Edited by Spencer Ackerman
WITHOUT TOO MUCH EFFORT, you can learn a great deal about the 92,844 people who used Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo to give $8.4 million to the “Freedom Convoy” that has upended daily life in the Canadian capital of Ottawa.
The notes appended to their donation receipts express Lee Greenwoody pablum about loving Jesus and freedom. Some feature more sinister invective about George Soros, and some are upset about Black Lives Matter. The information was stolen from GiveSendGo in two massive breaches: The biggest fundraiser—the $8.4 million one—was exposed on February 13; two days later the site was breached again, exposing a second campaign, named “Adopt-a-Trucker.” Pundits and elected officials are concerned about “doxxing” the donors.
But we don't have to get anywhere near full names or other doxxing territory to see some conspicuous themes. Here are some non-identifiable names entered into GiveSendGo alongside cash donations. This information was supplied to FOREVER WARS by anti-secrecy organization Distributed Denial of Secrets (or DDoSecrets):
And so on.
A lot has been said about the commerce between the unique Canadian right wing and the broader far-right movement, and there’s some excellent and responsible data journalism based on material from the breach. But there has been less emphasis on the way GiveSendGo, now a bastion of far-right finance, emerged from the old, analog mechanics of Christian international fundraising.
So far, the convoy’s occupation has cost workers some $144.9 million in lost wages, according to a group of economists based in East Lansing. Convoy truckers have rendered the entirety of downtown impassable by car or bus, blasting their horns in the middle of the city for 16 hours at a stretch. They made the protest an international incident by blockading the Ambassador Bridge for six days. More than a quarter of US-Canada trade passes over that span between Detroit and Windsor. Idling trucks have ruined the air quality in the city. Before they will leave, leaders of the convoy say, the country must end vaccination mandates. Also Justin Trudeau must step down. Also…
Well, after that, the demands get a little fuzzy, because as many covering the protests have noted, it’s a tent big enough for a lot of the far right. Publicity blitz aside, most of the attendees are not long-haul truckers, though the supposed rationale for the convoy is the imposition of vaccine requirements for every trucker who crosses the border into Canada.
Having covered more than one protest that was eventually broken up by the police, I have to say I’ve never seen anything quite like this. The occupation of Zuccotti Park in 2011 was certainly annoying to the people who worked nearby—and the site of some horrible intra-protester crimes—but it only occasionally blocked traffic, certainly not across miles of New York City, because the point was to disrupt business on Wall Street, not life in Manhattan. It, too, was a big tent—it was the first place I ever saw an InfoWars logo—but it was an anticapitalist one, however inchoate, and accordingly the target of massive suppression. At its sole bridge march, the NYPD arrested more than 700 people.
When leftists counterprotest far-right rallies, organizers often exhibit a near-mania for rule-following. They keep to the sidewalk, usually avoid traffic, and expect the cops to pepper-spray and beat them up anyway. Even the CHAZ in Seattle comprised a meager six blocks; the occupation zone in Ottawa is well over one hundred.
Many members of the convoy have brought their children along for the fun. That, among other reasons, has hampered the police response. As I write this, police are announcing that they will take the kids away before they try to force the vehicles out of downtown. Whenever they are asked what their endgame is, the convoy attendees express simple faith that the government of Canada will accede to their demands, lift vaccine mandates, and unseat prime minister Justin Trudeau. It is almost a children’s crusade.
It’s easy to see the militant far right as scheming fascists acting on evil master plans. What’s harder to understand, but what I consider far more important, is how deep separatism and militarism run in many Christian traditions. Violent rhetoric can, uncomfortably, be subsumed into the language of “spiritual warfare" and we tend not to talk about that. As un-Christian as violence theoretically sounds to Christian ears, Christian leaders rarely condemn and sometimes condone it; when they take the wrong side, they quickly forget they’ve done so, and the stain remains. (There’s an entire—very good—book about this, Jesus and John Wayne, by Kristin Kobes du Mez.) There’s been a lot of effort in national media to sympathize with the truckers, but understanding them might require us to look critically at the Confederate flags and swastikas1 on display in their ranks. Christians love to talk about Corrie Ten Boom, but too few of us know who András Kun was.
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GIVESENDGO IS ODD. It’s a mistake to think of the operation as yet another far-right crowdfunding organization, though it hosts fundraisers by members of far-right groups including the Proud Boys.
Mostly in 2017, the far right experimented with its own crowdfunding platforms, created expressly to host campaigns that Kickstarter, IndieGogo, and others had kicked out: Hatreon, WeSearchr, Counter.Fund (they’re all dead). But there is still a need for funding among the parts of the right that don't have consistent access to megadonor largesse from capital—militants trying to crowdfund court costs like Enrique Tarrio, for example.
GiveSendGo isn’t like that. Evangelical Christians rely on funding networks of laypeople for a wide variety of community projects, from soup kitchens to missionary trips to funerals. Some of that money can come from the weekly collection plate intake, but some is more formal and direct, with Christians pledging to help friends to the tune of $20 or $15 or $100 a month when they go off to do God’s work—sometimes directly for churches or denominations, but sometimes for “parachurch” organizations like InterVarsity or Youth With a Mission. GiveSendGo is a crowdfunding platform, but it is mimicking the American church’s own analog networks, not GoFundMe.
The typical GiveSendGo campaign doesn’t benefit a grubby little fascist who has made himself unemployable by tweeting slurs. Many are simply for medical bills for sick children or memorial funds for widows, widowers, and parents who have lost children. Others are stranger—providing an interesting record of the Christian financial world.
Take the Let Them Live Action Corporation, an anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy” center with several full-time staff, which solicits cash for pregnant people to keep them from having abortions. Or consider another campaign, which, in language modeled on sponsor-a-starving-child direct-response ads, exhorts generous coreligionists to “Help us save a Gen Z student from falling prey to the lies of leftist Marxists” by donating to Summit Ministries, a Colorado-based youth outreach program that publishes its own homeschool curricula and holds seminars. Summit's president, Jeff Myers, made $268,000 in 2020, according to its last 990 filing. Gateway Pundit author Jim Hoft—whose influential blog was once hosted by right-wing Catholic magazine First Things—raised more than $100,000 for the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. Yet another crowdfunder runs a Christian halfway house called Broken to Blessed Rehab, where he seeks to convert homeless men in Israel to Christianity. (He uses GoFundMe as well. Also pseudonyms.)
The campaigns are represented on a map of the world by little tongues of flame—the traditional symbol of the spirit of God as it descended on the apostles in the New Testament book of Acts. Here, the map seems to say, are all the places where the Holy Spirit is at work.
Talia Lavin wrote a fascinating profile of Heather Wilson and Jacob Wells, the sibling co-founders of GiveSendGo. It’s worth a read in its entirety, but this excerpt leapt out at me:
When asked about the consistent pattern of hate group members fundraising on the site, Wells expressed doubt that the Proud Boys really were a hate group, explaining that he had visited their website and found it lacking in statements explicitly embracing discrimination. “Unfortunately, the media does have an agenda with the things they portray, whether it’s social media or other forms of media,” Wells said. “What are their core beliefs? Is it misconstrued by the media?” When I pointed out that the Canadian government had recently designated the Proud Boys as a terrorist group, Wells answered that this should be just one factor to consider. “We are learning just like everyone else,” he added.
This is not an uncommon attitude in churches and in Christian businesses: If you seek out association with a Christian group, you are often endeared to them simply by doing that. The details can be sorted out later.
Their approach to operational security also appears to be faith-based. GiveSendGo has been breached repeatedly—despite being warned about the possibility by reporter Mikael Thalen—and the resulting data has put its uglier side on display. One breach revealed the donors to fundraisers for Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd, and teenage vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse. A second included ID documents “uploaded onto GiveSendGo’s publicly accessible Amazon-hosted S3 bucket in a sub-directory apparently labeled ‘legacy/stripe_document’,” according to DDoSecrets. (This is very bad opsec.) A third breach exposed personally-identifying information of all the donors to the platform’s biggest “Freedom Convoy” fundraiser (there’s more than one).
That most recent breach, which occurred just a few days ago, revealed the same information about all the donors to another huge fundraiser, Adopt-A-Trucker, as well as data from payment processor Stripe, which probably bodes ill for GiveSendGo’s relationship with that company. It also revealed historical donor data—information about old campaigns. It also included photos of drivers licenses and passports used to verify the identities of the people who started campaigns. Messy stuff.
So part of this post is me planting a flag. I’d like to dig further into the data that I have, and when I’m confident in my findings I’ll publish them here. I don’t have the technical proficiency to mine this latest breach for the kind of information that would expose the overlap among donors across funders and campaigns here, but a number of my peers do. That information may not even be in these data dumps, but nothing about the way GiveSendGo has comported itself suggests that they took the kind of care necessary to obscure or purge it.
Many far-right organizations claim, often and loudly, to be acting on their Christian faith. The shift of the dregs of the far right over to an explicitly Christian organization ought to worry Christians who disagree with that interpretation of Jesus’ teachings. But it doesn’t appear to be meeting much resistance, and, as these breaches and leaks continue, there will be more scrutiny on the extent of the overlap in funding between the kind of fascist street violence that is endangering Ottawa and para-church organizations that claim to help the underprivileged. My hopes and my expectations are very far apart.
Yes I understand that the swastikas were supposed to be saying that Justin Trudeau is a Nazi. No, I don’t care. That is also a bad use of the swastika. CERTIFIED JEW SPENCER ACKERMAN JUMPING IN HERE: I see your edgelord am-I-or-am-I-not-embracing-an-emblem-of-genocide shit.