Funding the Frog Squad
What you need to know about the so-called alt-right’s financial ecosystem.
Last year, Oculus Rift founder Palmer Luckey made headlines for donating $10,000 a pro-Trump 501(c)4 dedicated to creating and circulating shitposting memes about Hillary Clinton. The backlash in the media and Silicon Valley was immediate. Personally, I wondered why people were so surprised. The right has long found ways to fund their shit-stirrers, and both the volume and consistency of content that the frogs were producing at the time suggested to me that it was being funded. Palmer Luckey wasn’t the only rich guy giving money to reddit randos. He was just the rich guy who got caught.
Nearly a year later, we know a lot more about how the Frog Squad is funded. The most famous backers are the Mercer family. who have invested or donated in pretty much all of the so-called alt-right’s infrastructure: Breitbart, Donald Trump, Cambridge Analytica, and Milo to name a few. But the frogs have quite the grassroots fundraising arm too.
The so-called alt-right’s crowdfunding game is strong. And since their hateful rhetoric is now getting them banned from PayPal, GoFundMe, and Patreon, a few alternatives have sprung up including Wesearchr, Hatreon, and Rootbocks. Gizmodo has a roundup of the various sites available to aspiring frogs. Inc. Magazine covered it recently as well. There are a lot more crowdfunding alternatives than I realized, and I follow this stuff pretty closely! Even with the recent issues, traditional crowdfunding sites still help the other side crowdfund. This week, Mike Cernovich, who was funding a documentary on Kickstarter, finished his campaign with $163,000 raised from just over 1,700 backers!
Finally, we have to talk about the grift. Anyone who’s ever signed up for a Republican email list or had their name and address on a right wing mailing list is familiar with this already. Republican donor lists are a cash cow. Campaigns and political organizations sell them to other candidates and party committees but also to sell products galore. Recent examples from my own inbox include: gold, guns, and Christian comic books. The spoils of campaign fundraising lists are so well known that Herman Cain’s 2012 presidential campaign made little effort to hide that they were a shell operation for Herman Cain Inc. Longtime right wing grifter Ben Carson, also wouldn’t deny his own 2016 campaign was a scam. And as Amanda Marcotte pointed out last year, the right wing celebrity game is a lucrative business.
The frogs have taken grifting to a whole new level though. John Oliver devoted 20 minutes of his show last Sunday to Alex Jones’ extensive line of products, stuff tailor-made for his conspiracy theory-loving audience. Trump’s campaign email vendors also recently used Seth Rich conspiracies to hawk face cream.
Funding the Frog Squad is now an industry of its own. There’s nothing inherently wrong with seeking funders for your work or crowdfunding from your followers (speaking of which, have you backed Factual Democracy Project yet? I’m a tad envious of Cernovich’s haul.) but it’s important to recognize that the frogs have a diversified funding structure from billionaires down to $1 donors. That’s without even getting into money from foreign actors as well, especially Russia. The former is easily mapped, the latter I hope we’ll learn more about as the various investigations play out, especially Mueller’s.
Mandatory Kickstarter Update
Today marks the halfway point for the Factual Democracy Project Kickstarter Campaign. Per your feedback, I’ve added a single ticket option. You can now back the project for $25 and receive admission to one backers call of your choice. There are just 15 days left to fund this series. Can I count on you to back my project before the deadline?
I can’t make this happen without your support. We have just two weeks to fund these calls and every dollar helps. Learn more and become a backer on my Kickstarter campaign page.
The above is an excerpt from Ctrl Alt Right Delete, a weekly newsletter devoted to understanding how the right operates online and developing strategies and tactics to fight back.