PayPal is canceling the accounts of the far right group, the Proud Boys, and also banning anti-fascists from the platform, saying it prohibits people who “promote hate” or “violence”.
The online payment company’s decision to associate anti-fascist activists with a rightwing “hate group” has sparked intense backlash from leftwing organizers, who say the Silicon Valley firm is pandering to far-right groups linked to white supremacist beliefs and extremist violence.
A PayPal spokesperson said Friday that it was banning the accounts of the Proud Boys and its founder Gavin McInnes, along with Atlanta Antifa, Antifa Sacramento and Anti-Fascist Network. The company also recently canceled the account of English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson, a far-right figure in the UK, and has previously removed four other antifa groups.
“We do not allow PayPal services to be used to promote hate, violence, or other forms of intolerance that is discriminatory,” the company said in a statement. A spokesperson declined to comment on the justifications for each account.
“I’m really tired of the equivalence of anti-fascists and fascists,” said Zoé Samudzi, an Oakland writer who has supported anti-fascist protests. She noted McInnes’ history of promoting violence, adding: “You cannot compare that to the anti-fascists who are trying to defend communities from that violence. It’s really cowardly to not attempt to make a distinction between the two.”
PayPal, which was co-founded by Peter Thiel, a Donald Trump ally, is instituting its bans at a time when technology companies are facing global scrutiny for their roles in facilitating and amplifying far-right violence. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in particular have played key roles in helping violent white supremacists and neo-Nazis spread their propaganda, recruit supporters, and organize events.
Twitter recently suspended the Proud Boys, the self-described “western chauvinists”, saying the group violated the platform’s policy against “violent extremist groups”. There has been growing recognition that the “de-platforming” of hate groups and racist speech can significantly reduce the reach of provocateurs, the “alt-right” and neo-Nazis.
Activists said they welcomed the PayPal ban of McInnes, but were disturbed to see anti-fascists who protest people like McInnes targeted in the same cancellations. Some compared it to Trump’s infamous remark that there were “very fine people on both sides” of a deadly white supremacist rally.
“By removing antifascist & Proud Boys accounts at the same time, Paypal seems to be making a false equivalence & lumping completely different groups together as ‘intolerance’ and ‘hate’,” the Atlanta Antifa group said in a statement.
PayPal emailed the group Friday, saying it was “terminating our relationship”, asking it to “remove all references to PayPal from your website”.
“It’s just pandering to the far right,” said one member of the Atlanta group, who requested anonymity. “We are a grassroots group … Paypal helped offset our expenses. Nobody in our group is rich, and most costs come out of our pocket.”
Far-right and neo-Nazi groups have repeatedly been linked to violence and murders in America, and the Atlanta group coordinates counter-protests and warns community members about the presence of hate groups, the member said: “To be putting the focus on the people who are day to day opposing these forces and monitoring these forces is just perverse … Everything we do is rooted in community self defense.”
There is also no evidence of equivalent violence by “antifa”, a broad term used to refer to anti-fascists. Members of the Proud Boys were recently arrested in New York after a violent brawl following a speech by McInnes.
McInnes has insisted that his group is not white nationalist or “alt-right”. The Proud Boys have a history of misogyny and glorifying violence, and McInnes has a track record of racist remarks. He previously had a friendly relationship with the organizer of the violent Unite the Right rally, but denounced him after the Charlottesville car attack killed a protester.
Samudzi noted that anti-fascist groups have used PayPal for fundraising for bail when activists are arrested and to collect donations to support people during crises, such as hurricanes: “There are some real community support projects that are not going to be fundable.”
Removing the “alt-right” from mainstream tech platforms can be impactful, said James Anderson, an editor of It’s Going Down, an anti-fascist website. “It’s disruptive, especially for people that are making their living online … It can be very damaging.”
Tech platforms can’t claim to be “neutral” when it comes to far-right violence and anti-fascists, he added. “They want to avoid any sort of controversy … They just care about saving their brand.”