Professor links Bitcoin to 'far right' nationalists. Expert Peter McCormack discusses why that might be wrong.
In an analysis article for the Southern Poverty Law Center, Megan Squire and Michael Edison Hayden note various alleged 'white nationalists' who were early adopters of Bitcoin.
Campus Reform spoke with a Bitcoin educator and journalist about the cryptocurrency's social and political significance.
Elon University professor Megan Squire recently teamed up with Southern Poverty Law Center spokesman Michael Edison Hayden to publish an article linking the world’s first and largest cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, to the rise of “[W]hite nationalism.”
According to their analysis piece, “White supremacists embraced cryptocurrency early in its development, and in some cases produced million-dollar profits through the technology, reshaping the racist right in radical ways, a Hatewatch analysis found,” the writers' Dec. 9 article states.
The online analysis piece also contains a graphic, “Bitcoin Bet Pays Off for the Racist Right,” which details the amount of Bitcoin sent and received by prominent figures that identify as “Alt-Right.”
“A significant number of people who started in libertarian online spaces” began to support “the pro-fascist ideology of the ‘alt-right’ movement during the rise of Trump,” Squire and Hayden write.
The article notes that many of the early adopters of Bitcoin are alleged “white nationalists” and “far right” extremists.
Campus Reform asked Squire why only right-wing extremist groups were represented in the article and if this phenomenon is observed with other ideological extremist groups.
"This article was for the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, so we focused on groups and individuals that are of interest to that organization: those who promote hate, bigotry, and extremism," Squire replied.
A common concern within the Bitcoin community is the impending collapse of the US dollar, as well as the financial and authoritarian impacts the central banking system has had on humanity. The article links these concerns to anti-semitism, noting a “Neo-Nazi” publication that accepts Bitcoin donations so they can “can continue to fight the Jew-owned banking empire.”
Several controversial political figures and publications have had their bank accounts and credit cards frozen, and have been banned from platforms like Patreon and Paypal, making their “ability to raise funds plummet.”
Bitcoin was designed to be maximally censorship-resistant, meaning anyone regardless of their ideology can use and transact on the blockchain. After the Silk Road scandal, Bitcoin was criticized for being used by criminals.
Today, we know that cash is the preferred mode of payment for criminals, with the UN reporting that $1.6 trillion in cash is laundered each year, while criminal activity represented less than half a percent of cryptocurrency transactions, of which an estimated 99% are performed through exchanges subject to the same AML/CFT regulations as banks.
The criticism that Bitcoin is used by the far-right is not exclusive to this article. David Golumbia, an associate professor of digital studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, critiqued the strand of "cyberlibertarianism" among Bitcoin followers in his 2016 book, The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism.
Jackson Palmer, co-founder of the wildly popular Dogecoin, has distanced himself from cryptocurrency, stating, “I believe that cryptocurrency is an inherently right-wing, hyper-capitalistic technology built primarily to amplify the wealth of its proponents through a combination of tax avoidance, diminished regulatory oversight and artificially enforced scarcity.”
However, these criticisms may not represent completely the political culture around cryptocurrency.
According to Google Trends, 12 of the top 15 states searching for Bitcoin online voted Democrat in 2020.
Campus Reform spoke to Peter McCormack, a leading Bitcoin educator, podcaster, philanthropist, and owner of Bedford FC, an English football team.
"The ideology of Bitcoin is guided by a mission to maintain an individual’s privacy in an age of surveillance capitalism and increasingly centralized control," McCormack said. "It has no attributes that make it beneficial to any single political group in society."
McCormack also discussed Bitcoin in context of today's social and economic situation.
"Bitcoin brings pluralism to economics, providing everyone with the power to question central bank policies. More importantly, in a time of growing inflation, a widening wealth gap, and a world where the majority lives under authoritarian control, Bitcoin provides a lifeboat for the oppressed," he said.
McCormack further noted that the cryptocurrency has been incorrectly "mislabeled by some as a technology of the right."
"The rationale for Bitcoin promulgated by libertarians is closely aligned with the issues and concerns progressives have about the modern economic system," he continued.
McCormack, who also works as a journalist, noted a number of prominent figures he has interviewed including the education entrepreneur Anita Posch.
Posch "used Bitcoin to help vulnerable groups of women in Africa for whom denial of sovereign wealth is culturally or even legally condoned," McCormack stated.
"Is Bitcoin used by hate groups including the far right? No doubt," he continued. "In the same way, fiat currency is used by every good and bad actor in society. Is Bitcoin designed to be aligned with such groups? Of course not."
"Bitcoin stands for the freedom, privacy, and sovereignty of each and every individual," McCormack said.
Campus Reform reached out to Elon University, Michael Edison Hayden, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and David Golumbia. This article will be updated accordingly.
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