Jihad Watch's Robert Spencer Announces Forthcoming Lawsuit Over Patreon Account Removal
On Monday, Jihad Watch founder Robert Spencer told PJ Media that his Patreon account is still closed, but that he will shortly be filing a lawsuit against the company. Patreon, an online membership platform that allows patrons to financially support content creators, had closed Spencer's account last week without warning, claiming that the credit card company Mastercard demanded it.
PJ Media asked Spencer if his account is still closed.
"Yes, it's still closed, but they will soon be hearing from attorneys," Spencer, a bestselling author of 16 books and founder of the Islamist watchdog site Jihad Watch, told PJ Media. His most recent book, "A History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS," was released this week and is the number 1 bestseller in Muhammad and Islam on Amazon.com.
The Jihad Watch founder told the story of his account's deletion on his Islamist watchdog website. A few weeks ago, Spencer set up a Patreon account, enabling supporters to financially support his production of videos for Jihad Watch using a working TV studio. Last Tuesday, a Patreon representative named April reached out to Spencer, notifying him that his account had been closed.
"I've been notified by Mastercard that we must remove your account from Patreon, effective immediately," April, who identified herself as part of the Trust & Safety team at Patreon, told Spencer in an email.
"Mastercard has a stricter set of rules and regulations than Patreon, and they reserve the right to not offer their services to accounts of their choosing," she added. "This is in line with their terms of service, which means it’s something we have to comply by."
April sent Spencer the remaining balance of $475.22, and apologized "for the inconvenience and frustration this might cause."
"I'd been given no warning before this of anything amiss with my account, which at the time consisted of that single video announcing the initiative, along with a note announcing that I would be starting a livestream," Spencer reported. "So what had violated their rules? They hadn't explained."
Not only was Spencer's profile as a Patreon creator erased, but his profile on the site in general had been suspended.
The Jihad Watch founder responded to April, adding, "I see my account was also disabled. Explanation, please." He received no answer via email, but Patreon's official Twitter account responded to his article on the story.
"Hi Robert, we emailed you earlier today which explained that unfortunately Mastercard required us to remove your account. You replied to us but if you have further questions we're happy to keep emailing," the account tweeted.
This sterile and infuriating response acknowledged Patreon's receipt of Spencer's email demanding an explanation and offered to answer "further questions," but did not attempt to provide an explanation.
When investigative reporter Laura Loomer tweeted about Spencer's ban from Patreon, calling it "a coordinated attack by Big tech to shut down Conservatives," the company again claimed to be in conversation with the Jihad Watch founder. "Hey, we've been emailing with Robert today to explain the situation as unfortunately Mastercard required us to remove his account. We will continue to email with him if he has further questions," Patreon responded.
Spencer shot back, "be honest, please. You haven’t 'been emailing' with me. You sent me one email saying that MasterCard wouldn’t work with me, which was weird since I don’t have a MasterCard. No explanation was offered. When I asked for one, you didn’t answer. That’s not 'emailing.'"
PJ Media reached out to both Mastercard and Patreon for comment on the story, and Patreon did not respond.
Jim Issokson, senior vice president for communications at Mastercard, responded with a boilerplate dodge that raised more questions than it answered.
"As part of our normal process, we share information about the websites that may have questionable or illegal content with the acquirer – or merchant’s bank – that connects them to our network to accept card payments," Issokson told PJ Media. "The acquirer would then review for compliance with legal requirements and our standards. In this case, the acquirer advised us that they decided to terminate acceptance."
So, let's get this straight. Patreon closes Spencer's account without warning, and blames Mastercard. Mastercard blames an "acquirer" that it would not even name. (PJ Media responded with an email requesting the acquirer's identity be revealed, and did not receive a response before press time.)
The Jihad Watch situation has not been completely without precedent. In May, Patreon de-platformed Proud Boy Magazine, as reported by Big League Politics' Luke Rohlfing. Patreon's Trust and Safety Team sent an email notifying the magazine, noting that "the Proud Boys have been flagged by numerous organizations as a Hate Group."
This "hate group" label traces back to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a left-wing smear factory that brands mainstream conservative and Christian organizations "hate groups" for disagreeing with them on key political issues such as same-sex marriage. The SPLC has also put out a "hate map" that one terrorist used to target the Family Research Council in 2012. Recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged that the Department of Justice will not partner with the SPLC.
This summer, the SPLC paid Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz $3.375 million in a defamation settlement after slamming him as an "anti-Islamic extremist." This settlement encouraged organizations that have been unfairly maligned as hate groups to consider about 60 separate defamation lawsuits.
The SPLC has also marked Jihad Watch as a "hate group," and Spencer as "anti-Muslim," a claim he refuted on his website.
PJ Media reached out to Patreon and Mastercard, asking these companies whether or not the SPLC "hate group" designation played a role in the sudden de-platforming of Jihad Watch. In the email requests, I also asked these companies if they would disavow the SPLC's "hate group" list. Neither company responded to these requests, suggesting they tacitly agree that the SPLC's markings are correct. This is shameful.
Sadly, even the Proud Boys de-platforming was not the first time a tech company has excised an organization on the SPLC's "hate group" list. Last September, the credit card processing website Vanco Payments refused to work with the Ruth Institute, a small Roman Catholic pro-family nonprofit, due to its presence on the "hate group" list.
Amazon's charity program Amazon Smile has dropped D. James Kennedy Ministries and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) for the same reason. D. James Kennedy Ministries has sued Amazon and the SPLC for this action.
Naturally, all these groups are not alike. The Proud Boys describe themselves as "Western chauvinists," rightly supporting Western Civilization but doing so in an arguably too aggressive fashion. None of these groups supports violence, however.
The actions taken by Mastercard, Patreon, Vanco Payments, and Amazon are extremely concerning, as they suggest that corporations will play the "thought police" and try to exclude certain organizations from the marketplace of ideas, or even from the Internet altogether.
Robert Spencer could not reveal the details of the forthcoming lawsuit to PJ Media, but he insisted the suit is coming soon.