In the months since the horrific attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, Big Tech and Democrats have increasingly used the Capitol riot as a scapegoat to target conservatives. Big Tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter booted President Donald Trump and then they coordinated to destroy Parler. Democrats have plotted a new domestic “war on terror” and tried to blame the riot on Republicans who voted to contest the 2020 election results.
Yet something entirely new happened on Sunday. A team of USA Today reporters targeted online crowdfunding platforms that allow people accused of crimes related to the Capitol riot to raise money for their legal defenses. In fact, the article suggested that USA Today reporters actively pressured companies to cancel defendants’ crowdfunding campaigns. The report painted these desperate people’s attempts to raise funds for their legal defenses as something nefarious.
“Defendants accused in the Capitol riot Jan. 6 crowdfund their legal fees online, using popular payment processors and an expanding network of fundraising platforms, despite a crackdown by tech companies,” USA Today reported. “The Capitol riot extremists and others are engaging these companies in a game of cat-and-mouse as they spring from one fundraising tool to another, utilizing new sites, usernames and accounts.”
In a particularly telling passage, the USA Today reporters appear to brag about getting companies like PayPal, Stripe, and Venmo to drop certain crowdfunding campaigns.
Wednesday, a USA TODAY reporter was able to donate $10 to [Proud Boys member Joe] Biggs’ fundraiser on Our Freedom Funding, using Stripe to process the payment.
A few hours later, his campaign disappeared from Our Freedom Funding.
Friday, a USA TODAY reporter donated to [Proud Boys member Dominic] Pezzola’s fundraiser using Stripe. Stripe told USA TODAY it does not comment on individual users.
A USA TODAY reporter was able to make a $1 donation to Pezzola’s fundraiser using Venmo, a payment app owned by PayPal. After being alerted by USA TODAY, Venmo removed the account.
Soon a PayPal account took its place. PayPal caught that and removed it, too.
“Any attempt to circumvent account closures is not permitted, and the company will ban these accounts when detected,” PayPal’s [spokesman Justin] Higgs said.
Yes, it seems USA Today reporters successfully pressured these companies to remove online fundraisers to raise legal fees for Biggs and Pezzola, who face criminal charges related to the Capitol riot.
Independent journalist Glenn Greenwald called the reporters out on it.
“Congratulations on using your new journalistic platform to try to pressure tech companies to terminate the ability of impoverished criminal defendants to raise money for their legal defense from online donations. You’re well on your way upward in this industry for sure,” he tweeted, sardonically. Greenwald suggested that it “seems like 50% of journalism these days is finding new ways to pressure and shame tech companies to silence, censor and vanish people from the internet disliked by journalists. Their main cause is not transparency but internet censorship.”
The USA Today reporters mentioned GiveSendGo, a Christian crowdfunding site that “became a refuge for insurrectionists hoping to raise a buck.” According to USA Today, 10 people accused of breaking federal law in the Capitol riot are raising fees for their legal defenses on GiveSendGo.
The reporters noted that GiveSendGo featured a campaign for Kyle Rittenhouse. USA Today twisted the facts in Rittenhouse’s case, saying he “shot and killed two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during a protest against police brutality,” without mentioning the violent riots in Kenosha. At least USA Today acknowledged that Rittenhouse’s lawyers claim he acted in self-defense, an argument well-supported by evidence.
GiveSendGo co-founders Heather Wilson and Jacob Wells explained their philosophy on crowdfunding and redemption in an interview with PJ Media.
Wilson mocked the witch-hunt style of the USA Today article. “We’re going to see if we can catch people in the act of allowing payment processing for something very legal, which is defending themselves against charges,” she quipped.
“Our whole justice system is founded on the premise that you’re presumed innocent until found guilty in the court of law. You have the right to an attorney, and you can hire one if you want to,” she explained. “Do we think only the wealthy people that have money should be able to fund an attorney? No.”
“If you’ve been charged with something, we believe it’s important that you can get the best legal defense you can get,” Wilson added.
Wilson noted that many on the Left often lament that poor people can’t afford proper legal representation.
She and Wells founded GiveSendGo about six years ago in order to “share the hope of Jesus in the world.” Last August, the site gained national attention after it allowed Rittenhouse to fundraise.
“This wasn’t done lightly,” Wilson recalled. “We decided, after a lot of counsel and prayer, that we were going to allow the law to do its job. Kyle, whether he was innocent or guilty… he deserved the right to hire an attorney to defend him.”
“It seemed bizarre to us that all these payment processors like Discover Card” would not allow him to raise money for his legal defense, and that Facebook wouldn’t allow people to share the link to his crowdfunding page, she said. “That Discover would shut that down and say you’re not allowed to spend your money this way… It was mind-blowing to us.”
Wilson and Wells noted that federal penitentiaries allow families to send money to convicted criminals, even rapists, serving time in federal prison.
Wells noted that companies like Discover are “willing to engage in and allow funds to transfer in one place where the politics are out of it but when it gets political, they immediately jump to one side.” GiveSendGo, however, is “just going to play political neutral in it. We aren’t going to jump to conclusions.”
He argued that the news media often rushes to snap judgments on complex cases and that ends up hurting people.
GiveSendGo allows people to fundraise for legal activities, but not for illegal ones, Wells insisted. The platform takes “the necessary precautions to make sure that money doesn’t go to terrorist or illegal activities. … Every campaign that comes through our site is manually reviewed by somebody.” GiveSendGo follows anti-money-laundering rules and regulations, checks terror watchlists, and does its due diligence.
The crowdfunding site also draws a clear line when it comes to anyone who aims to intentionally kill people. This precludes clear murderers like the Pulse Nightclub shooter from raising money on the platform, and it precludes any fundraising for abortion, which Wells described as “the killing of innocent life. GoFundMe will allow you to fundraise for abortion, we won’t.”
While some outlets have described GiveSendGo as a “go-to page for Trumpist rage, “Wilson insisted that the site will brook no celebrations of lawbreaking or of the Capitol riot.
“You’re not posting a picture of yourself behind Nancy Pelosi’s desk. We do not celebrate crime,” she told PJ Media. “We’re not going to allow you to be flippant about it.”
In other words, GiveSendGo agrees with USA Today in condemning the violence and the lawbreaking of the Capitol riot. However, GiveSendGo believes that people have the right to raise money for their legal defenses, while it seems like USA Today is committed to preventing Capitol riot defendants from raising any money, even just for legal defenses.
This USA Today campaign seems reminiscent of the “Hate Is Not Charitable” campaign Amalgamated Bank launched back in 2019, aiming to cut off any charitable funding from organizations that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) accused of being “hate groups.” The SPLC routinely brands mainstream conservative and Christian nonprofits “hate groups,” placing them on a map and lists with the Ku Klux Klan. My book, Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center, explains the corruption behind this organization and the dangers of this smear campaign.
Indeed, the USA Today article cited research showing that SPLC-accused “hate groups” have raised money on PayPal, Stripe, Facebook, and Amazon. While the SPLC does monitor some truly noxious organizations, its “hate group” list is not to be trusted.
Wells argued that the SPLC’s “hate group” attacks likely incite people to violence.
“I think that the classification of people as haters or part of hate groups actually does more to incite than anything that we’ve ever done by allowing the freedom of ideas or opinions to be expressed,” he said. Indeed, the SPLC’s accusation against the Family Research Council (FRC) inspired an attempted terrorist attack in 2012.
The SPLC has also seized on the Capitol riot, calling for Congress to censure or expel 147 Republicans in the House and Senate. Their crime? Contesting the 2020 election and supposedly supporting the Capitol riot, which Republicans in Congress uniformly condemned.
None of these Capitol riot recriminations ever involve attacks on antifa after the violent riots of last summer (and indeed, ongoing in Portland this year) or Democrats who have denied that antifa even exists. USA Today is not running stories that partially involve bragging about getting PayPal and Stripe to cut off crowdfunding campaigns for antifa agitators.
This latest Capitol riot recrimination is particularly dangerous because, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, it involves preventing criminal defendants — many of whom are marginalized — from raising money for their legal defenses. This “cancel culture” is not aimed at the powerful, but those struggling to defend themselves in court.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.