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SPLC’s Lecia Brooks: Congress Must Take Urgent Steps to Prevent Hate Groups from Raising Money Online

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Lecia Brooks, chief of staff for the Southern Poverty Law Center, testified before the House Committee on Financial Services about how far-right extremists and white supremacists fund operations like the January 6 assault on Capitol Hill — and the steps federal officials and lawmakers need to take to choke off their funding and prevent future violence. 
As part of a description of the state of domestic extremism today, Brooks explained that extremist groups, including the Proud Boys and those behind the “Stop the Steal” movement, are raising funds through the distribution of propaganda and the live-streaming of videos, including some showing the riot on Capitol Hill as it unfolded. At the same time, crowdfunding sites — especially Hatreon, a platform created by a prominent anti-government extremist — are serving as a buffer between extremists and banks or online payment systems, allowing them to use their services even if they have been banned. 
“Extremists and their supporters post crowdfunding campaigns across social media sites, reaching a wide audience and, in some cases, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Brooks told the committee, noting that more than a dozen GoFundMe campaigns were created to support travel expenses for the January 6 rally. “Crowdfunding sites played a critical role in the Capitol insurrection, providing monetary support that allowed people to travel to Washington, D.C.”
Brooks emphasized the need for the federal government to require regular, mandatory reporting by technology service providers to document abuse of their systems including financial support of violence, harassment, and terrorism. For example, GiveFundGo has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to extremists’ legal defense funds. The site helped raise more than $500,000 for accused murderer Kyle Rittenhouse. After Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio destroyed two BLM signs that belonged to historic Black churches at a Stop the Steal protest in Washington, D.C., in December, the site raised more than $100,000 to fund his legal defense. And when it first launched, Hatreon collected about $25,000 a month in donations, mostly for white supremacists. 
Brooks also flagged the growing danger posed by the continued proliferation of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which is allowing hate groups and individual extremists to use cryptocurrencies covertly and evade government measures designed to track the movement of traditional currencies like the U.S. dollar.
“Separating hate groups from their online funding sources will prevent their ideas from reaching a wider audience, and it will disrupt their networks. Some technology companies have taken steps in the right direction, but both government and internet companies must do far more to combat extremism and hate,” said Brooks.
Included among a number of broad policy recommendations to counter violent extremism for the Biden administration, Congress, and tech companies, Brooks called on tech companies to commit to being proactive in taking financial harms seriously and allow regular outside audits to measure the financial harms caused by their platforms. 
The SPLC also encourages corporations to create – and enforce – policies and terms of service to ensure that social media platforms, payment service providers, and other internet-based services do not provide platforms where hateful activities and extremism can grow and lead to domestic terrorism.
“Data drives policy. We urge lawmakers to prioritize funding programs for research into technologies that can be used to detect and prevent online financial harms while preserving human rights,” said Brooks.
Brooks also called on Congress to implement mandatory financial abuse reporting requirements for internet services operating in the United States, including social media networks, internet providers, banking institutions, cryptocurrency exchanges, crowdfunding sites, gaming sites, video streaming platforms, and more. Brooks also emphasized the importance of better data collection, including an increase in the number and quality of cryptocurrency data sources and an improvement of federal hate crime data collection, training, and prevention.