Cryptocurrencies offer patrons the chance to skirt traditional payment systems, like banks or services like PayPal. This is especially useful if you’re someone likely to get kicked by those companies, such as a cybercriminal, radical transparency activist, or hate group.
But while white supremacists and Nazis have long used bitcoin, some are also increasingly dipping their toes into one of the virtual currency’s more privacy-focused cousins: Monero.
“Donate CPU time to the Nordic resistance movement,” a translated section of the website for Nordiska Motståndsrörelsen, a neo-Nazi movement with a presence in Finland, Norway, and Sweden, reads.
By running a certain page of the website in their browser, Nordiska Motståndsrörelsen supporters can try and mine Monero, in just the same way as criminals have hijacked websites to generate digital currency on their behalf, or how some media organizations are experimenting with user-side Monero mining. The Nordiska Motståndsrörelsen website also lets supporters donate Monero directly by scanning a QR-code.
What separates Monero from Bitcoin is extra privacy features. Whereas all of the information on Bitcoin’s ledger is viewable by anybody, Monero’s is partially obfuscated, making it much more difficult to trace the movement of Monero, or how much someone may have in their possession. When using the Monero blockchain exploring website Monero Blocks to try and look up a specific user’s address, the website returns the message, “Hmmm… it really looks like you were, like, trying to check out this dude's balance. Well, Monero says 'No'!”
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As well as being able to mine the currency in a browser and without specialized equipment, this focus on privacy is likely why at least some neo-Nazis are encouraging more supporters to use Monero. That additional privacy may help combat the increased centralization, bottle-necking, and scrutiny of Bitcoin, especially when it comes to using the currency with online wallet or trading services.
“A number of people in the alt-right have found that their Coinbase account has been suspended for donating money,” notorious neo-Nazi Andrew ‘Weev’ Auernheimer said in a video praising Monero in August. He also claimed a friend who isn’t involved in the far right—a “normie”—had a Bitcoin account frozen unexpectedly. So, with Monero, exchanges are typically going to have a harder time determining whether a transaction is illicit or connected to anything that may violate their own policies.
“Thanks shitlibs for making bitcoin less reliable than fiat for the first time ever. send me monero fam,” the description of Weev’s video reads.
Apparently it is not totally impossible to trace at least some Monero transactions, however, or at least the transfer of funds from Bitcoin into Monero. In December John Bambenek, VP of Security Research and Intelligence at ThreatSTOP, and who previously created a bot to track neo-Nazis’ bitcoin, published what he said was a partial list of Weev’s Monero deposits. Bambenek also tweeted a screenshot indicating he was banned from Weev’s subreddit after sharing the list there.
Bambenek told Motherboard he is also tracking one of the largest funders of The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist site which various service providers recently banned from using their products. The Daily Stormer has a Monero donation address.
Bambenek declined to describe his method for identifying these alleged Monero deposits of neo-Nazis. Although Weev appears to be one of the more financially successful neo-Nazis when it comes to cryptocurrencies, Bambenek said many of the users aren’t raising substantial amounts of money.
Indeed, the Nordiska Motståndsrörelsen website is unlikely to generate any sort of real income. Last month, hackers loaded cryptocurrency mining code into a plugin used by thousands of websites. Despite the large number of impacted victims, the hackers only made a grand total of $24 worth of Monero. That attack did only last 4 hours in all—dedicated, sustained mining could be more profitable.
But, even if mining the currency itself is unfeasible for neo-Nazis, moving funds through Monero has a clear benefit.
“This is a problem that is affecting people that are around me, and Monero is solving a problem,” Weev adds in his video.
Disclaimer: This reporter owns a small amount of Monero.