Neo-Nazis are getting rich off bitcoin, domestic terror experts have questions about the Las Vegas shooter, and white nationalism thrives in the U.S. military.
As it turns out, being a prominent neo-Nazi could be shockingly lucrative.
That’s the takeaway from the Twitter account @NeonaziWallets, a bot that automatically tweets updated information about cryptocurrency accounts associated with about a dozen American neo-Nazis and neo-Nazi organizations.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the wallet for Stormfront contained more than $30,000 worth of bitcoin, according to the bot. The Daily Stormer had around $300,000. Counter-Currents, a white nationalist publishing house, had close to $45,000.
Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, an infamous internet troll who serves as the webmaster for The Daily Stormer, has received just over $1 million in bitcoin but has transferred all but about $47,000 of it out of the account.
Bitcoin is a virtual currency that can be transferred electronically without going through a centralized financial institution. Neo-Nazi sites such as The Daily Stormer, cut off by online payment services such as PayPal, often accept donations via bitcoin. To do that, they need to publicly advertise their wallet address, which is a string of random letters and numbers. Because transactions on the bitcoin network are public, figuring out the transaction history of a given wallet is fairly straightforward.
John Bambenek, creator of @NeonaziWallets, spent his career fighting cybercrime, working as part of the team that helped secure an indictment for the man behind the infamous CryptoLocker virus. He said he realized his skills could be applied to combating hate when he saw white supremacists taking bitcoin donations.
“I can’t entirely stop white supremacy,” he said, “but they have a lot of money, and disrupting that could be immensely beneficial.”
Watching these accounts through his bot, Bambenek has gained some insight into his targets’ financial habits. For example, Bambenek noticed Auernheimer recently withdrew over $20,000 from his account in a single transaction, though he wasn’t able to determine where that money went.
Bambenek is developing another project to trace who is donating to these accounts to determine whether there are any common funding sources spreading virtual cash around the white supremacist movement.
Amassing bitcoins has been a wise investment for anyone over the past year, not just white supremacists. From this time last year, the cryptocurrency has seen a more than eightfold increase in value.
A theory on the Las Vegas shooter
Nobody seems to know what drove Stephen Paddock to start firing into a crowd of festival-goers in Las Vegas earlier this month, killing 58 and injuring more than 540 people.
The FBI is remaining tight-lipped about what it has found about Paddock’s motive, if anything. The Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, asserting that Paddock had converted to Islam months before. But this theory soon was cut down by investigators and experts on radical Islamic terrorism, who said there was no evidence to support the Islamic State’s claim.
Meanwhile, experts in another field of extremism are beginning to ask a new question: Did Paddock share the beliefs of a loose-knit group of anti-government and tax protesters, some of whom call themselves “sovereign citizens?”
This is nothing more than a question. But two of the foremost experts in domestic terrorism told us this week that they’re actively investigating whether Paddock was aligned with anti-government or anti-tax groups.
“There’s several red flags or, if you want to call it smoke, that’s caught my interest, and I want to know where the fire is,” said Daryl Johnson, who spent six years as the senior domestic terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security.
JJ MacNab, probably the country’s foremost expert on extremist anti-tax groups, said there’s a lot in Paddock’s past to suggest that he might have had an anti-government, anti-tax bent, though she stressed the evidence is inconclusive.
The key indicators Johnson and MacNab point to include the fact that Paddock once worked for the IRS. And his government job coincided with an extremely active period for anti-tax extremists, MacNab said.
“It’s a red flag for me that he started collecting (weapons) when he was in the IRS around 1982 in Southern California, which is a hub of tax protesters, including lots and lots of former IRS people. He was also a private pilot, which is a hub of tax protesters,” MacNab said.
MacNab, a fellow at the Center for Cyber & Homeland Security at George Washington University, said certain fields – dentists, chiropractors and private pilots – traditionally have been well represented in the tax protester world. She said she isn’t sure why. In the 1980s and ’90s, a group called the Pilot Connection Society in California bilked believers into buying into a scheme that supposedly would free them from paying taxes. The founders of the society ended up in prison.
Johnson wonders whether Paddock learned loopholes and tax evasion tactics during his time at the IRS. There are also signals that Paddock was involved in tax avoidance, which isn’t illegal but could speak to his broader philosophy, Johnson said.
Johnson cited a media interview with Paddock’s younger brother, Bruce, who told NBC News that his brother was a “wizard with books” and recalled how he “used to do the family’s tax returns and juice them so they would get back thousands of dollars in refunds.”
Another media report that interests Johnson is a Washington Post piece citing an unnamed real estate broker who worked with Paddock. The broker said the shooter “expressed dislike for taxes and the government – even selling off a series of buildings in California to move his money to the low-tax havens of Texas and Nevada.”
MacNab and Johnson said they will continue to scour information about Paddock in search of his elusive motive.
White nationalism in the military
One in four troops in the U.S. military has seen evidence of white nationalism among their colleagues, and troops rate this racism as a greater threat than the countries in which America is currently waging war, according to a new poll conducted by the Military Times.
The Military Times polled more than 1,100 active troops. The poll’s key findings:
- Thirty percent of respondents labeled white nationalism as a “significant danger” to national security, more than Syria (27 percent), Pakistan (25 percent), Afghanistan (22 percent) and Iraq (17 percent).
- Nearly 5 percent left comments complaining that groups such as Black Lives Matter weren’t included in the list of threats.
‘Why you don’t like me, dog?’
What happens when, instead of punching a Nazi, you hug him? That’s what 31-year-old Aaron Courtney, who is black, wanted to find out at a rally preceding a speech by a racist this week.
In a viral video, Courtney approaches a man wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with swastikas and asks for a hug. “Why you don’t like me, dog? What is it?” he says.
The man stands there, stunned.
Courtney later told the New York Daily News: “It’s a step in the right direction. One hug can really change the world. It’s really that simple.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Daryl Johnson’s name.
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