of online funding and content-production mechanisms when disengaging people from RWE groups and movements.



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URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/how-australian-far-right-extremists-fundraise-online/

URLs in this post:

[1] inquiry into extremist movements and radicalism: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Intelligence_and_Security/ExtremistMovements

[2] Buying and selling extremism: https://www.aspi.org.au/report/buying-and-selling-extremism

[3] build audiences: https://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/22109/

[4] more leaderless or decentralised strategies: https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/confronting-the-challenge-of-post-organisational-extremism/

[5] mirror those used by RWE figures overseas: https://www.isdglobal.org/isd-publications/bankrolling-bigotry/

[6] faced armed robbery, assault and violent disorder charges: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-09/thomas-sewell-bail-denied-for-soldier-white/100202152

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