In the midst of international preoccupation with traditional terrorist threats, ideological movements have seized the opportunity to spread their hostile ideologies that are grounded in intolerance, hatred, superiority and white supremacy, taking advantage of political tension in many Western countries. This created a perfect environment for fascism and racism as well as acceptance among considerable segments of society, and led to the formation of a populist wave that swept the public scene. Therefore, far-right movements expanded in recent years and have been increasingly competing politically to reach positions of command and decision-making in some countries.
Reports indicate that the far-right around the world is expanding and growing for years to come. This rise is sustained by growing terrorist threats and confirmed by the statement of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) that far-right cases account for 40% of the cases of extremism that the Organisation fights.
The terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, serves as a stark example of the terrorist threats stemming from the rise of the far-right. Further examination of the evidence surrounding this heinous crime has uncovered the transnational connections that exist among far-right extremists. It has come to light that the accused Australian perpetrator, responsible for the devastating massacre of numerous Muslims, drew inspiration from the Génération Identitaire organization, a far-right political movement, and even made financial donations to its Austrian branch.
From this highly symbolic financial donation, a pressing question arises: What are the financing sources of the far-right that enable its organizations to spend on its agendas and activities? Conversely, how can they be uncovered and how capable are governments of putting an end to them? Specialists advise caution when developing a financial monitoring system based on understanding the nature of those groups, their activities and intermediaries, and ultimately tracking and preventing financing operations. After examining multiple financing methods, researcher Ritzmann argues that unlike traditional extremists, it has been proven that the far-right has an integrated financing system.
Financing is the lifeblood of far-right groups, as well as other terrorist groups which cannot survive without sources of cash to finance their extremist activities. It is worth noting that promoting hate and fueling tensions between different communities is in the best interest of violent extremist organizations.
An overview shows that far-right groups receive funding from various sources, most notably donations from individuals, corporations, NGOs, and legal and illicit funds. These groups may differ in the way financing is secured and managed in accordance with countries' financial systems and policies, but they do not go beyond the following sources:
Far-right groups have relied heavily on membership fees as a primary source of financing, which has been a common practice. However, this method has its limitations when it comes to funding large-scale operations. As a result, the principle of donations and gifts has been implemented to ensure substantial cash flows. Many far-right groups have embraced online crowdfunding and donating platforms, which allow them to quickly accumulate significant amounts of money. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was among the first to recognize the potential of this approach. In 1984, the group's leader, Louis Beam, established the oldest online bulletin board system called Liberty Net. Its success as a PC platform paved the way for the creation of Stormfront, which later became the first website for white supremacists to communicate and raise funds.
Due to the flexibility and easy procedures provided by crowdfunding platforms, rar-right organizations have turned to crowdfunding sites, such as Patreon, GoFundMe, and Kickstarter, which were an important source of financing for their activities. When these platforms were alerted of the dangers of financing extremist organizations, they prevented them from accessing their services, so these organizations resorted to creating alternative racist platforms that did not last long, such as: Hatreon and GoyFundMe. Although there are some restrictions in place, major crowdfunding companies still allow individuals associated with far-right organizations to receive regular donations from supporters and organize fundraising campaigns.
The Daily Stormer news website, run by neo-Nazi white supremacist activists, exemplifies an individual's ability to raise funds by creating extremist content. The site's founder and editor, Andrew Anglin, managed to finance the continuation of the website from donations, receiving more than $200,000 via Bitcoin in 2014 alone, as well as announcing the receipt of donations from people in Silicon Valley and Santa Clara, California.
British far-right figure Tommy Robinson, also known by his real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, has received substantial financial support from foreign donors and individual crowdfunding from around the world. These funds have been used to cover legal fees in his various legal cases, including fines such as the £100,000 damages imposed by the court in the defamation case brought by Syrian student Jamal Hijazi. During his two-month imprisonment, Robinson received nearly £20,000 in donations, with some contributions made in bitcoin. He has actively encouraged his supporters to contribute funds to support his political campaigns. As of October, he revealed having a surplus of funds totaling "several hundred thousand pounds."
A Policy Brief Report, “Buying and Selling Extremism: New Funding Opportunities in the Right-Wing Extremist Online Ecosystem", issued by ASIO in August 2021, confirmed that nine Australian channels sharing far-right content via Telegram, used at least 22 financing platforms, to obtain funds between the beginning of January 2021 and July 15, 2021.
An important financing source is from external parties, where far-right organizations can obtain funds from other extremist groups abroad. For example, the Middle East Forum, a strategic think tank in Philadelphia, USA, provided a funding of $60,000 for demonstrations in support of far-right Robinson, who later admitted that the forum paid £78,000 to cover his legal fees in the contempt lawsuit.
Organized crime has been widely utilized by the far-right, particularly in the last decades of the second millennium, to generate high revenues through a number of illegal activities, such as drugs, illicit arms trade, prostitution, extortion, and armed robbery. In the 1980s, white supremacists looted a car transporting money and counterfeited the American currency. So did Timothy McVeigh, the 1995 Oklahoma City bomber, who carried out bank robberies before the attack, an approach adopted by many racist Aryan supremacist groups, including extortion, drug trafficking and armed robbery. In 2020, US authorities successfully prosecuted dozens of white supremacists on charges of trafficking narcotics, such as methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. Some extremists were able to use technology in their criminal activities. Anders Breivik financed his deadly attack that killed 85 Norwegian students in 2011 by crossing the credit card limit. Financial and electronic fraud and the theft of credit cards and identity cards have become common and a good source of financing for the far-right, since they are easy to carry out and difficult to detect and track by security authorities.
Extremist organizations resort to various methods to benefit from funds obtained from illegal operations, like laundering and legitimizing these funds using clean methods, such as buying real estate, restaurants or gyms, and various commercial activities that earn large sums of money from the sale of goods or services. Among the legal methods of money laundering adopted by far-right organizations are:
- Concerts And Music Festivals: The revenues generated by the musical gathering, which accommodates 6,000 people, are estimated to be over €150,000. In addition to the significant financial benefit, these right-wing organizations aim to connect their supporters, particularly young individuals, through shared social activities that strengthen bonds, foster friendship, and unify their narratives.
- Security Companies: Right-wing organizations tend to establish security companies as a legal cover to train their members to use arms and organize them within a paramilitary framework. They can be employed in organizing events, festivals, and rallies related to far-right activities, especially concerts.
- Combat Sports Events: These attractive events provide huge funds from admission tickets alone, and the organizers ensure that all participants are white, to highlight their superiority and the supremacy of the Aryan race.
- Real Estate: It is an essential activity for making money and laundering the proceeds of other methods.
- Online Stores and E-Commerce: The far-right tends to open various stores. Some prefer popular stores such as fashion stores and restaurants, and others prefer stores that specialize in the needs and favorite tools of racists such as machetes, bows, slogans and racist souvenirs.
With the spread of e-commerce, some right-wing extremists have been active selling a wide range of goods to support themselves or increase the financing sources of their extremist organizations. T-shirts, coffee mugs, special flags, and souvenirs expressing these organizations have spread in online stores, such as Amazon and social media platforms.
The security follow-up of far-right financing operations, and the prosecution and freezing of bank accounts have led to the transformation of their activity into a hidden financial world provided by the trade of cryptocurrencies that are not under the control of banks or financial control offices, as an effective way to hide their financial resources, or enable them to transfer funds to supporters. Andrew Anglin, owner of The Daily Stormer website, reports that after his PayPal account was banned and his bank cards suspended, he received a donation of 15 bitcoins, an equivalent of more than $600,000 at the time. He expressed his sarcasm, saying, “You directed us towards cryptocurrencies, you idiots!"
Right-wing extremists did not stop at Bitcoin, which has carried out transparency procedures that allow the identification of the donor and recipient, exposing donors to prosecution. They quickly started using Monero, a cryptocurrency which makes all transactions hidden. Thus, far-right groups have confined their donations to this cryptocurrency, such as the Proud Boys and the Nordic Resistance Movement, which is banned in Finland.
The rise and spread of the far-right, as well as its major role in social division, highlighted the importance of monitoring the financing of far-right movements and figures and tracking their suspicious activities.
Government authorities in many Western countries are making extensive efforts to combat money laundering and the financing of the far-right, especially in view of the difficulty of controlling the transactions of cryptocurrencies that enable extremist groups to obtain huge and unsupervised funds, giving them power and media momentum, and increasing their security and societal risks.
Overall, limiting the financing sources of far-right extremism is not an easy task. It requires significant and integrated efforts, continuous vigilance, and proactive responses to changes. However, it is not an insurmountable or impossible task. Drying up these sources of financing is a necessary step to contain and mitigate the dangers of right-wing extremism.