US investigators are working to see how far-right groups are being funded in the country and to what extent funds played a role in violence that took the lives of several people.
Just one month before the assault on Capitol Hill in the US, anonymous donations using the payment platform bitcoin were sent to rightwing organisations and personalities, an investigation has found.
In total, 28.15 bitcoins, worth some $500,000, were sent to 22 different wallets in the untraceable payment platform.
Experts believe that the donations are aimed at bolstering right wing causes, however, it was not immediately clear if they were linked with the attacks that saw five people die as protestors attempted to storm the legislative seat of power on January 6 following Trump’s instigation.
The US-based anti-immigrant platform, VDARE, which is also closely aligned with white supremacist activity, was one of the groups that received a generous donation. The neo-Nazi platform, the Daily Stormer, and the far-right commentator Nick Fuentes also received sizable donations.
There is now an increasing sense of urgency amongst intelligence agencies to fully understand the sources of funding that right-wing groups receive and their affiliations with each other.
The far-right activist Richard Spencer has in the past said that “Bitcoin is the currency of the alt-right”.
Bitcoin, initially founded in 2009, is an online payment service that makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to trace. It exists only virtually. Individuals can fund or donate money to causes and groups while maintaining their anonymity.
In a study that focused on how white supremacist groups have instrumentalised online funding methods, found that the cryptocurrency bitcoin “is now often listed as the only public-facing digital donation option on white supremacist websites.”
The founder of the Daily Stormer, Andrew Anglin, has in the past said “Due to activities of actual terrorists, traditional means of collecting donations are unavailable. I try to make this as painless as possible… Bitcoin (or other cryptocurrency) remains the best option.”
A study by the US Department of Homeland Security found that far-right groups in the country now “pose a significant threat to public safety.”
The investigation found that there were more than 6,000 hate groups in the US, and many had a propensity towards violence. Authorities have often been accused of being too slow or underplaying the threat of far-right extremism in the country, often with devastating consequences.
Bitcoin as a means to avoid other restrictions
Bitcoin, however, has also been used as an important tool for Iran, a country that has faced crippling sanctions in a bid to trade with other countries or entities.
Iran has begun work on expanding the use of the cryptocurrency, particularly as a means of selling its oil abroad.
As the Iranian government has increasingly struggled to gain access to hard currency, bitcoin has become an important policy option tool for the country.
There have been claims in the past that bitcoin has also been used to help drug dealers evade the wider banking network in a bid to hide illicit funding.
Some economists have called bitcoin a very speculative currency that needs to be globally regulated.