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SPLC Testifies Before Congress: Lecia Brooks tells a congressional committee that far-right extremists are exploiting internet technology to create a more dangerous movement

SPLC Chief of Staff Lecia Brooks testified today before the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Security, International Development about how far-right extremists are exploiting internet technology to create a broader, more decentralized and more dangerous movement; how the movement finances itself; and what steps we must take to confront the threat.

Brooks delivered the following oral remarks, in addition to written testimony.

My name is Lecia Brooks and I am the chief of staff of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

For 50 years, SPLC has been a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond.

We work in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements and advance the human rights of all people.

The SPLC began tracking white supremacist activity in the 1980s.

Each year since 1990, we have conducted a census of hate groups operating across the U.S. as part of our annual Year in Hate and Extremism report. 

Our 2020 report, released this month, documented a decline in the number of hate groups, but not a decline in the strength and momentum of their movement.

As the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill siege affirmed, their threat to our democracy has not diminished.

Far-right extremists are exploiting internet technology to create a broader, more decentralized and more dangerous movement. 

The proliferation of numerous internet platforms has allowed individuals to engage with potentially violent movements – like QAnon and Boogaloo – without being card-carrying members of a particular group.

Our testimony outlines how this movement finances itself in the decentralized way in which they now operate.

The funding and financing of hate groups in this decentralized landscape is also changing in important ways. In the past, hate groups raised money by charging dues, selling products or requiring the purchase of uniforms. Today, some white nationalist groups and personalities are raising funds through the distribution of propaganda itself.

In November, SPLC researchers reported that dozens of extremist groups were earning thousands of dollars per month on a popular livestreaming platform called DLive.

As the post-election period became dominated by former President Trump’s false assertion that the election was fraudulent, these DLive streamers shifted to video streaming at in-person events branded with the slogan “Stop the Steal.”

Some of those same individuals were featured by House impeachment managers as key perpetrators of the violence on Jan. 6 because they had used DLive to livestream the events inside the Capitol and on the grounds.

Crowdfunding is also being exploited by hate groups to earn money in this new decentralized landscape. Crowdfunding sites played a critical role in the Capitol insurrection – providing monetary support that allowed people to travel to Washington, D.C. They’ve also played a crucial role in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for extremists.

The violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 should serve as a wake-up call for Congress, the Biden administration, internet companies, law enforcement and public officials at every level.

But we have had wake-up calls before. Many of them in fact, including Charleston in 2015, Charlottesville in 2017 and Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso in 2019.

As we all saw last month, we can no longer afford inaction.

Some technology companies have taken steps in the right direction to combat the rise of hate and extremism on their platforms. But both government and internet companies must do far more.

Let me close by highlighting five policy recommendations we included in our testimony:

  • Tech companies must create and enforce terms of service to ensure that they do not become platforms for hate. They should prevent their sites from being used by extremist organizations to raise money for their illegal actions.
     
  • These companies should commit to much more transparency and regular outside audits to measure the financial harms caused by their platforms.
     
  • Congress should prioritize funding programs for research into technologies that can be used to detect and prevent online financial harms while preserving human rights.
     
  • Congress should reject legislation to create a new federal criminal domestic terrorism statute. If the past is prologue, such a statute could be used to expand racial profiling or even be wielded to surveil and investigate communities of color and political opponents in the name of national security.
     
  • Finally, we should make concerted efforts – across government – to improve federal hate crime data collection, training and prevention. Data drives policy. We cannot address hate violence unless we measure it properly.

Thank you for holding this important hearing. 

SPLC looks forward to working with you as you continue to focus your urgent attention on this important issue.

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