Crowdfunding Mercenaries

Most of us never would have imagined anyone using a crowdfunding site to hire fighters for an insurrection — until it happened.

It was one of the more stunning revelations of the Trump insurrection. Some of the fighters who trashed the Capitol in the hope of overturning the American system of democracy were paid handsomely for their efforts. Several claimed to have made sums of money that were greater than a minimum-wage worker would receive for a year of work. This money was supposedly being requested to cover the “expenses” of attending a “demonstration,” but while that might explain the first $1,000, it hardly accounts for the larger sums of money that hundreds of people collected. Nor were the funds spent on weapons. So far there is no evidence that any of the crowdfunded mercenaries purchased weapons, ammunition, or even recording devices. Their intention all along was to keep the money for themselves. They saw themselves as paid fighters, taking risks and getting rich.

There are obvious drawbacks in funding an insurrection this way. Among them, if participants break the law but fail to overthrow the government, the electronic record of the transactions provides a paper trail for prosecutors to follow. Funders and fundraisers alike might end up in jail.

It remains to be seen whether that happens in this case, but crowdfunding platforms are looking at what precautions they might take so that the billionaires of the world do not use their platforms again in the future as a way to hire a mercenary army to overthrow a government.

It is a concern also for Airbnb, which says it does not want its hosts to bear the risks of guests who lean toward violence and hate crimes. The company is making a list of riot participants and hate group members, who it says will be banned from future bookings. For its part, Etsy says it has removed listing of items that bear themes of genocide after one such item was seen prominently in video of the Trump insurrection.

The bigger concern is the money, though, and that is not an easy problem to solve. A crowdfunding site can take steps to prevent would-be criminals from openly advertising, but ultimately, only actual law enforcement, which would have to come from the government, can do anything to prevent billionaires from hiring and paying mercenary armies to carry out their crimes. That is not likely to happen as long as governments hold defending the interests of billionaires among their top priorities.

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