Bitcoin Adoption Among Far-Right Extremists Leaves Its Mark on the Blockchain

Blockchain sleuthing firm Elliptic has been tracking numerical hate signals left by alt-right groups.

AccessTimeIconDec 8, 2021 at 10:34 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 3:54 p.m. UTC

Bitcoin as a means of payment among far-right extremists is growing in popularity, according to cryptocurrency analytics firm Elliptic, which is tracking traces left on the blockchain by such groups.

A flight to censorship-resistant crypto by far-right actors has been driven in recent years by large internet platforms like PayPal blocking extremists, with deplatforming efforts starting in earnest following Charlottesville’s bloody “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017.

It turns out many right-wing extremists actually want to leave their mark on the blockchain. No doubt beguiled by the immutability of bitcoin transactions, wallets belonging to alt-right enthusiasts can often be identified by amounts including hate symbol “1488″ – 0.001488 BTC is about $50 at today’s prices.

It’s like leaving a swastika on the blockchain, explains Elliptic co-founder Tom Robinson, since the number “14″ is numerical shorthand for the white supremacist slogan known as the “14 Words” and “88″ maps to “H,” the eighth letter of the alphabet, signaling “Heil Hitler.”

The proportion of bitcoin transactions that contain the number 1488 was about 30,000 times larger than for your average wallet, Elliptic said in a blog post published today.

“We looked into whether we can use that model to proactively identify new far-right extremist wallets,” Robinson told CoinDesk in an interview. “We were able to identify about 100 new wallets that were then found to be linked to far-right extremist activity.”

Blockchain records of bitcoin transactions to known far-right extremist groups. (Elliptic)
Blockchain records of bitcoin transactions to known far-right extremist groups. (Elliptic)

The payments and fundraising activity that Elliptic has mapped amounts to some $8.9 million. In the case of one extremist, 47% of all payments received were for amounts containing “1488,” Robinson said.

“I’m not sure whether alt-right groups realized that they were allowing this activity to be monitored and identified in the blockchain to the extent that we’re now doing,” Robinson said of the public nature of the Bitcoin blockchain. “But I do think there’s a sort of, ‘Look at me, look what I’m doing’ kind of aspect of this that they like.”


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Ian Allison

Ian Allison is an award-winning senior reporter at CoinDesk. He holds ETH.