SubscribeStar Website Lets Extremists Profit From Hate
SubscribeStar, an online subscription platform, is allowing dozens of far-right propagandists, conspiracy theorists and purveyors of medical misinformation to generate almost $2 million a year from fans, Hatewatch has established.
Many of these content creators were previously banned from other subscription and content-hosting platforms because of their extremist content, disinformation or off-platform behavior.
Extremists collecting money on the site pay 5% of the money they generate from fans to SubscribeStar (or less at SubscribeStar’s discretion). This means SubscribeStar and its Russian founder, Mikhail Zadvornyy, are also profiting from the content.
Hatewatch’s analysis also reveals that extremist-friendly content platforms, such as video-sharing platform BitChute, are raising money on the site, making SubscribeStar a major hub in an ecosystem of “alt-tech” sites that allow extremists and propagandists to continue profiting from hate.
Following the money on SubscribeStar
Hatewatch reviewed the accounts of 4,618 SubscribeStar creators, termed “stars” on the platform, and calculated monthly income for each using the subscriber numbers and subscription tier rates each star can elect to publish on their SubscribeStar page.
The analysis tracked the monthly earnings over 10 months, from June 2021 through March 2022. The monthly earnings figures for each star were then averaged in order to minimize the effect of temporary month-to-month fluctuations in income.
Hatewatch then examined each account earning at least $100 per month on average, in order to find accounts promoting extremist content or specifically attracting an extremist audience.
This resulted in a list of 77 stars earning significant revenue on the site by producing far-right, extremist or bigoted material.
Collectively these 77 stars earn an estimated $152,340 every month on average – or an estimated $1.82 million per year – on the platform. SubscribeStar’s cut is an estimated $91,400 per year from the 77 accounts.
By some measures, extremist content is more lucrative for creators – and for SubscribeStar – than other content. Of the 100 highest-earning stars, 51 were producing extremist or extremist-friendly content, earning an average of $2,300 each month. The remaining 49 users in the top 100 earned just $1,743 per month on average.
Until the site saw an influx of extremists from 2018, after mainstream subscription site Patreon banned a number of high-profile “alt-right” content creators, the low-moderation SubscribeStar subscription platform had been more associated with creators of adult content. Although Patreon allows adult content creators to set up subscription pages, the publication of certain categories of adult content on the site risks violating community guidelines. This has led many such creators to favor SubscribeStar.
Hatewatch sent a detailed request for comment to SubscribeStar on an email address provided on the site but received no immediate response.
Money for extremists
The biggest earners among the 77 include such known extremists as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who made an estimated average of $4,263 per month on the site, or $51,157 annually.
Hatewatch recently reported on how Jones’ Infowars website and store enjoyed significant traffic bumps that coincided with his involvement in the “Stop the Steal” movement, which promoted the false idea that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.
On April 18, three companies associated with Jones’ Infowars network reportedly filed for bankruptcy. This came in the wake of adverse judgments in lawsuits brought in Texas and Connecticut in 2018 by the parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook mass shooting over false claims Jones made about the shooting.
In April 2022, some of the Sandy Hook parents filed a new lawsuit in Texas, alleging that Jones “conspired to divert his assets to shell companies owned by insiders like his parents, his children, and himself” to avoid payouts awarded in the judgments against him. Jones has not yet responded in court to these claims.
Jones has been banned from Patreon, YouTube and Instagram, all of which allow creators to monetize content. Payment processor Paypal has also banned him. Hatewatch requested comment from Jones via Infowars’ media contact address, but there was no response.
John Christopher “Chris” Zander, whom Hatewatch identified as the man behind the white nationalist “Z Man” persona, was banned from a range of social media and podcast publishing platforms earlier this year. But he continues to earn an estimated average of $3,323 each month, or almost $40,000 per year, on SubscribeStar.
Hatewatch emailed Zander at two private email addresses and the address associated with his last known employer, Baltimore software sales company Profit Programming, but there was no response.
Other high earners include Tracy Diaz, who has trafficked in a number of conspiracy theories. Diaz, known online as “Tracy Beanz,” is a former Ron Paul staffer who has been widely reported as an early and prominent promoter of the QAnon conspiracy theory that falsely holds that the world is run by a cabal of pedophiles. More recently, Diaz has promoted conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic. In a video guest appearance in February 2021, Diaz claimed the news media had exaggerated the pandemic as part of a broader conspiracy, which she explained as a bid for “power.”
“This was the only thing that has stopped the economy,” Beanz told the host, adding: “They were doing their best to damage the president [Donald Trump] in his re-election. They want people scared.”
In April 2021, Diaz was elected as a Republican committeewoman in South Carolina.
Diaz has been banned from Patreon, Facebook, Twitter and other mainstream platforms. But she makes an estimated average of $2,113 each month, or $25,360 per year, on SubscribeStar.
Diaz denies that she has promoted QAnon conspiracies and claims her interest in the topic was that of a reporter. She responded to Hatewatch’s request for comment by emailing: “I am not and have never been a proponent of QAnon. I covered QAnon as an online journalist in 2018 for a period of about 5-6 weeks, and have not written about it since then, and publicly dissociated myself from that topic.” She also threatened legal action.
Diaz did not specifically respond to Hatewatch’s questions about her earnings on SubscribeStar.
Profit for propagandists
Male-supremacist propagandists also make money on SubscribeStar, including one of the biggest earners on the site as a whole, Carl Benjamin, who makes YouTube videos under the name Sargon of Akkad.
Benjamin was one of the earliest far-right adopters of SubscribeStar after being banned by Patreon in November 2018. His fans now pay him an estimated average of $13,600 a month, or $164,000 a year, to Benjamin, who first came to prominence as a promoter of the “Gamergate” online harassment campaign.
Hatewatch contacted Benjamin for comment on his Subscribestar earnings, but there was no response.
Purveyors of medical misinformation also make money on SubscribeStar. Dr. Tom Cowan was banned from practicing medicine in California following his prescription of unapproved medicines and false claims linking COVID-19 to 5G cellular telephone technology. The belief that COVID-19 is caused by emissions related to 5G technology was spread by conspiracy theorists around the world during the Coronavirus pandemic, and led some people to attack telecommunications infrastructure in the U.K. and Europe. Cowan brings in an estimated average of $7,269 a month, or $87,231 annually, on the platform.
Hatewatch contacted Dr. Tom Cowan for comment, offering him the chance to respond in an email or a telephone conversation. In an email exchange, Cowan insisted on talking on a video conferencing platform, which Hatewatch refused due to concerns about providing video content to Cowan.
Other big earners include social media personalities who have gained fans among extremists by targeting activists, trans people, Black people and Muslims.
Social media personality and right-wing propagandist Andy Ngo makes an estimated average of $2,724 per month, or $32,691 a year, on SubscribeStar. Ngo uses his Twitter account, his platform at far-right website the Post Millennial and appearances in conservative media to attack left-wing activists, Muslims, transgender people and people of color. He has won influential promoters in right wing media, and a devoted following among extremists.
Unlike other right wing “stars,” Ngo has so far not been banned from mainstream sites, and also asks supporters for cash via Patreon, a Paypal account, a Bitcoin wallet and Locals, a subscription site founded by right-wing YouTube personality Dave Rubin.
Previously, Ngo raised $194,605 in a GoFundMe campaign organized by far-right commentator Michelle Malkin after he was punched and drenched with milkshakes at a rally in Portland, Oregon. Additionally, the Center for American Liberty (CAL), a nonprofit led by lawyer and Republican National Committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon, hosts an ongoing crowdfunding campaign to support Ngo’s lawsuit, which alleges that members of the antifascist group Rose City Antifa are responsible for Ngo’s beating. In tax filings, CAL reported that their “Justice for Andy Ngo” campaign had raised $113,468 by the end of 2020.
Ngo responded to Hatewatch’s request for comment on his SubscribeStar fundraising by taking to Twitter, where between various accusations about the SPLC, he said that he would “continue to maintain a broad portfolio of platforms for people to choose where they support my work,” adding that “SubscribeStar should be lauded for resisting censorship campaigns from disinformation groups like yours.”
Along with individual propagandists, extremist media outlets and extremist-friendly online publishing platforms have also used SubcribeStar to generate income.
BitChute is a video platform whose founder, Ray Vahey, has positioned it as a “free speech” alternative to mainstream sites like YouTube. Since it was founded in 2017, the site has been a haven for extremist material. The site currently provides a platform for neo-Nazis such as GoyimTV, white nationalists organizations including American Renaissance, and conspiracy theory outlets such as Alex Jones’ Infowars.
Bitchute has been banned by mainstream subscription and crowdfunding sites including PayPal and IndieGogo, and according to posts on their SubscribeStar page reviewed by Hatewatch, the British bank HSBC has refused to provide the company with banking services.
Bitchute publishes its total subscriber numbers on its SubscribeStar page but does not post information about how many subscribers are signed up at each of the six tiers they offer, running between $5 and $250 per month. Bitchute’s average subscriber count during the tracking period was 4,830, meaning that even if all subscribers purchased the lowest $5 tier, Bitchute would earn an estimated minimum of $24,150 per month, or $289,800 annually.
BitChute founder and CEO Ray Vahey commented in an email that “Bitchute is a video-streaming platform committed to free speech and the right for all ideas – provided they conform to our guidelines and abide by the laws and regulations of the host country – to be heard.”
Vahey added, “As such, we stand firmly behind our commitment as do our content creators, donors, and countless backers around the world.”
The far-right Unz Review website was founded by Californian entrepreneur Ron Unz in 2013. Its contributors include neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, the publisher of The Daily Stormer; white nationalist Jared Taylor, who runs the American Renaissance website and conference; and radical traditionalist Catholic and antisemitic conspiracy theorist E. Michael Jones.
Unz Review brings in an estimated $812 a month, or just over $9,750 a year, on SubscribeStar.
In an email, Ron Unz said that “our website is ‘free speech’ oriented and intended to provide ‘Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media.’ I very explicitly emphasize that I don't necessarily agree with the viewpoints of the individuals whose material we publish.”
He added that “I certainly do stand behind my own writings, which are vastly, vastly more controversial than almost anything published by Taylor, Jones, or probably even Anglin,” linking to a collection of his essays which includes material previously characterized as antisemitic by the Anti-Defamation League.
Hiding in plain sight
Hatewatch was able to find only a few instances where SubscribeStar refused service to any extremist group or individual. According to the SubscribeStar Frequently Asked Questions page: “The approval process is a complex and non-unidirectional endeavor. On average it takes between 24 and 72 hours for our Onboarding team to review an application and make a decision.”
At least one neo-Confederate hate group, Identity Dixie, did not make it through the approval process for new stars. Identity Dixie explained on their blog that they’d been rejected because their hate group was too small.
“Subscribestar says we need to grow our network before they will activate our account. ... Please tell them that Identity Dixie has indeed acquired ‘a substantial number of followers on [our] social networks.’ We are some of the thousands of people who have been banned from Facebook, Twitter, Patreon, SoundCloud, WordPress, etc. Identity Dixie is Subscribestar’s target market, are we not?”
Curiously, SubscribeStar also excludes a small number of stars from being listed in its internal directory and makes it impossible to find those stars using the on-site search functions. These stars, then, can only advertise their account to their fans using their direct SubscribeStar web address, but they remain invisible to casual users of the site.
Hatewatch reviewed the hidden accounts and determined that most of them are extremists, and at least one group appears to be making content on topics of questionable legality.
The accounts hidden from the directory and search include Bitchute, the alt-tech video platform; Patrick Casey, leader of the American Identity movement, the rebranded successor organization to white nationalist group Identity Evropa; white nationalist video maker and blogger Ryan Faulk; and Laura Tyrie, also known as Laura Towler, a British social media personality who is deputy leader of the Patriotic Alternative Party, an organization described by British anti-racist organization Hope Not Hate as a “fascist, antisemitic, white nationalist organisation.”
The hidden accounts also include CTRL+Pew, a website that is part of the Deterrence Dispensed network of 3D-printed weapons manufacturers and enthusiasts, many of whom are affiliated with the antigovernment Boogaloo movement.
The Deterrence Dispensed network has been banned from Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Tumblr and Keybase. The CTRL+Pew website includes instructions for making 3D-printed weapons and accessories such as an “auto sear” that can be used to convert semi-automatic firearms to fully automatic.
In 2020, the FBI arrested Timothy Watson of Ranson, West Virginia, on charges of producing and selling 3D-printed auto sears similar to those offered by Deterrence Dispensed. On Oct. 13, 2021, Watson was sentenced to 60 months in prison after pleading guilty to possession of an unregistered firearm silencer.
Steven Carrillo, a member of the Boogaloo movement who pleaded guilty to federal murder attempted murder charges after shooting a federal security officer dead in Oakland, California, in May 2020, was one of those who allegedly bought a 3D-printed auto sear from Watson.
SubscribeStar’s website informs visitors that it is “operated by Starcling, LLC, a US entity.” That LLC was registered in Wyoming in 2017 with a mailing address in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. An address change form filed with Wyoming’s Secretary of State later that year identifies Mikhail Zadvornyy, who reportedly lives in Krasnoyarsk, as “co-founder, CMO.”
Hatewatch reviewed Zadvornyy’s Instagram account, and the photographs of Krasnoyarsk and upload dates of photographs indicate that he still resides there.
Subscribestar was the subject of some media coverage in late 2018, when far-right social media influencers began promoting it as a friendly alternative to Patreon after that platform banned high-profile “alt-right” figures, including Milo Yiannopoulos and Carl Benjamin.
The less stringent moderation on SubscribeStar was just as attractive to far-right figures who had come under increasing pressure from mainstream platforms in the wake of such events as the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. But this new clientele led to complications for SubscribeStar in December 2018, when Paypal, which had been acting as one of the site’s payment processors, cut ties with the platform amid the initial influx of far-right actors.
In February 2022, payment processing startup, Dropp, announced they had stepped in as a payment processor for SubscribeStar and two other platforms.
Hatewatch emailed Dropp for comment on their provision of payment services to SubscribeStar, but there was no immediate response.
Despite far-right figures promoting it as a friendly platform, SubscribeStar’s terms of service tell users that they may not “harass, abuse, insult, harm, defame, slander, disparage, intimidate, or discriminate based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, race, age, national origin, or disability,” or “submit false or misleading information.”
SubscribeStar opened a second site focused on adult content, riotmodels.com, in 2018. Language on that site promotes it as an alternative to OnlyFans, which has been a popular site for the direct publication of adult content by creators.
Copy on riotmodels’ “about” page states, “Starting August 2021 after OnlyFans announcement to change the business model, Riotmodels aims to become the first alternative and cover Models’ monetization needs,” referencing a move by OnlyFans, later reversed, to exclude explicit content from the site.
Photo illustration of Carl Benjamin (left) and Alex Jones by SPLC