The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

PayPal escalates the tech industry’s war on white supremacy

(Jeff Chiu/AP)

PayPal, the popular online payment platform, announced late Tuesday night that it would bar users from accepting donations to promote hate, violence and intolerance after revelations that the company played a key role in raising money for a white supremacist rally that turned deadly.

The company, in a lengthy blog post, outlined its long-standing policy of not allowing its services to be used to accept payments or donations to organizations that advocate racist views. PayPal singled out the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacist groups or Nazi groups — all three of whom were involved in last weekend’s Charlottesville rally.

“Intolerance can take on a range of on-line and off-line forms, across a wide array of content and language,” the company wrote. “It is with this backdrop that PayPal strives to navigate the balance between freedom of expression and open dialogue — and the limiting and closing of sites that accept payments or raise funds to promote hate, violence and intolerance.”

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Corporate watchdogs and civil rights organizations have pressured the company for years to ban such groups — to little avail.

“For the longest time, PayPal has essentially been the banking system for white nationalism,” Keegan Hankes, analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told The Washington Post. “It’s a shame it took Charlottesville for them to take it seriously.”

While PayPal has at times prevented some prominent hate groups from raising money through its platform, it also allowed at least eight groups and individuals openly espousing racist views to move money through its site before and after Charlottesville, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal advocacy organization that monitors hate groups.

PayPal, one of the world’s largest online payment processors, was integral in raising money to orchestrate the event,” the Southern Poverty Law Center posted on its Hatewatch blog Tuesday, just hours before PayPal publicly banned such groups. “Organizers, speakers, and individual attendees relied on the platform to move funds in the run up to the ultimately deadly event.”

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The Unite the Right march in Charlottesville ended with one person dead and 19 injured after a car driven by an alleged Nazi sympathizer crashed into a crowd of activists protesting the hate rally. Two state troopers were killed when their helicopter monitoring the demonstrations crashed.

PayPal’s decision to kick nearly three dozen hate groups off its platform is “long overdue,” Hankes said. He said his center has been lobbying the company for more than two years to take action against the groups, providing extensive lists and dossiers about them.

After a white supremacist killed nine black worshipers in a Charleston church in 2015, PayPal banned the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group that the helped inspire the attack. But the current purge is of an unprecedented scale, activists say.

“Our understanding is that this is just what’s the first to come, and that they are taking a hard stance,” Hankes said.

PayPal has agreed to removed at least 34 organizations, including Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute, two companies that sell gun accessories explicitly for killing Muslims, as well as all accounts associated with Jason Kessler, the white nationalist blogger who organized the Charlottesville march, according to a list provided to the Post by Color of Change, a racial justice organization seeking to influence corporate decision makers. 

Color of Change has been in private conversations with PayPal leaders since February to ban racist groups for using the platform to raise money. The organization spoke with PayPal representatives Tuesday afternoon and was given a list of hate groups to be banned.   

“Once the events of Charlottesville happened, we gave all the companies we had been talking to a final warning that we were going to be moving this campaign forward,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change. “Enough talking, cajoling and educating. This is not a question of policy. It’s a question of practice, and whether or not these companies are willing to actually put their values and policies into practice.”