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Threat Assessment: US FAR-RIGHT GROUPS SHIFT TO CRYPTOCURRENCY

Dyuti Pandya and Beatrice Fratini, NORTHCOM Team; Jennifer Kelly, Illicit Finance and Economic Threats (IFET) Team

Cassandra Townsend, Clea Guastavino, Senior Editors

Week of Monday, November 8, 2021


Representation of cryptocurrencies[1]


Summary


US far-right groups will very likely shift to the use of cryptocurrencies in order to generate funds towards their cause and finance events. The Counterterrorism Group’s (CTG) NORTHCOM and IFET Teams assess that criminal and terrorist activity-advocating far-right actors, both individuals and groups, will likely increase their collection and use of cryptocurrencies to fund their terrorist activities. It is very likely that funds will be used to organize larger and more extreme rallies where far-right rhetoric will likely lead to violence. The January 6, 2021 US Capitol attack has very likely accelerated this phenomenon, as law enforcement scrutiny of far-right activity has intensified since the riots, pushing far-right groups to use currencies that are less detectable.[2] The removal of far-right actors from mainstream payment processors following the Capitol Riots likely led an increased number of far-right groups, such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, to opt for payment methods that are less regulated and monitored. The need for confidentiality to avoid accountability has likely contributed to this far-right groups’ shift from Paypal to cryptocurrencies. Far-right groups involvement in criminal activities, such as money laundering, through their use of cryptocurrencies is very likely to increase. It will very likely hinder law enforcement tracking of far-right funds and hinder financial institutions from regulating them if far-right actors use high-security cryptocurrencies. Far-right groups will likely develop connections with other extremist groups globally through the interconnectivity and anonymity provided by cryptocurrency usage. As new cryptocurrencies develop, far-right actors will have a wide range of hardly-detectable payment options, likely further empowering far-right groups and intensifying new recruitment.


Assessments


It is very likely that increased scrutiny by law enforcement and intelligence agencies of right-wing extremists following the attack on the US Capitol Building further motivated far-right groups to use cryptocurrencies, likely because cryptocurrency transactions are harder to track for accountability purposes.[3] Due to this, there will likely be an upward trend in far-right use of cryptocurrencies. The accessibility to cryptocurrencies will very likely benefit far-right activity by easing transactions, such as in event-organization and weapon-retrieval. As cryptocurrencies evolve and increase in value, far-right groups that use them will likely increase their revenue. An increase in finances will likely increase the spread of far-right ideology through the crypto-interconnectivity routes across borders. This will likely increase the recruitment rates. The general distrust in federal reserves with anonymized cryptocurrency usage will likely influence more individuals to join the alternative transaction routes. This is likely because the worldwide economic downturn will likely result in the procurement of decentralized digital money influx more than money from the normal reserves.

Cryptocurrency funds will very likely be used to organize larger rallies with an increased chance of violence. Far-right groups and individuals in the US received a donation of Bitcoin from an international donor prior to the Capitol riots in January 2021, with an approximate valuation at the time of $522,000 USD.[4] While there is no evidence this money was specifically used to fund the rally, it is very likely this donation assisted these groups in their preparation. It is almost certain that far-right groups will continue to use cryptocurrencies to generate further international financial support. With increased funds, these groups will very likely stage larger rallies at more locations around the US. The influx in rallies very likely raises concerns of increased violence. Law enforcement will almost certainly require greater funds to implement adequate security measures needed to control such events. Without additional police officers monitoring large crowds, it is unlikely that individuals inciting or threatening violence will be identified prior to injuries occurring.


More people will likely be recruited into US far-right groups as a result of high publicity events organized using cryptocurrencies. Far-right groups used the Capitol riots of January 2021, prior to which they had received a large Bitcoin donation, as a propaganda tool to drive recruitment to their organizations.[5] It is very likely that larger rallies funded by profits from cryptocurrencies will increase far-right groups' abilities to capitalize on the publicity of these larger events and spread their extremist ideologies. Access to greater funds through cryptocurrency donations and earnings will also very likely assist far-right groups in creating merchandise such as clothes and flags that they can sell at rallies. The sale of merchandise not only generates additional income for groups, but also very likely assists in communicating the groups’ ideologies and therefore raises concerns of more individuals being recruited to the far-right groups’ cause. Increasing the number of members in their ranks almost certainly increases the risk these far-right groups pose to society through violent rallies and lone actor attacks. Potential targets of violence very likely include future election rallies, elected officials perceived to be against their cause, and social movements such as Black Lives Matter events.


The Oath Keepers and Proud Boys were part of 55 extremist individuals and groups who used DLive, a video streaming platform that authorizes cryptocurrency donations, between April 2020 to February 2021, to generate approximately $866,700 USD.[6] In 2019, criminal entities utilized Bitcoin exchanges to launder approximately $2.8 billion USD.[7] Far-right groups will very likely exploit the digital nature of cryptocurrencies and the lack of financial regulations on the cryptocurrency market to launder money for tax evasion purposes. Owners of a US cryptocurrency company were charged with tax evasion in August 2021, having raised over $24 million USD from investors.[8] The ease and speed at which cryptocurrency transactions can be executed and the assurance of anonymity almost certainly facilitates money-laundering and tax evasion operations. Continued use of cryptocurrencies means that far-right groups will likely generate greater profits, and it is very unlikely the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), responsible for tax collection in the US, will be able to identify and trace all cryptocurrency donations and earnings. Increased use of cryptocurrencies and subsequent tax evasion almost certainly deprives the US government of finances needed to allocate to sectors such as healthcare and education.


Extremist groups will likely continue to use cryptocurrencies due to the reduced ability of governments and law enforcement agencies to regulate them through monetary policies. Cryptocurrency usage will likely increase through the creation of more gateways built into the international banking system to evade the tracking of financial activities. Zcash is a cryptocurrency that provides the ability to transfer currency offline through its high degree of privacy, likely making it difficult for law enforcement to trace illicit transactions.[9] The forthcoming evolution of new anonymized cryptocurrencies will likely increase the difficulty of tracking and identifying transactions. To avoid tracing and enable easy cryptocurrency laundering, extremist groups will likely implement new technologies that make their networks difficult to detect in order to hinder law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Constraints implemented on the ability of far-right groups to raise crypto-funds will likely induce them to search for alternative fundraising methods. These could likely include the establishment of a network of websites for donations for charity, religious, and medical causes. Extremists will very likely receive donations from international supporters. This will almost certainly make it hard for intelligence and enforcement agencies to track the persons outside of their jurisdictions.


Future implications


Unsophisticated cyber actors will likely have assured access to cyber services, despite the government imposing firewalls to censor access to extremists content. Unregulated crypto economies will likely limit the ability of central banks to effectively set monetary policies, facilitating easy access to online transactions for everyone. The increased use of unregulated cryptocurrencies will likely increase usage of darknet markets, trade in credit cards, and identity theft. As technology continues to grow, issues with unencrypted wallets will likely grow and help and help extremists groups discover and exploit cryptocurrency systems.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) has become the global leader in proactively fighting terrorist organizations around the world. CTG specializes in intelligence collection, and analysis, as well as investigative work to counterterrorism. CTG resources are delivered to advise clients on a business resilience process using current threat intelligence data. We scan for threats across the following regions; Africa, Central Asia, Europe, North America, South America, and Asia-Pacific. Our organization assesses evolving threats through, Worldwide Analysis of Terrorism, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) services. Our W.A.T.C.H Officers and Digital Targeters monitor the threat posed by cyber threats, insider threats, fraud, espionage, hazards, reputational damages, violent crime, kidnappings, and bombing threats. To find out more about our products and W.A.T.C.H. services visit us at counterterrorismgroup.com


[1]Cryptocurrency Regulation in the US” by CryptoWallet.com Images licensed under Creative Commons

[2] How cryptocurrency has become the ‘currency of the alt-right,’ white supremacists, hate groups, Chicago Sun Times, September 2021, https://chicago.suntimes.com/2021/9/30/22703200/bitcoin-cryptocurrency-andrew-anglin-white-surpemacists-alt-right-richard-spencer-daily-stormer

[3] Ibid

[4] The 2021 Crypto Crime Report, Chainalysis, 2021, https://go.chainalysis.com/rs/503-FAP-074/images/Chainalysis-Crypto-Crime-2021.pdf

[5] Capitol Attack Could Fuel Extremist Recruitment For Years, Experts Warn, The New York Times, January 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/16/us/capitol-attack-extremist-hate-groups.html

[6] US far-right extremists making millions via social media and cryptocurrency, The Guardian, March 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/10/us-far-right-extremists-millions-social-cryptocurrency

[7] Money Laundering Through Crypto Exchanges, Comply Advantage, n.d., https://complyadvantage.com/knowledgebase/money-laundering-crypto-exchanges/

[8] Founders of Crypto ICO Plead Guilty to Tax Evasion After Raising $24 Million from Investors, Department of Justice, October 2021, https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndtx/pr/founders-crypto-ico-plead-guilty-tax-evasion-after-raising-24-million-investors

[9] Exploring the use of Zcash cryptocurrency for illicit or criminal purposes, RAND Corporation, December 2020, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR4418.html

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