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    Join Date
    May 2009

    Default Funding Hate

    ‘A place to fund hope’: How Proud Boys and other fringe groups found refuge on a Christian fundraising website


    Henry “Enrique” Tarrio had already publicized his plans to participate in the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally. The 36-year-old Miami resident and national chairman of the Proud Boys posted on social media that he would direct small teams of his far-right group with a history of violence to wear black and fan out across Washington.

    But when he arrived in D.C. on Jan. 4 ahead of the scheduled demonstrations, he said, “15 cop cars” swarmed his Honda Crosstour soon after he passed through the Third Street Tunnel. Tarrio was wanted on a misdemeanor charge from December accusing him of setting fire to a historic Black church’s Black Lives Matter banner.

    During the traffic stop, authorities found high-capacity firearm magazines in his backpack, resulting in felony weapons charges, according to court records. And as he sat in a jail cell for 24 hours, Tarrio said, he thought about how he would need a lot of money to get out of this mess. Good lawyers, he said, don’t come cheap.

    He said family members had the idea to monetize the support of his online followers through GiveSendGo.com, a niche Christian fundraising website that bills itself as “a place to fund hope.” Within a week, the “Enrique Tarrio Defense Fund” had amassed more than $113,000 from 2,359 donors, according to the site. Tarrio has pleaded not guilty.

    “It’s not just Proud Boys that are raising money there,” Tarrio said in an interview Thursday, noting that his group’s chapters nationwide have used the site to fund their cause. “There’s just so many people that are raising money there.”

    A review by The Washington Post shows that the self-described Christian website has become a refuge of sorts for outcasts and extremists, including fringe groups such as the Proud Boys as well as conspiracy theorists who seek to undercut the results of the presidential election by promoting debunked claims of fraud. Some of the users claim to have been booted from other crowdfunding websites for violating terms-of-service agreements.

    Postings on GiveSendGo show that at least $247,000 has been raised for 24 people — including at least eight members of the Proud Boys — who claimed online that the money was intended for travel, medical or legal expenses connected to “Stop the Steal” events, including the Jan. 6 rally.

    One post asked donors to “sponsor a warrior” and help “buy body armor and other protection pieces for our patriots.” It has raised only $5. Another featured a screenshot of President Trump’s tweet promoting the Jan. 6 event above a man’s plea for help after he claimed that a different crowdfunding site, GoFundMe, had removed his page. “I plan to meet you all there and fight alongside you,” he wrote on GiveSendGo, raising $958.

    The pleas for money illustrate how even small-dollar donations could make the trip to Washington possible for some Trump supporters.

    A Texas woman asked for $500, listing her expenses: $15 for pepper spray, $100 for cab fares and $100 for a room at a hostel, with extra money for food and an emergency fund. She said one donor already contributed his frequent flier airline miles to defray the cost of a plane ticket.

    Another woman pleaded for $400 to cover her travels: “Funds are tight and I’m behind on bills. . . . For the last rally I drove straight through with no motel and no sleep. It was difficult. By giving, you would allow me to sleep on the 5th and 6th and keep my trip and driving safer.” She ended her post by writing: “We’re going to MAGA” — referring to Trump’s pledge to “Make America Great Again!”

    The Post’s review also found that more than $321,000 has been raised through GiveSendGo for funds that promote conspiracy theories about the presidential election.

    Following the siege of the U.S. Capitol, which resulted in the deaths of one police officer and four rioters, GiveSendGo has found itself in a firestorm over the use of its platform to finance travel or legal defense funds related to the events of Jan. 6.

    Several days after the rally, PayPal announced that it would no longer process transactions for the site.

    “The account in question was closed due to a violation of our Acceptable Use Policy,” a PayPal spokeswoman said in a written statement. “PayPal carefully reviews accounts to ensure our services are used in line with our well-established policy, and has a long history of taking action when we deem that individuals or organizations have violated this policy. We do not allow PayPal services to be used to promote hate, violence, or other forms of intolerance.”

    Jacob Wells, the chief financial officer of GiveSendGo, told Bloomberg News that he “broke up first” with PayPal after growing alarmed by its plans to censor some funds.

    In interviews with The Post, Wells said he is “definitely not comfortable” with the presence of the Proud Boys on his site but had no plans to remove their pages.

    “I’m extremely hesitant to trample or walk on that freedom at the outcry of public opinion,’’ Wells said. “If the law dictates that we can’t have things [on the website], we adhere to the law.’’

    Over the past few days, however, the site has suspended donations to several funds set up by the Proud Boys and other Stop the Steal participants. Wells said he removed the donate button on these pages after Stripe, a company whose software enables online payments from credit or debit cards, emailed with objections. He said he hopes to come up with a solution that would allow donations to resume to those accounts as soon as Feb. 1. Stripe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    GiveSendGo drew criticism last year following its apparent willingness to host campaigns connected to people accused of crimes, including Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the killing of George Floyd, and Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with killing two men and wounding a third in Kenosha, Wis. Chauvin and Rittenhouse have pleaded not guilty; Rittenhouse has claimed self-defense.

    Wells acknowledged that the site has at times struggled to stay true to both Christian principles and its commitment to facilitate fundraising for individuals or causes irrespective of their popularity.

    “We’re not radicalized people,’’ he said. “I’m a Jesus guy. . . . I love the message of the cross and the gospel, which is an equalizer for everybody.”

    Wells added: “The mission at GiveSendGo has [been], and will always be, to share the hope of Jesus in the midst of a divided place.”

    A handful of Christian pastors who had publicly condemned the events of Jan. 6 said in interviews that they feared the website could become a tool in what they see as the dangerous rise of Christian nationalism, an ideology rooted in its followers’ intent to take back what they view as the American identity.

    “When you’ve got people waving flags and taking Jesus’ name in vain like this, what seems to happen is that Jesus becomes more of an ‘Uncle Sam’ character than what we proclaim as the living Christ,” said Garrett Vickrey, who leads the Woodland Baptist Church congregation in San Antonio.

    “That’s how Jesus kind of becomes a mascot for your movement and a blank canvas to project whatever your values or vision is of what’s good and right. And that’s how things get dangerous.”

    Last edited by Librarian; 01-18-2021 at 03:25 PM.
    I am The Librarian

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