After the cryptocurrency exchange FTX filed for bankruptcy protection on November 11, right-wing outlets spread a baseless conspiracy theory drummed up by a white supremacist radio host claiming that FTX’s downfall was related to CEO Sam Bankman-Fried’s donations to the Democratic Party and FTX’s role in supporting relief efforts in Ukraine.
Multiple outlets have confirmed that Bankman-Fried had made a number of high-dollar personal contributions to Democratic campaigns during the 2022 midterm elections. However, there is currently no evidence that FTX was laundering taxpayer money or private funds through Ukraine and into Democratic campaigns. A Ukrainian official has also refuted the conspiracy theory, calling it “nonsense.”
The conspiracy theory appears to have originated from white supremacist Hal Turner on November 11, when Turner published a post to his radio show's website. The post asserted without evidence that “tens-of-billions in American ‘Military Aid’ to Ukraine” was actually invested into FTX by the Ukrainian government, and then reinvested into Democratic Party campaigns. In the post, Turner also claimed that “to some observers,” this appears to be "pure, criminal, money-laundering, and a criminal conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws.”
A Twitter thread that linked to Turner’s content and was retweeted thousands of times was then posted on November 11. The same unsubstantiated theory was subsequently amplified by embattled Twitter CEO Elon Musk, who posted content that seemed to originate from 4chan to support this theory.
Following Musk’s promotion, the FTX conspiracy theory rapidly gained traction with right-wing figures and online outlets. Musk has historically used his personal Twitter account to bring attention to right-wing conspiracy theories and those amplifying them, recently tweeting and then deleting a link to a website espousing the unhinged theory about the attempted assassination of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and subsequent assault of her husband. Right-wing figures and online outlets were quick to amplify that falsehood as well.
Here are some of the conservative media outlets that spread the baseless conspiracy theory amid the fallout of FTX’s bankruptcy.
Fox News walked its viewers through the conspiracy theory without concern for lack of evidence
Fox News hosts wasted no time in wildly speculating about FTX's collapse, seeming to take the underlying premise that Bankman-Fried and the Ukrainian government were in cahoots as a given despite the lack of evidence.
Fox host Jesse Watters discussed the unfounded conspiracy theory as fact, baselessly stating that Ukraine invested in FTX to “reward their favorite mega donor,” and later claimed that FTX collected money from Ukraine and “plowed it right back into the Democratic Party.” He later added, “I don’t know if this is money laundering or war profiteering — I don’t even know, but it needs to be investigated.”
While guest-hosting Tucker Carlson Tonight, former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) claimed that there was “speculation that the U.S. government might have sent taxpayer money to Ukraine which then ended up at FTX and ultimately to Democrats.” Gabbard’s guest, New York Post columnist Miranda Devine, further speculated by bizarrely claiming that Bankman-Fried was “in the bosom of the left” before asking why the U.S. government is spending so much money on Ukraine and why Ukraine was linked to FTX.
Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt, along with Fox and Friends Weekend host Will Cain, rejected Ukrainian officials’ denial of the theory, with Cain stating that “denial is not proof” that FTX wasn’t being used as a slush fund. He later stated that “the Ukrainian angle” in the story was “not a conspiracy” but still an “important question to ask.”
Right-wing media outlets and figures spread the theory online
Right-wing media outlets and figures began to allege that Democrats laundered Ukrainian aid into donations through FTX on November 12, with many sharing these allegations on Twitter and Facebook.
- Right-wing outlet The Gateway Pundit published two articles on November 12, claiming without evidence that “tens of billions of dollars going to Ukraine were actually laundered back to the US to corrupt Democrats and elites using FTX cryptocurrency.” Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters found that these articles were shared across Facebook more than 10,000 times. [The Gateway Pundit, 11/12/22, 11/12/22]
- Infowars published an article claiming without evidence that FTX’s collapse “revealed” that it had been “nothing more than a slush fund for Democrat candidates.” The article went on to say, “The fact Ukraine military aid funds had invested heavily in FTX earlier this year is starting to make a lot more sense.” [Infowars, 11/12/22]
- Neo-Nazi collaborator Jack Posobiec tweeted, “It is increasingly looking like the Democrats 2022 campaigns were funded by kickbacks from Ukraine funding using FTX as the pass-through vehicle. No wonder dude is scared for his life after ripping off these people.” Posobiec later complained that media haven’t backed up his baseless assertion. [Twitter, 11/13/22, 11/13/22]
- Failed Arizona secretary of state candidate and election denier Mark Finchem tweeted, “Seize assets of all candidates, orgs, politicians, executives, campaigns, PACs & companies who were involved in the Ukraine money-laundering scam that spent money in the 2022 elections and ripped off the American People; then give the money BACK to the taxpayers. #AZSOS #FTX.” [Twitter, 11/13/22]
- Sinclair anchor Jan Jeffcoat read a tweet from right-wing podcaster Eric Matheny on-air, baselessly accusing the Democratic Party of money laundering with FTX as the intermediary. [Sinclair Broadcast Group, The National Desk, 11/14/22]
- The Daily Wire published an article with the headline “Biden, Ukraine, And A 30-Year-Old Crypto Billionaire: How The Implosion Of FTX Connects To The Global Elite.” The article mentioned that Bankman-Fried “comes from an extraordinarily well-connected family” and has ties to the “controversial” World Economic Forum, but it did not explicitly accuse anyone of money laundering. (The Daily Wire and its network of Facebook pages have also shared this article across Facebook, where it has earned more than 4,000 total interactions.) [The Daily Wire, 11/14/22]
- Disgraced former Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) tweeted, “Here’s why the FTX story matters: For an entire year Democrat law makers have stood on the House floor and demanded taxpayer $$ for Ukraine. The whole time, Ukraine was funneling those tax $$ into FTX, who in turn donated them back to Democrat lawmakers. This is #bluewashing.” [Twitter, 11/14/22]
- Right-wing influencer Terrence K. Williams wrote, “Joe Biden & Zelenskyy have been laundering money. Biden funded Ukraine. Ukraine funded FTX. FTX funded Democrats with millions. They impeached Trump for a phone call, they should escort Biden out of office now and we need to cut ties with Ukraine immediately!” [Twitter, 11/14/22]
- Fox’s Cain asked on Twitter, “Was FTX laundering money through Ukraine back to Democrats (any politician) voting to fund the war in Ukraine? Finding the answer to this question used to be the top story and a path to the Pulitzer.” [Twitter, 11/14/22]
- Breitbart senior editor Joel Pollak tweeted, “The FTX collapse goes to the heart of the Democratic Party in the same way as the Jeffery Epstein scandal and will be covered up in the same way for that reason.” [Twitter, 11/15/22]
- Newsmax host Benny Johnson shared the aforementioned Jesse Watters Primetime segment to Twitter and in a video on Facebook, where it earned at least 27,000 views. [Twitter, 11/14/22; Facebook, 11/15/22]
- Failed GOP congressional candidate Sandy Smith shared Johnson’s video on Facebook, writing, “👀Explains where the millions the Dems poured into NC against me came from. #FTXScam #Investigate #FTX.” [Facebook, 11/15/22]