Far-right extremist groups turn to bitcoin

The cryptocurrency called bitcoin is increasingly popular among members of the far right, according The Washington Post. 

Bitcoin, which has seen a rollercoaster rise and fall in price over the last few weeks, offers its users fast transactions and anonymity, which something increasingly enticing for those on radical ends of the political spectrum. 

The Post notes that after the violent clashes in Charlottesville over the summer, the need for under-the-radar currency like bitcoin gained a new sense of urgency as groups looked to find ways to dodge and operate beyond the reach of the federal government. Richard Spencer, a white nationalist and leader of the alt-right movement, has endorsed the cryptocurrency, tweeting in March that “Bitcoin is the currency of the alt right.” 

While the only means of tracing transactions can be found on a continuously updated ledger called the blockchain, bitcoin’s lack of a centralized banking system makes it that much harder for government regulators and law enforcement officials to monitor or track down users. It also allows users to sidestep tech company policies that prohibit extremist activity, particularly in the wake of Charlottesville. 

“Bitcoin is allowing people in the movement to go beyond cash in an envelope or a check,” Heidi Beirich, head of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, told the Post. “It’s really a godsend to them.”

Bitcoin has also been a tool of the trade being used on the “dark web” for illicit activities — particularly in cases of money laundering, weapon purchases and in the sale of drugs, which may further fuel the nation’s opioid epidemic.

The Department of Justice has increased its role as part of a larger international effort to take down dark web sites, conducting various probes into the use of illegal bitcoin exchanges as it relates to its use in the dark net. 

© 2017 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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