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When supporters of Andrew Anglin, editor of neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, wanted to raise funds to help him in a legal battle against the Southern Poverty Law Center, they turned to the only site that would allow them to host this type of campaign: WeSearchr.
In less than two months, the Daily Stormer vs. SPLC Legal Defense Fund campaign raised more than $155,000. The money will allow Anglin to fight a lawsuit brought against him by Tanya Gersh and the SPLC. The plaintiffs allege Anglin motivated his followers to threaten Gersh after Anglin believed she harassed the mother of "alt-right" figure Richard Spencer.
Many people turn crowdfunding sites to tap into the generosity of the public for social causes. However, most crowdfunding companies like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe have a strict policy against campaigns they consider racist, sexist, or encouraging harassment.
WeSearchr welcomes them all—and takes a steep 15 percent cut, about three times what its competitors charge.
"They don't do controversial bounties or controversial crowdfunds," said WeSearchr co-founder Charles "Chuck" C. Johnson. "They'll just throw them off. We're willing to take pretty much anyone, so long as the cut is larger."
WeSearchr was never meant to be a platform just for the "alt-right," Johnson insists, although he's the founder of a news site called Gotnews.com that is clearly to the right of mainstream news outlets.
But he believes left-leaning publications and websites have created a hole for people with these ideological values, he said. That's where WeSearchr steps in.
"We're basically the monopoly for people on the right," he said. "There's literally nowhere else for them to go."
Johnson, born in 1988, got his start as a right-wing journalist and provocateur. At Claremont McKenna college, he created a blog called the Claremont Conservative and often engaged in public spats with campus figures, according to a profile in Mother Jones. After graduation, he gained notoriety for provocations like trying to identify "Jackie," the anonymous source who told Rolling Stone about being gang-raped at the University of Virginia; the magazine retracted the story after further investigations found no evidence the event ever happened.
Johnson founded Wesearchr in 2015 with Pax Dickinson, an engineer who left Business Insider in 2013 after other publications called attention to offensive remarks he had made on Twitter. (Dickinson cut ties with Johnson and the site earlier this year.)
Johnson says the idea came after he heard of the story of a Oregon couple who was trying to raise legal funds after they were sued for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. The couple was kicked off GoFundMe, which changed its policy to ban "campaigns in defense of formal charges or claims of heinous crimes, violent, hateful, sexual or discriminatory acts."
Although Johnson supports gay marriage, he also feels strongly that everyone should have the right to defend themselves regardless of view.
"I think the market created an opportunity," Johnson said.
As the world grows more fragmented—especially when it comes to political thought—people are looking for new ways to share their opinions, agrees Matt Britton, the CEO of marketing firm Crowdtap.
"People are voting with their money," Britton said. "If they want to invest in something, they feel like they should have the right to."
The idea that crowdfunding can be politicized isn't exactly new—in some senses, political campaigns have been doing it forever.
"You can treat political campaigns as the original source of crowdfunding," said Christophe Jammet a director at DDG, a firm that helps businesses figure out their digital strategies. "In that sense, crowdfunding has been happening for a long time."
WeSearchr works by letting a user—called an "asker"—post a request for information on a certain subject. They can also ask community members to donate money to motivate people to find the answer.
After fundraising reaches a certain threshold, the asker and the WeSearchr staff review submitted answers. If both agree information provided addresses the original prompt, the evidence is released to the asker. The asker has the option to publish the information or ask WeSearchr to help find an outlet.
If the information is not discredited within 30 days, 75 percent of the funds go to the person who provided the answer, 10 percent goes to the asker, and WeSearchr keeps 15 percent. We Searcher's cut is higher than other crowdfunding platforms, Johnson says, to offset mounting costs from things such as fending off online attacks and arguments with payment processing companies, Johnson said.
Other crowdfunding sites show that these kinds of microdonations can add up. Kickstarter has raised over $3.1 billion for projects since it launched in 2009, with funds from more than 13 million people. Indiegogo said it raised more than $800 million has for creative, entrepreneurial and cause-related projects through 2015.
"I intend to build a very profitable business to get a return for my investors, and I intend to build it up in a more serious way so it is as well known as the other crowdfunding sites," Johnson said.
The platform's open policy has turned it into a destination for personal fundraising causes.
For instance, there's a legal defense fund for Laura Loomer, a woman who was arrested for protesting a performance of "Julius Caesar" in New York where a President Donald Trump-inspired Caesar is murdered on stage. People are also raising money for Republican Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte who allegedly "body slammed" a reporter during an interview. It's also raised more than $87,000 in legal support for Kyle "Based Stick Man" Chapman, who became an alt-right hero after a clip of him breaking a wooden sign on the head of an anti-Trump protester went viral.
One of its new popular campaigns is for Katie McHugh, a Breitbart editor who was fired after tweeting "There would be no deadly terror attacks in the U.K. if Muslims didn't live there. #LondonBridge" on June 3.
You may not agree with McHugh's sentiments, but you can still support her need for healthcare and to give her the opportunity to seek other employment, Johnson said.
"There's a lot of different contentions people have when they donate money, and I think that's what a lot of people miss out on," Johnson said.
Johnson has been accused of seeding the site with prompts for evidence he already had. A February Heat Street article reported during the first six months of WeSearchr, only five of the campaigns were funded enough to reach payout status, and two were solved by Johnson himself.
One of the issues with crowdfunding sites is there's very little protection for the consumer or those donating money, DDG's Jammet points out. About one in 10 Kickstarter projects never get sent to backers, according to Fast Company. There's no guarantee where your money goes.
"(Crowdfunding's) not an investment vehicle," Jammet said. "They're just means for people to throw money towards causes or ideas that they are very supportive of. The prospect of any return on investment or reward is tenuous at best."
Johnson admitted he could have been clearer between the distinction between prompts that needed evidence and those that already had known existing documentation.
But he says the evidence in a case he solved–a video of Barack Obama during an early trip to Kenya which raised over $10,000 and an purported early manuscript of "Dreams From My Father" which raised over $7,800–cost Johnson and his team money to obtain, he said.
"We put it up," Johnson said. "People crowdfunded it. If they wanted to pay it off that's fine. If they didn't that's fine with me too."
The misunderstanding gave Johnson his next big idea, which could be the first step toward building an entire right-wing media empire. He's working on a site called WeLeaker, which he called "a crowdfunded TMZ to buy stories," which he hopes to launch in the next few months.
He's also working on the backend of WeSearchr so one day people can create their own ideologically based crowdfunding sites, like one specifically for Christians. Johnson is also considering investing in businesses to process the cash from medical marijuana, and has started a bitcoin mining operation.
"I want to be a serial entrepreneur, investor, in addition to my political stuff," Johnson said.