50.50: Investigation

Revealed: US Capitol protesters are still fundraising via Amazon and PayPal

Tech giants are under pressure to ‘sever all ties to hate groups and white supremacists’.

Teddy Wilson Lou crop.jpg
Teddy Wilson Lou Ferreira
15 January 2021, 4.12pm
The March to Save America rally on 6 January 2021 that preceded the US Capitol ‘insurrection’
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Shay Horse/NurPhoto/PA Images

At least eight groups involved in the rally that led to the storming of the US Capitol ‘this month are fundraising via Amazon and Paypal, openDemocracy can reveal.

openDemocracy research found that six of the rally’s “coalition partners” are still using either Amazon or PayPal to raise money – along with two other groups whose leaders were present at the Capitol. Following the riot, some of these organisations released statements that seemed to justify the attack on the Capitol.

Both companies have policies that prohibit groups from using their platforms if they are involved in promoting violence or hate. Civil rights advocates said the tech platforms must take action – and that their policies have not meant enough in practice for too long.

Amazon, along with other tech firms, has announced plans to halt campaign contributions to lawmakers that voted against certification of the Electoral College results. Online platforms have also taken action against some groups and individuals involved in the day’s events.

Jade Magnus Ogunnaike, senior campaigns director at the civil rights group Color Of Change, said openDemocracy’s findings are “deeply troubling”, though unsurprising.

“Amazon and PayPal must not only sever all remaining ties to hate groups and white supremacists but also take proactive steps to ensure they’re not enabling them in the first place,” Ogunnaike said.

“With a Democratic Congress and presidency” incoming, she added, “we expect federal agencies to launch a full investigation into 6 January and hold all parties responsible – including corporate enablers.”

Enabling hate?

The events on 6 January in Washington DC saw President Trump supporters overwhelm police to enter the building where senators were voting to confirm Joe Biden as President-Elect. Offices were looted and lawmakers had to flee for their safety. Five people died during or after the riots, including a police officer.

Before this happened, Trump addressed the ‘March to Save America’ rally and called on protesters to “fight like hell” against the 2020 election results which he falsely said had been ‘stolen’. He has since been impeached for ‘inciting insurrection’.

openDemocracy found four “coalition partners” of the March to Save America rally – Moms for America, Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, Tea Party Patriots, and Turning Point Action – or their associated non-profits, listed on AmazonSmile. This is Amazon’s donations platform which allows shoppers to donate to charities as they buy.

Turning Point Action, along with two other “coalition partners” – Women for America First and Peaceably Gather – also uses PayPal to receive donations.

Another two groups – And Then There Were None and Rod of Iron Ministries – fundraise via both AmazonSmile and PayPal. Their leaders were present at the Capitol on 6 January and were close to the rioting, according to social media posts.

Trump's supporters breach the US Capitol in Washington DC to protest his election loss, on 6 January 2021.
Trump's supporters breach the US Capitol in Washington DC to protest his election loss, on 6 January 2021 | Michael Nigro/Sipa USA/PA Images

Abby Johnson, leader of the anti-abortion group, And Then There Were None, was close enough to the rioting to post on social media about having been affected by police pepper spray.

Rev. Hyung Jin Sean Moon, leader of Rod of Iron Ministries, was on the Capitol grounds, outside the building, and his group organised a bus trip to the rally.

At least one of Moon’s followers witnessed and wrote about the rioting, describing how “patriots pushed back on the police line” and people around him cheered as others “got further and further up onto the stairs and apparently into the building.”

Moms for America leader Kimberly Fletcher, for example, shared a Facebook livestream video diminishing the violence – comparing it to “feminist” and other protests that she says were celebrated.

She describes the rioters as “good God-fearing people who want to be heard”, who “love America” and “want to save the republic”. She said she did not condone “bad behaviour” but added “I absolutely understand it. These people are angry.”

A polícia retira partidários de Trump perto do Capitólio dos EUA em 6 de janeiro de 2021 em Washington, D.C.
Police remove Trump supporters outside the Capitol on 6 January 2021 in Washington DC | Shay Horse/NurPhoto/PA Images

In a broadcast two days after the event, Ed Martin from Phyllis Schlafly Eagles said: “The narrative the fake news is giving is that the peaceful protest was actually a riot… Millions of Americans feel unheard and that their concerns don’t matter.”

Only three of these groups explicitly condemned the violence or denied their involvement in it: Women for America First, Tea Party Patriots, and Peaceably Gather. The other groups have not spoken publicly about the attack.

Platform silence

AmazonSmile’s “participation agreement” says clearly that eligible charities cannot engage, support, encourage, or promote “hate, terrorism, or violence.”

PayPal’s policies also prohibit transactions involving “the promotion of hate, violence, racial or other forms of intolerance.” The company recently cut ties with other groups that helped people to attend the 6 January protests.

openDemocracy contacted the eight groups who fundraise via these platforms for their comments.

Abby Johnson, leader of the anti-abortion group And Then There Were None said the organisation did not participate in the rally, but that “a member from our organisation was in attendance at the rally where President Trump spoke.” She said “that is not in violation of any agreement.”

A representative of Rev Moon’s church said its supporters “exercised their first amendment rights of free speech” (presumably referring to those who were at the US Capitol) and that it does not advocate hate, terrorism or violence.

Jenny Beth Martin, President of Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, said: "Neither Tea Party Patriots Foundation, Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, nor Tea Party Patriots Action spent any money on the rally. We condemn the violence. We are shocked, outraged, and saddened at the turn of events on 6 January."

None of the other organisations responded.

To date, more than 100 people have been arrested and charged with crimes in connection to the riots at the Capitol, and there have been numerous calls for investigations into the events that preceded the violence.

Reacting to openDemocracy’s revelations, an Amazon spokesperson said: Charitable organisations must meet the requirements outlined in our participation agreement to be eligible for AmazonSmile. Organisations that engage in, support, encourage, or promote intolerance, hate, terrorism, violence, money laundering, or other illegal activities are not eligible. If at any point an organisation violates this agreement, its eligibility will be revoked. Since 2013, Amazon has relied on the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Southern Poverty Law Center to provide the data for these determinations.”

In December, openDemocracy previously revealed how dozens of anti-LGBT groups have been fundraising on AmazonSmile despite the company’s policy which also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

At the time of publication, PayPal had not provided a response.

  • This article was amended on Monday 18 January to add comments from Rev Moon’s church and Tea Party Patriots which were received after publication.

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