Monero and the Extreme Right: A Developing Problem

July 10, 2023
Joshua Fisher-Birch  —  Research Analyst

The use of privacy-focused cryptocurrency by the extreme right is a cause of concern for governments, transnational institutions, and those who oppose the growth of violent white supremacist extremism. The privacy coin Monero has the potential to make the extreme right even more durable by allowing for an untraceable, decentralized financial network.

Cryptocurrency use by the extreme right is not new. Like savvy businesses, social movements, or terrorist groups, some in the extreme right milieu are early adopters who recognized the advantages digital currencies could provide to a growing hate movement.

Aspects of the extreme right, such as trends, narratives, podcasts, propaganda, and even groups, in some cases, are increasingly transnational. The extreme right, online and in many cases with an international audience, has naturally gravitated towards cryptocurrency that can digitally cross borders. Additionally, if deployed smartly, cryptocurrencies can be used to hide financial assets from tax authorities, criminal investigators, or courts.

Cryptocurrencies also address two problems the extreme right faces: the financial system itself and deplatforming. Cryptocurrencies function independently of the banking system and do not depend on traditional payment processors. This is important for a community that promotes antisemitic conspiracy theories regarding alleged Jewish control of banking and finance. Some extreme right communities have argued that cryptocurrencies are a way to minimize all interactions with “the system,” aligning with the neo-Nazi ideologue James Mason’s advice for what he termed “total drop-out” (as an alternative to committing violent attacks). Crucially, cryptocurrencies also offer a way around being blacklisted or deplatformed from banks due to reputational concerns or by payment processors due to enforcement of their Terms of Service.

One risk that some cryptocurrencies, such as the most famous virtual asset Bitcoin, entail is transparency in both the wallets and the transactions between the users. This allows outside monitoring and analysis if the right technical tools and expertise are deployed. However, Monero also solves this challenge for the extreme right. It allows the extreme right to do all the above without being surveilled. Monero operates on a privacy blockchain utilizing ring signatures and encryption to prevent unwanted peeking into wallets or transactions. Units of Monero are fungible. A unit of the cryptocurrency used to buy illegal drugs on an online marketplace yesterday might be used to pay for website hosting today and donated to an extreme right group tomorrow. Since transaction paths and wallets are encrypted, the risk that individuals are detected and prosecuted for receiving Monero connected to malign or criminal purposes is extremely low.

Individuals in the right-wing extremist space have published at least two comprehensive guides on safely using Monero in March 2020 and February 2021. Both guides and further tips on using the cryptocurrencies can be found in online chats and online libraries popular with extremists.

European Union efforts to regulate or outright ban the sale of privacy coins on cryptocurrency exchanges are ongoing. On June 26, the cryptocurrency exchange Binance halted the sale of Monero in Poland, France, Italy, and Spain. Despite these efforts, Monero can still be purchased on decentralized, purely peer-to-peer online exchanges. On such decentralized exchanges, fees that users charge each other for the sale and purchase of cryptocurrencies may be higher than at centralized exchanges, but know your customer procedures are non-existent since there is no central structure controlling the exchange. Such exchanges could facilitate financial support to extremist or terrorist groups or other criminal activity.

The anti-surveillance aspects of Monero lead to a conundrum: if researchers and law enforcement cannot track the quantity of money being covertly sent to violent right-wing extremists, the extent of the problem cannot be measured. This unknown is itself a problem, especially because the quantity of untraceable funding is not necessarily the issue when individuals have committed self-financed attacks with limited funds. Monero represents a troubling future where the fundraising activities of extreme right groups and violent white supremacists are hidden.

donate-page-fascist-forge

Donation page from the defunct Fascist Forge online forum. Screenshot taken on July 22, 2020.

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On January 23, 2019, two car bombs exploded outside of a mosque in Benghazi, Libya, killing 41 people and injuring 80 others. No group claimed responsibility for the blast, but remnants suggested an ISIS affiliate was responsible.  

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