Chainalysis in Action

Alt-Right Groups and Personalities Involved In the January 2021 Capitol Riot Received Over $500K In Bitcoin From French Donor One Month Prior

This blog is an excerpt from the Chainalysis 2021 Crypto Crime Report. Click here to download the whole thing!

Last week, Americans were shocked as a large group of Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol Building in protest of his 2020 election loss, following a rally that included a speech from Trump himself. Five people died, including two police officers, and significant damage was done to the building, including to many congressional representatives’ offices. Several prominent members of the alt-right either took part in the raid or were present just outside the Capitol, including internet personality Nick Fuentes.

Nick Fuentes outside the Capitol. Photo credit to Nick Fuentes on Twitter.

It’s unclear to what degree the attack on the Capitol was planned in advance. ProPublica reports that in the weeks leading up, many Trump supporters discussed turning the event violent on Parler, a rightwing social media app now banned by most major tech platforms. However, we now have evidence that many alt-right groups and personalities, including Fuentes, received large Bitcoin donations in a single transaction that occurred a month before the riot on December 8. We have also gathered evidence that strongly suggests the donor was a now-deceased computer programmer based in France.

While we won’t share the donor’s identity publicly, we’ll walk you through how we made the identification and provide details on the donations below. The information we’ve uncovered shows that domestic extremism isn’t strictly domestic. International networks play a role as well, which we see reflected in the nationality of this extremist donor. The donation, as well as reports of the planning that went into the Capitol raid on alt-right communication channels, also suggests that domestic extremist groups may be better organized and funded than previously thought.

The donations

On December 8, 2020, a donor sent 28.15 BTC — worth approximately $522,000 at the time of transfer — to 22 separate addresses in a single transaction. Many of those addresses belong to far-right activists and internet personalities.

Open in new tab to enlarge. Here, we see that the donor sent Bitcoin to several alt-right organizations and online personalities. Unknown recipients are grouped in the lower right-hand corner.

Nick Fuentes received 13.5 BTC — worth approximately $250,000 at the time of the transfer — making him by far the biggest beneficiary of the donation. However, several others received significant funds as well, including anti-immigration organization VDARE, alt-right streamer Ethan Ralph, and several addresses whose owners are as yet unidentified.

While there’s no evidence yet that Fuentes entered the Capitol — in fact, he explicitly denies entering the building — he was present at the initial rally and seen outside the Capitol as the rioting began. Fuentes promoted the rally that preceded the violence in the month before on social media. PBS notes that in the days leading up, Fuentes encouraged his audience to engage in extreme behavior to prevent Joe Biden’s election from being certified, even implying that they should kill state legislators. Fuentes had previously been banned from YouTube for hate speech, including Holocaust denial and promotion of other conspiracy theories.

The December 8 donation of over $250,000 worth of Bitcoin is by far the largest cryptocurrency donation Fuentes has ever received. Previously, the most he had ever received in a single month was $2,707 worth of Bitcoin.

In fact, as we see in the graph above, this multi-recipient donation made December 2020 the single biggest month we’ve ever observed in terms of cryptocurrency received by addresses associated with domestic extremism. Still, this donation isn’t a one-off. The data shows that domestic extremists have been receiving a steady stream of cryptocurrency donations since 2016.

Who is the extremist donor?

The extremist donor funded his donation wallet with cryptocurrency from a French exchange, which he moved to the donation wallet via an intermediary we’ve labeled “Extremist Legacy Wallet.”

The Extremist Legacy Wallet first became active in 2013, suggesting that the extremist donor is a relatively early adopter of Bitcoin whose holdings have grown in value significantly. Using open-source intelligence, we discovered one BTC address associated with the Extremist Legacy Wallet is registered on NameID, a service that allows users to associate their online identity, email address, and other information with their Bitcoin address. In this case, the extremist donor associated his Bitcoin address with the pseudonym “pankkake.”

In addition to his Bitcoin address, the extremist donor also listed an email address and an OpenPGP signature.

Searching for information on the email address led us to a personal blog we believe belongs to the extremist donor, and which identifies him as a French computer programmer. The blog had been inactive since 2014 until a new post was published on December 9, 2020 — the day after the donations were made. Shockingly, the post appears to be a suicide note. You can read it in the screenshot below.

Open in new tab to enlarge

Most of the note details the author’s health difficulties, which he says prompted him to commit suicide, but the sections we’ve highlighted provide strong evidence that the author is the extremist donor. He mentions that he has “bequeathed [his] fortune to certain causes and certain people,” and cites several alt-right talking points in his analysis of the world today. For instance, he states his belief that “Western civilization is declining,” and claims that Westerners are encouraged to hate their “ancestors and heritage.” He also seemingly alludes to his belief that George Floyd died of a drug overdose rather than due to the actions of the police officer who violently apprehended him. All of these are common beliefs on the alt-right, and paint a picture of the donor’s motivations for sending cryptocurrency to so many far right extremist figures.

Standing together against domestic extremism

While we don’t know if these donations directly funded last week’s violent gathering at the Capitol or any associated activity, the timing certainly warrants suspicion. As the Biden administration gears up to fight domestic extremism, these donations are a reminder of the need to track the cryptocurrency activity of all groups and individuals designated as terrorists, including those operating on U.S. soil. As mainstream payment platforms remove extremist groups and figures, we may see them embrace cryptocurrency more as a donations mechanism. Luckily, thanks to the inherent transparency of cryptocurrency blockchains, law enforcement can track these transactions in real time and work with cryptocurrency businesses to prevent funds from reaching violent groups who may use them to fund their operations and commit acts of violence. Chainalysis is actively looking to identify any additional extremist payments and activity and will keep our customers updated.

This blog is an excerpt from the Chainalysis 2021 Crypto Crime Report. Click here to download the whole thing!

1/15/21 Updates:

Media outlets have  confirmed the French donor’s death. French publication 20 Minutes confirmed the death of a French computer programmer who appears to have been the owner of the Bitcoin wallet from which the extremist donations were sent in December, and the blog on which the suicide note we posted above was published. Reporter Philippe Berry spoke to someone who knew the donor personally, who confirmed his death by suicide on December 8, as well as the authenticity of the note and of the health problems mentioned within. The AP also found a cached version of the obituary, including burial information, that had been deleted.

This transaction originally came to our attention based on a tip from Yahoo News, who covered the story here. We’ve been getting a lot of questions about that.