Your Favorite Website Might be Indirectly Helping Hate Groups

May 15th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

In a dark corner of Amazon's vast bank of purchasable goods sits R.A.C. Records' listings page, where you can buy CDs by white-pride bands like Skrewdriver and books like I Testify Against The Jews or Faith Of The Future, described as a "basic introduction to the religious dimension of National-Socialism, [...] 'Hitler Faith.'"

R.A.C.'s Amazon page may seem anomalous, like a fluke in the system, but it's just one example of how so-called hate groups use web-based commerce services like PayPal, Amazon, and Spotify to facilitate their funding efforts. It's a trend that watchdog groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) see as a disturbing lapse in terms-of-service enforcement across prominent companies. 

Amazon Screenshot Hate Group

"Basically what's happening is for a couple of years now, we've been agitating with PayPal to get them to hold to their own terms of service," Heidi Beirich, director of intelligence projects at the SPLC told ATTN: recently. "Their terms of service talk about how they won't be involved in any racist activities, you can find it on the website. And they have essentially not been following their own rules. There's more than 68 hate groups that use PayPal to use money to collect dues. Basically, PayPal is the banking system of the white supremacist movement."

PayPal did not respond to ATTN:'s request for comment.

The use of services like Amazon or PayPal by far-right, fringe groups––which the SPLC terms "hate groups"––is the subject of a year-old report on the state of "Financing Hate" by Beirich detailing the discrepancy between prohibitive terms of service and continued partnerships with account holders with clear, discriminatory, and violent bents. At least 69 of the SPLC's listed hate groups rely on PayPal to help finance their activities, according to that report. 

The story has been picked up by a number of national outlets in recent months, including the Washington Post, the Hill, and Salon and has garnered backlash from some of the hate groups targeted. It's also garnered attention from the companies being lampooned for their lenience, which Beirich says sometimes results in a quick turnaround. 

"When we told iTunes about the fact that hate groups were using their service to sell racist and anti-Semitic music, they moved pretty quickly to end that practice," she said. An iTunes search by ATTN: revealed that some far-right groups still have music for purchase through the service, though prominent bands such as Skrewdriver are nonexistent.

But other groups have dragged their feet, despite actively requesting the SPLC to hand over their list of hate groups allegedly using their services. As Keegan Hankes, of the SPLC, wrote in Salon last month: 

Two months after a representative for PayPal requested a list of radical right groups and individuals using its services to raise money from (SPLC's) Hatewatch, the company has not moved to restrict the groups' usage of the service to promote racism. That stands in great contrast to other web-based services such as Spotify and iTunes that have moved swiftly to drop hate content once notified.

(Like iTunes, Spotify has removed some of the more egregious bands like Skrewdriver, but an ATTN: search on Friday still found a few remaining, such as Blood Red Eagle, a self-described white power band.)

Spotify Screen Shot

PayPal has shut down the accounts of some of the larger white supremacist groups such as Stormfront, Vanguard News Network Forum, and the Daily Stormer. But it's unclear why the company is moving slowly to terminate the accounts of other groups. A search revealed Thursday that the neo-Confederate League of the South group still uses PayPal to accept donations, as does the neo-Nazi National Alliance Reform and Restoration Group, and the anti-immigrant site VDARE.com, among others. And as the Washington Post notes, for all payment transactions, PayPal collects 2.9 percent as a service fee. So when Counter Currents publishing, which sells neo-Nazi literature, earned $40,372 through a fundraiser, PayPal stood to profit more than $1,000. And those percentage-cut profits add up taking into account all the hate groups that use the site.

Amazon provides platforms for far-right groups to sell their wares or bring in revenue, despite prohibited listings forbidding "[p]roducts that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such view." Additionally, Amazon runs an Affiliates program, through which any referred traffic a partner brings to Amazon's store gets at least seven percent of the buyer's purchases––one of the ways companies like Amazon inadvertently fund hate groups in addition to allowing them to sell goods. The Washington Post reported that Counter Currents made over $5,000 between 2010 and 2012 through the program, but is just one hate group Affiliate example. 

So how does this happen? It's important to note that companies like Amazon, PayPal, or Spotify (which collects 30 percent of the revenue from songs played though its service, sometimes including hate-group music) aren't necessarily breaking any laws by taking business from hate groups––it's technically free speech. But the problem, according to Beirich, is that while companies like Facebook tend to enforce their terms of service strongly, others only seem marginally concerned with curbing the dissemination of violent, racist material. 

"Basically what we're asking [these companies] to do is to follow their own terms of service and not do business with the kinds of businesses they say they don't do business with––hate groups," she told ATTN:. "[And] basically they're not doing anything--it's quite frustrating."

The issue also sparked a petition to tell Amazon and PayPal to end their relationships with hate groups. It currently has over 120,000 signatures