Trump supporters used GoFundMe to fund travel and other costs to attend Wednesday’s Trump rally in Washington, DC, in yet another example of the role tech platforms played in contributing to the violent insurrection that followed on Jan. 6.
BuzzFeed News identified more than a dozen fundraisers, most launched in the final weeks of December, seeking to raise money to help people travel to DC for the rally that quickly turned into an insurrection.
One campaign, which was titled #PatriotPilgrimageDC, raised $21,548 of a $50,000 goal from 285 donors. The description said:
Fund to financially support Patriots on their voyage to the capital on 1/6/21 for the DC Protest! All funds will go directly to hotel stays and gas cards/airfare for Patriots needing financial assistance to attend the event. Thank you Patriots! Stay tuned as we build an army to march into DC
We will BE SEEN, we will BE HEARD!
One donor responded, “Remind them who’s in charge!... WE THE PEOPLE...Onward we go brave patriots!!!”
GoFundMe deactivated several campaigns related to travel expenses following an inquiry from BuzzFeed News (others remained active at the time of publication).
A GoFundMe spokesperson said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that any funds from these campaigns that were not yet withdrawn will be returned to the donors. “We continue to enforce our terms of service and do not tolerate fundraisers supporting hate, violence, harassment, or spreading misinformation about the 2020 election. Over the last several months and leading up to [Wednesday’s] rally and subsequent violence at the Capitol, GoFundMe removed several fundraisers attempting to challenge the legitimate results of the 2020 election,” they said.
Tech platforms drew heated criticism for their role in enabling Wednesday’s violence and amplifying the president’s lies about election fraud since November. Facebook and Twitter paused Trump’s accounts in the aftermath of Wednesday’s events. Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post about the decision, “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”
Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, told BuzzFeed News that big tech companies “provide the architecture for bad actors to organize, recruit, finance, operationally plan, and then celebrate acts of extremism.” While Ahmed described GoFundMe as a “minor player in this architecture,” he said, “there is absolutely no doubt that payment processing platforms are a critical part of the architecture that has allowed these organizations to, to grow in scale sophistication, and resource over time.”
Online shopping platform Shopify and the payment processor PayPal also shut down accounts related to the Trump campaign, Trump Organization, and funding the president’s supporters this week. In November, GoFundMe also took down a fundraising page for spreading election misinformation.
A campaign on GoFundMe by “LGBTrump - Gays For Trump” raised around $2,600 for “transportation to and from DC (train or plane, whatever is cheaper) hotel, local transportation/Uber, Megaphone, banners, etc.” The organizer wrote: “President Trump needs to hear from us, We The People, that we do not want him to concede. We will March for Trump to demand transparency and protect election integrity.”
Another campaign by an organizer in Texas raised $2,500, exceeding its $1,000 goal, for a “caravan group going to DC. Group of 11 people in a van, then 14 people staying in a House in DC to support our great President, Donald J. Trump!”
BuzzFeed News also found multiple campaigns for people planning to attend the Jan. 6 rally that drew sums of $1,000 and less. Other campaigns drew no funding at all. Organizers can keep their donations even if they do not reach their goal, and withdrawing the money does not affect the progress meter displayed on a campaign page, according to GoFundMe’s website. GoFundMe did not respond to questions about whether the organizers had withdrawn the funds.
None of the campaign organizers immediately responded to inquires sent through the GoFundMe platform by BuzzFeed News, and there is no indication if any of them were part of the mob that stormed the Capitol.
However, Trump supporters are also using crowdfunding platforms to raise legal defense funds for people who were arrested.
GoFundMe said it is using “technical tools” to review and remove fundraisers and has a Trust & Safety team to monitor the platform. The company stated: “We strongly condemn [Wednesday’s] violence and attempted insurrection and will continue to remove fundraisers that attempt to spread misinformation about the election or conspiracy theories.”