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No cash for hate, say mainstream crowdfunding firms

By Sheila Dang

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Online fund-raising sites are turning their backs on activists looking to offer financial support for James Fields, the man accused of driving his car into counter-protesters at a white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday.

GoFundMe, Kickstarter and other mainstream crowdfunding firms have policies that prohibit hate speech or abuse, the latest example of technology firms making it harder for far-right groups to organize online.

Fields is accused of killing one woman and injuring 19 others on Saturday after the rally in Charlottesville turned violent. Supporters of Fields, who was denied bail at a court hearing in Virginia on Monday, have turned to the internet to raise money for his legal defense.

GoFundMe, one of the two leading crowdfunding firms, said on Monday it has removed multiple fundraising campaigns for Fields, because the company prohibits the promotion of hate speech and violence.

"Those campaigns did not raise any money and they were immediately removed," said Bobby Whithorne, director of strategic communications at GoFundMe, adding that fewer than 10 campaigns have so far been posted. GoFundMe will continue to delete similar campaigns if more are created, he said.

Most mainstream crowdfunding sites, which let people fund projects or ventures by raising money online, have policies that prohibit campaigns that promote hate speech or violence.

Kickstarter, which vies with GoFundMe as the largest crowdfunding platform, said it also has a policy prohibiting hate speech or encouraging violence. It said its service focuses on creative projects and has not seen any campaigns related to Fields or the Charlottesville protest.

Indiegogo, a smaller rival, said it has a similar policy prohibiting campaigns that promote threatening or abusive behavior. It said it is monitoring campaigns but has yet to see any funds supporting Fields.

The block on mainstream crowdfunding is just the latest blow to far-right activists operating online. In the last 24 hours, neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer had its domain registration revoked twice, by GoDaddy Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google, for violating terms of service.

FORCED OUT OF MAINSTREAM

The rejection by mainstream crowdfunding sites means white nationalists have been forced to use other platforms that champion freedom of speech.

Jason Kessler, who organized the far-right rally in Charlottesville, has raised $2,659 as of Monday afternoon on RootBocks, a crowdfunding site that is "free from political or social censorship," according to its website.

He started a campaign called the "Unite the Right Legal Defense Fund" on Sunday night and aims to raise $50,000 to sue the city of Charlottesville for failing to protect the speakers and protesters at the rally.

Another campaign on RootBocks opened on Saturday has raised more than $8,000 of its $50,000 goal to support a lawsuit against Charlottesville by Nathan Damigo, founder of white-nationalist group Identity Evropa. On Saturday, Damigo said on Twitter he was wrongly arrested at the protest, in violation of his civil rights.

CrowdJustice, a site that focuses on raising money for legal cases, has not seen any funds connected to Fields or others who were in Charlottesville, said Chief Executive Julia Salasky.

The firm verifies that defendants or plaintiffs have an attorney or nonprofit who is taking their case before they can start a fund on the website, Salasky said.

"That filters out people who are promoting hatred and without a legal basis," she said.

(Reporting by Sheila Dang; editing by Anna Driver and Bill Rigby)