White supremacists and other extremists have raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars through a youth-targeted, video livestreaming service called DLive, according to a researcher of online, far-right communities.
Megan Squire is a professor of computer science at Elon University who has focused on the migration of white supremacists across mainstream social media platforms and fringe websites throughout the Trump era. Squire submitted research to Southern Poverty Law Center that shows a handful of leaders of the global white nationalist movement are raising significant sums of money through DLive. These leaders include pro-Trump pundit Nick Fuentes, Patrick Casey of American Identity Movement (formerly Identity Evropa), British neo-Nazi Mark Collett and Austria’s Martin Sellner of Generation Identity, who became infamous for corresponding with the man who murdered 51 Muslims in a 2019 terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. Matthew Q. Gebert, a State Department official who led the Washington, D.C.-area chapter of a white nationalist organization, also recently started livesteaming on DLive.
Owen Benjamin, a self-described comedian of the white supremacist-friendly “alt-right” movement who was removed from mainstream websites after making statements praising Adolf Hitler, is also making significant amounts of money from the youth-targeted website. In September, Benjamin called DLive a “great service,” saying that one of the platform’s perks was that “young Zoomers” could see him livestreaming “on the front page because I’m their number-one earner now.”
Like Benjamin, the extremists Squire identified to Hatewatch are people who have been suspended or removed from mainstream social media sites and payment processors. DLive is currently providing these figures a lifeline both to promote their content and make a living from it, Squire noted. Fuentes, a 22-year-old white nationalist who has promoted Holocaust denial on his shows and advocated for the use of state violence to kill protesters, cashed out a bit over $68,900 from April 16 through Oct. 22 on DLive, according to Squire’s research. Though he has been suspended from websites and payment processors including YouTube, Twitch, Reddit, Discord, PayPal, Streamlabs, TikTok and Stripe, Fuentes is currently making roughly $326 per day off of DLive, roughly equal to a salary of $119,000 per year. Indeed, Squire found, he brought in nearly $5,000 on election night alone. Fuentes loaned credence to Squire’s findings on Sept. 14, when he tweeted that he made over $75,000 per year, referring to the income threshold for a coronavirus stimulus check.
DLive is a fringe platform, meaning that it reaches a niche internet audience, and researchers of the far right have until now failed to track it as closely as such counterparts as YouTube and Twitch. The comparative isolation of DLive relative to those bigger platforms has at times offered far-right personalities an opportunity to be more openly extreme. For example, Fuentes talked about giving President Trump a “Roman salute” on a livestream hosted there in August, following the close of the Republican National Convention. The term “Roman salute,” sometimes called a Hitler salute, refers to the infamous arm gesture used by Nazis.
“I don’t want to see anyone Roman saluting,” Fuentes said on a DLive stream, urging his followers to avoid being caught identifying publicly with Nazism, as more senior figures in the movement such as Richard Spencer had done. “I want to so bad right now, though. I want to Roman salute my president so bad.”
Like the more highly trafficked Twitch, DLive is primarily known as a video-game livestream platform, one in which users stream themselves playing games while talking to an audience. For that reason, its audience skews young. Squire described the website to Hatewatch as being “gamified.” DLive participants are incentivized to stay online for hours at a time, because they are rewarded with credit for doing so.
Credits are accrued over time by watching livestreams aired on DLive and come in the form of “lemons,” with each lemon valuing at $0.012. The fake currency lemons, which are more commonly accrued by a user transferring money into their own account, can then be turned into cash donations, given from DLive account holders to extremists. The donations come in packages of one, 10, 100, 1,000 or 10,000 lemons. The lemons are represented by colorful, cartoon icons, resembling something one might see on a child’s game or in a slot machine. An ice cream cone represents ten lemons, while a diamond signifies 100 lemons. A “Ninjaghini” cartoon of a ninja driving a car stands for 1,000 lemons. Ten thousand lemons are called a “Ninjet” and are represented by a happy-looking cartoon of a ninja riding a plane. Squire told Hatewatch that while this system of transferring money may seem juvenile and unorthodox, extremist users feel at home while using it.
“When I started systematically collecting DLive financial data I was very surprised to see that the top earners on the platform – by far – are white nationalist Nick Fuentes and ‘alt-right’ entertainer Owen Benjamin,” Squire said of her findings. “These guys aren't like normal internet users – if a platform is weird or fringe, that’s not necessarily a turn-off for them. Especially if that platform is offering a way to turn hateful speech into cash.”
Hatewatch reached out to DLive CEO Charles Wayn for comment on this story. Wayn himself donated $90 to Jaden McNeil, one of the extremists on Squire’s list, on June 23. Hatewatch also reached out to Fuentes, Casey, Collett and Benjamin. They did not reply.
An extremist-friendly alternative to YouTube
Wayn launched DLive in 2017. The site markets itself as the “world’s first and largest streaming platform on blockchain.” Blockchain refers to a way to store information, such as financial records, in a decentralized, electronic manner. DLive’s descriptor loosely refers to the same information storage system employed by cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Instead of relying on advertising revenue, DLive uses its own currency directly through its site, which forms its basis in blockchain technology. The decentralized nature of the platform also means that the company does not take a substantial cut of the revenue accrued by a DLive user, making it slightly more lucrative for extremists on a per-donation basis than features like YouTube’s Super Chat, Squire said. In October, the company was acquired by peer-to-peer file sharing service BitTorrent as part of an effort to build a network of decentralized platforms.
Even though DLive was founded in 2017, it earned its first major coup against video streaming giant YouTube in early 2019. The tension between YouTube and streamers, whether born out of economic concerns or the result of deplatforming, has contributed to the growth of DLive over the last two years. “Deplatforming” describes the action of tech companies stopping a person or group, typically those who give voice to an extreme ideology, from using their websites.
One of the first major migrations from YouTube to DLive took place in early 2019, when the popular online entertainer Felix Kjellberg, known online as “PewDiePie,” announced he would be livestreaming exclusively there. While Kjellberg claimed the decision was largely driven by financial considerations, some of those who later embraced DLive, particularly on the far-right, were also driven to the site after being deplatformed from more mainstream video streaming services, such as YouTube. (Kjellberg did not follow through on his promise and continues to stream on YouTube to an audience of over 100 million subscribers.)
Benjamin, the self-described comedian with a history of espousing virulently antisemitic beliefs, joined DLive after being deplatformed from YouTube on Dec. 3, 2019.
“We’ve doubled our livestream numbers. … There’s no ‘grabbling,’” Benjamin said on his first DLive stream, aired on Dec. 5, 2019. The term “grabbler” or “grabbling” has been used by Benjamin to refer derogatorily to Jewish people.
“We feel better being in a place that doesn’t hate us,” he said.
A new fundraising tool for extremists
Squire tracked the transactions made by 75 extremist accounts, starting on April 16, when DLive initiated its current system of financial exchange. Though only 56 of these accounts had received donations, she found the extremists she selected for review netted a total of $465,572.43 in donations between April 16 and late October.
The top three extremist earners on Squire’s list pulled in over a third of that total amount. Benjamin netted $62,250.75, leading the group. Fuentes was next, and Casey of American Identity Movement came in third.
Thirteen streamers, including the top three, received over $10,000. Many of these high earners included individuals associated with both Fuentes and Casey’s so-called “Groyper” movement, which is an internet slang word for a younger skewing group of white nationalists. Jaden McNeil, head of the Kansas State America First Student chapter and an associate of both Fuentes and Casey, and the extremist to whom Wayn donated money, pulled in over $32,200. “Shalit,” a pseudonymous contributor to a junk news website skewed to a younger white nationalist audience, made about the same. Ethan Ralph, a streamer and podcaster who featured numerous prominent white nationalists on his YouTube show before the company suspended his account, received over $24,300. Red Ice TV, a white nationalist propaganda show that was also purged from YouTube, made over $17,300.
DLive users donate frequently in small amounts, often providing multiple donations throughout the course of a livestream. Still, Squire found that some extremists had received hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars from a single donor throughout this period. One user, who goes by the name “tbased” on DLive, donated some $7,303.85 to Patrick Casey, $4,963.48 to Fuentes, and another $3,688.95 to McNeil during this time. The same user also donated between several hundred to a few thousand dollars to far-right streamers such as shalit and Jesse Lee Peterson, a far-right Christian radio host who has platformed white supremacists such as Andrew “weev” Auernheimer of the Daily Stormer and Jared Taylor of American Renaissance. Peterson has been infamously quoted as saying, “Thank God for slavery,” suggesting it got Black people out of Africa and into the U.S. But he has also connected in the past with extremist groups such as Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the John Birch Society, as Hatewatch reported in 2011.
Some extremists, such as Greg Johnson of the white nationalist site Counter-Currents, have used the site to supplement offline fundraising efforts. On Sept. 27, Johnson hosted a livestream on DLive with Jason Kessler, the organizer of the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, which was promoted on Counter-Currents’ website as a fundraiser. Johnson also offered as an incentive that an anonymous donor intended to give a $5,000 matching grant – the maximum amount of money that can be donated by law to any nonprofit organization without reporting donor information to the IRS.
A new safe space for hate with no moderation
In her research, Squire identified DLive accounts that have used the emerging platform to spew hate without the interference of content moderation. DLive’s community guidelines ostensibly forbid directly attacking people on the basis of immutable characteristics such as race or faith, but on any given night, many of the site’s content creators can be found using the platform to do exactly that.
Benjamin, DLive’s top earner, is reproducing the antisemitic material that caused YouTube, Twitter and other websites to remove him from their platforms. He has hosted figures such as E. Michael Jones, a septuagenarian author who traffics in antisemitic conspiracy theories and whose work has influenced younger extremists. The SPLC lists Jones’ Fidelity Press as a hate group. During an interview with Jones this spring, Benjamin said, “The Holocaust narrative at this point is absurd.”
“They’re turning people into decorative lamps? Like come on,” he said, referring to a war-borne myth about the Holocaust sometimes exploited by white supremacists and other antisemites as a way to mock the genocide of the Jewish people during World War II.
Benjamin continued, bemoaning how his statements targeting Jewish people were received at the time he was removed from mainstream platforms.
“Like my joke – ‘I used to like Adolf Hitler until I learned he didn’t kill six million Jews.’ You know, just stupid jokes like that. They’re like, ‘You have to go away,’” he said.
In addition to his statement about his urge to engage in a “Roman salute,” Fuentes has also repeatedly praised neo-Nazis and called for violence in response to Black Lives Matter demonstrations. On May 28, he said that such protesters “should be put in jail or killed” if they engaged in looting. In the same stream, he invoked white supremacist tropes by claiming that Black people “do not live in a civilized fashion” and referring to the notion of “Black dysfunction.”
In a more recent stream, aired in September, Fuentes called for the creators of the Netflix documentary “Cuties” to be killed. Far-right propagandists have targeted “Cuties” with a social media outrage campaign, alleging that the film promotes pedophilia.
“These people should be executed. Somebody has to be in jail for this. Somebody has to die for this,” Fuentes said.
Celebrations of hate and calls for violence
DLive has a feature similar to YouTube’s “Super Chat,” where viewers pay to directly engage with content creators during a live stream, while the site publishes what they write to them. The feature, since its inception on other sites, has been criticized for encouraging the monetization of racism and hate speech when left unmonitored.
Hatewatch also examined the chats of several extremists identified as top earners by Squire’s research and found that these chats included a wealth of racist and antisemitic content, as well as direct calls for violence. Users can also create their own virtual stickers on the platform, a privilege that has been used to spread the type of dehumanizing caricatures of Jewish and Black people found on white supremacist websites. The chats help demonstrate how DLive’s users are reacting to the content currently being aired on Wayn’s website.
“We seriously need to bring back public lynching in america … these animals need to be taught a lesson,” wrote the user “RuschanGroyper” in a chat attached to Fuentes’ DLive channel on Aug. 31.
Photo illustration by SPLC