A debunked conspiracy theory about Black Lives Matter, ActBlue, and Democrats can be traced to far-right message boards
A false money laundering conspiracy theory regarding the Black Lives Matter movement's use of a payment processing company for donations has gained traction online among right-wing figures and can be traced back to far-right message boards.
The conspiracy theory alleges that the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is some kind of a front to launder money to Democrats because the BLM website uses ActBlue to process its online fundraising payments. ActBlue is a payment processor used widely by progressive groups and organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party has an equivalent processing company called WinRed. As the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics has noted, “many candidates use [ActBlue] to process donations but that money isn't pooled to be shared across candidates or groups,” and “a donation to BLM through ActBlue goes just to BLM, not any other group.” But the conspiracy theory still has earned well over a million shares and views on social media and has been amplified by a Fox Nation host.
A review by Media Matters found that before it gained traction, the conspiracy theory had been circulating for days on far-right message boards. The earliest mention our review found was at the beginning of June on Twitter, when an account that has pushed the slogan for the QAnon conspiracy theory repeatedly tweeted the claim on June 1 and June 2. The account claimed it had sent the conspiracy theory to the FBI and President Donald Trump, and it urged the Ohio Police Department to investigate the claim.
The conspiracy theory popped up days later on June 5 on TheDonald.win, a new forum for the subreddit “r/TheDonald,” which was known for violent rhetoric and was ultimately quarantined by Reddit. On TheDonald.win, a user wrote that “when you go to donate on the blacklivesmatter.com website,” you are redirected to ActBlue, which means entities “donating to Black Lives Matter are actually donating to ActBlue.” That means, the user wrote, that the donations may be “just going straight to fund the Democratic presidential campaign.”
The next day, another user on the forum wrote in a post that “BLM is a bait and switch fundraising scam” for the Democratic National Committee “by laundering money through Act Blue.” The user urged others to “tell everyone you know.” This post gained more traction on the forum than the first one, which it directly referenced in the comments. Similar language made its way to Facebook minutes later.
Over the next few days, the conspiracy theory also began circulating on 4chan’s “/pol/” message board, a known hotspot for white nationalists, where users pointed to ActBlue to claim Black Lives Matter was “a fundraising apparatus” and a “slush fund” for Democrats. One 4chan user pushing the claim on June 8 used nearly the exact same language as the June 5 post from TheDonald.win.
The conspiracy theory also continued to circulate on TheDonald.win on June 8 and reached the subreddit “r/conservative,” where a user called Black Lives Matter a “money laundering scheme” for Democrats via ActBlue. That post was later shared in a YouTube video.
The following day, on June 9, The Gateway Pundit, a far-right blog that has a history of publishing misinformation, posted that the BLM site “appears to be an international money laundering scheme used by the Democrats to raise money from an international audience,” claiming ActBlue appears to be “a funding arm of the DNC.” (The site’s owner Jim Hoft shared the post on Twitter, calling it an “exclusive.”) The post gave a “hat tip” to TheDonald.win for the claim. The post was picked up by multiple far-right figures, including by a QAnon-supporting former congressional candidate on Twitter, another QAnon Twitter account with a major following who keeps evading his Twitter ban, and by troll Milo Yiannopoulos on Telegram.
On June 10, right-wing pundit Candace Owens quote-tweeted an Instagram video pushing the conspiracy theory and accused Black Lives Matters of being a “shell company” for Democrats via ActBlue (Owens also posted the video on Instagram, where it received well over a million views). Minutes later, “Q,” the central entity of the QAnon conspiracy theory, posted a link to Owens’ tweet on 8kun’s “/qresearch/” message board. Owens’ post has been retweeted more than 64,000 times so far.
Following Owens’ post, the conspiracy theory began spreading to other conservative figures, such as Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch; a Florida Republican congressional candidate who has given credence to QAnon; Students for Trump founder Ryan Fournier (who, like Owens, incorrectly called ActBlue a “Democrat super PAC”); Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk; and former editor-in-chief of Breitbart’s London bureau Raheem Kassam.
Additionally, two major conservative TikTok accounts, @therepublicanhypehouse and @conservativehypehouse, both posted videos pushing the conspiracy theory, getting more than 370,000 views combined (even though TikTok has an anti-misinformation policy).
The conspiracy theory also apparently reached Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren, who has a history of pushing claims from message boards. She tweeted, “When you donate to BLM you’re donating to the Dems.”
These tweets and videos combined have gotten hundreds of thousands of shares and views and have amplified the conspiracy theory far beyond fringe message boards.
Update (6/12/20): This article has been updated with additional details.