A grand jury indicted Christopher Cantwell in early December for his alleged role in the violent, torchlit march on the University of Virginia campus in August, one night before the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
The charge is felony use of tear gas, and a judge set his bail at a hefty $25,000. But luckily for 37-year-old Cantwell, when white nationalists get in trouble with the law, there’s a safety network they can tap into. White nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis of all stripes have increasingly turned to online crowdfunding platforms — some that cater explicitly to them – to move money around, post bail for their allies, and organize rallies.
VICE News reached Cantwell by phone on Saturday, the day after he posted bail. Cantwell earned the moniker “crying Nazi” after a teary video he posted soon after he was indicted. Since then, he said, he’s raised over $40,000 for his legal woes, all linked to the violent events in Charlottesville, in which he was billed as a speaker.
Cantwell’s website links to fundraising pages on both Hatreon and GoyFundMe, and also invites people to send him money using bitcoin. His page on Hatreon lists 43 contributors that have raised around $500 per month for him specifically, although the platform says it’s undergoing maintenance and not receiving donations. And GoyFundMe hosts a page called the “1433 Justice Fund,” which has raised $29,628 from 453 people.
The number “1433” is associated with “national capitalism” or “anarcho-capitalists with white nationalist leanings,” according to several posts online that also describe Cantwell as an eminent proponent of that particular philosophy. Those posts also note that “14” references a popular slogan among white supremacists, while “33” is a stand-in for “CC,” or Chris Cantwell.
The conditions of Cantwell’s bail are strict. He’s under house arrest at an undisclosed location in Virginia. He’s wearing an ankle bracelet and is forbidden from carrying a firearm.
“I can’t even take out the damn garbage,” he said.
The New Hampshire resident said he had a lot of time to reflect on what he refers to as his “activism” while in jail. Now that he’s out, he feels especially motivated, and sees the “Left” as a viable threat to his lifestyle.
“I wanna turn it up to 11,” Cantwell said. “In my observation of the political landscape, the Left always just doubles down. And the reason the Right is losing is because we do the exact opposite.”
He also said that he now has internet access for the first time since late August, and plans to catch up on reviewing footage from the Unite the Right rally.
The fundraising activities of white nationalists came under heavy scrutiny in the aftermath of Charlottesville, and in response, crowdfunding companies like GoFundMe, Patreon, and Kickstarter blocked fundraising events for white nationalist causes.
Companies that provide online money transfers like PayPal and ApplePay also worked to sever ties with white nationalists in the wake of Charlottesville, after the Southern Poverty Law Center put out a report saying that PayPal was “integral in raising money to orchestrate the event.” SPLC also pointed out that white supremacist figureheads were allowed to utilize PayPal’s services ahead of Charlottesville, despite the company’s Acceptable Use Policy that explicitly bans “the promotion of hate, violence, [and] racial intolerance.”
But the so-called “alt-tech community” worked quickly to forge its own web of non-mainstream fundraising platforms to fill the void.
Sites like Hatreon and GoyFundMe — a play on the Hebrew and Yiddish word meaning “non-Jew” — have emerged to fight what the so-called alt-right sees as online censorship and protect their free speech.
“The most significant new type of funding for the white supremacist movement is crowdfunding or crowdsourcing,” noted a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League. ”White supremacists are almost always early adopters of new technologies to raise or transfer money, from crowdfunding to bitcoin.”
Cantwell said he’s grateful for the “heartwarming support” he’s received online, but he’s not the only one benefiting from the fundraising network.
Tony Hovater, a founding member of the Traditionalist Worker’s Party, lost his job after he was recently profiled by the New York Times. According to a page on GoyFundMe, more than 200 people have donated a total of more than $8,500 to Hovater and his wife. Another page has raised more than $3,000 for Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler’s legal defense. Kessler was indicted in October on a single felony perjury charge that carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.
The emergence of online crowdfunding platforms is a troubling development in the eyes of far-right watchdogs. Lack of funding has in the past been a hurdle for white supremacist groups, who are often shut out of traditional means of raising and transferring money. But with crowdfunding, that’s less of a problem for the far right. “This raises the disturbing possibility that some white supremacists may become better funded in the future than they have been in the past,” the ADL report states.
Cantwell faces anywhere from five to 20 years in prison, if convicted, and a fine of up to $100,000. His pretrial hearing is scheduled for Jan.31, and his trial is slated for Feb. 12.