Patreon, Antifascism, Solidarity, and Collateral Damage


Recently, Patreon made the decision to cancel the account of the radical site and aggregator, It’s Going Down.  For those unfamiliar with IGD (I highly recommend them), IGD has become the primary clearing-house and platform for radicals and resistance movements in the United States, as well as producing significant content of their own. They also run a podcast, where you can here me speak about the intersections of Paganism and radicalism.

Before discussing the implications of this ban, it’s best to speak first about what Patreon is. Patreon is a for-profit corporation which created a platform for artists, writers, performers and others to secure funding through recurring sponsorship. “Creators” as they call us (I use Patreon) raise money for their work, and at the beginning of each month, Patreon collects and then deposits the money from sponsors into creator accounts after taking a 5% fee after credit-card processing fees.

For many of us, Patreon has become a primary source of income. My own personal experience has been quite good: I collect between $400-$600 a month through generous sponsors, and as I am able to live on very little (not independent wealth–I’m just really good at being poor and moved to Europe where things are cheaper), this funding has allowed me to do a significant amount of uncompensated work for Gods&Radicals as well as create my own writing without having to sell my time as waged-labor.

Many other radical, leftist, and Pagan writers and artists also use Patreon either for their primary income or as a way to supplement their income to create their work. In fact, many other Gods&Radicals writers use Patreon. Gods&Radicals, however, does not use Patreon. As a registered not-for-profit in the US, our funding comes from recurring and one-time donations from readers given during our yearly fundraiser.

Now, some words about It’s Going Down’s ban from Patreon. From accounts by IGD as well as twitter statements by alt-right leaders, it appears It’s Going Down became a victim of alt-right retaliation for antifascist success banning other groups. It should be noted, however, that Patreon founder and CEO denied that IGD was taken down for retaliation or the appearance of balance in a video specifically addressing the banning of both Defend Europe (a New Right identitarian group) and IGD:

The first 7 minutes of his statement is dedicated to explaining why Laura Southern and Defend Europe were banned, including showing footage of their attempts to stop boats from saving drowning refugees in the Mediterranean. Less than 1 minute is devoted to explaining IGD’s takedown, and the reasons given are the doxxing of an individual and an article explaining how to block train tracks with concrete. In the video, the CEO assures Patreon creators that IGD was not taken down to appear balanced, but rather because Patreon had received previous reports that IGD violated Patreon’s policy.

Rather than attempt to decide precisely who is correct regarding these takedowns and whether or not Patreon has other motives for closing IGD’s account, I suggest we stand back a bit and take in the larger picture of the political war occurring into which all us are being drawn.

Enemy Non-Combatants

In an article at BuzzFeed on 2 August, 2017, successful anti-fascist efforts to pressure PayPal, GoFundMe, and Patreon into blocking, limiting, of cancelling the accounts of alt-right groups were detailed. The list is quite impressive, and as Anti-Fascist news wrote in their posting of the article, these bans occurred “Because of community pressure. Organizing Works.”

Attacking the funding sources of fascist groups is not a new tactic, and can be seen as a natural extension of the anti-fascist principle of No Platform. No Platform attempts to stop the ability of racists, fascists, and nationalists from spreading their message, increasing their support, and having a visible presence by preventing them from speaking at public events. To accomplish this, multiple strategies are used with varying levels of escalation. Mass phone-calling campaigns against event organizers or hosts, threatened boycotts, propaganda (posters, etc), as well as physical threats, protests, and property destruction have all been used to prevent fascists from appearing. These tactics have been used to stop the appearance of alt-right speakers such as Milo Y., as well as to stop the performance of musical bands either openly fascist or associated with fascists (opening for bands with fascist leanings, having a member who was previously in a fascist band, etc.).

I make no ethical claims for or against the principle of No Platform. Very cogent arguments can be made about it on either side, and it is an incredibly divisive tactic, sometimes pulling in unrelated non-fascists as collateral damage. And we should be clear: No Platform has never been only a tactic of the Left. Leftist, Black, and indigenous professors have lost their tenure at universities due to sustained attacks from right-wing activists, and the highly right-skewed mass media in the United States is due at least in part to decades of pressure on news outlets to stifle radical voices.

In mentioning these situations, we get a little closer to what is actually happening with the organized pressure on corporations to stop the fund-raising efforts of alt-right ideologues. Antifascists are employing the same tactic used by the right against them, but I would argue that tactic itself cannot be judged according to moral structures. It exists on its own, and is empty of moral content, despite being justified both by the far right and far left as a matter of morals. That is, an anti-fascist might claim that we should attack an alt-right event or funding source on moral grounds; so, too, a Christian fundamentalist would claim that a queer trans professor should lose their job on moral grounds.

Stripped of its cosmetic moral content, we can then look at these tactics according to how they function, and then look at their effects. Here, it’s not a stretch to compare the de-funding of alt-right groups as a military tactic, the same way an army or resistance movement might attempt to cut off the supply or communication lines of an enemy. If the enemy cannot recruit, cannot get re-inforcements, cannot communicate with other fronts, and cannot actually fund their movements, they become weaker, more vulnerable, and easier to fight.

Again, though, this tactic is used by both sides. Also, comparing it to a military tactic is incomplete without looking at something armed combatants often forget to their peril: the support of the people for whom they claim to be fighting is dependent upon the willingness and ability of those people to endure collateral and retaliatory attacks.

Just as in guerilla movements from Ireland to Spain to Columbia, unarmed civilians are often caught up in the war being fought on their behalf. Their support is vital, however, especially to smaller movements who rely on local networks of financial support, and no successful resistance movement can put their supporters repeatedly in harm’s way without losing that support.

So, return now to the matter of the attacks on alt-right funding streams. I am generally not inclined to support attacks on the jobs, housing, families, or general material existence of most people, though I make a distinction between wealthier individuals and groups versus singular, working-class ideologues. Milo not getting to spread hate at Berkeley? No tears shed. The campaign to get a lower-class neo-nazi punk chick fired from her shitty hipster doughnut shop job in Portland? That’s not my antifascism.

With that in mind, the more crucial issue is that my personal support of a tactic in which I don’t engage is contingent on my ability to survive that support. I am a leftist and an anti-fascist; I also use Patreon for 90% of my living expenses and, being without a work visa in Europe, have no other means of self-support. Many of my leftist friends are in near identical positions.

Campaigns to pressure large corporations like PayPal, GoFundMe, PayPal, and Square to block the funding of alt-right groups certainly work, but they also bring retaliation. Sometimes that retaliation can be much like the lone brick thrown through a shop-glass window by a white dude during a Black Lives Matter protest, or sometimes it can be like mere return fire. Sympathetic and supportive people can find themselves drawn in, or directly attacked, and sometimes find themselves no longer as sympathetic and supportive to the leadership of the antifascist groups calling for such campaigns, especially when they refuse to acknowledge how their actions put others at risk.

Calls for boycotts of Patreon have occurred in some places, and some leftist media groups have left Patreon in protest. Neither of these are available options to me at the moment, but if the escalation of antifascist attacks on alt-right funding continues, I ( as a leftist queer Pagan antifascist writer) become a likely target for retaliation. Aware of that, I intend to work to find more secure ways to survive, but let’s be honest–until we get rid of capitalism, there are no real options.

I am still supportive. I am still sympathetic. But I also do not possess the economic privilege of many anti-fascist leaders, some of them straight college-educated white men with tech or university jobs and stable housing. Artists and writers are generally a precarious and poor lot of people, and I know that many of my leftist friends who use Patreon are in identical situations.

I do not have permission to speak for them, but I will speak for myself: I will support your efforts if you support ours. I don’t mean you need to support me financially (though hey, I wouldn’t mind), but that antifascist organizers begin to understand themselves not as valiant social justice crusaders leading the devout against the tides of darkness, but organizers aware of the potential collateral damage they risk for allies, friends, associates, and supporters. Anarchism, after all, is about responsibility.

Because while the fascists threaten to turn the current global crisis into an even worse nightmare than it has already been under Liberal Democracy, if there are no more artists, writers, dreamers, mystics, theorists, artisans, musicians, and others around to dream up a better world, there will be nothing worth fighting for.


3 thoughts on “Patreon, Antifascism, Solidarity, and Collateral Damage

  1. I think that the main problem can be succinctly condensed down to this one sentence, “until we get rid of capitalism, there are no real options.” Because the that is the heart of the matter. If there was something like a universal basic income, paired with access to food and shelter, us lefty artists would not be reduced to desperate begging for our mere subsistence. Until that happens, we all, every single one of us, has to engage in and rely upon a lopsided system within the confines of corporate assistance just to survive.

  2. I think that organisations and individuals at risk should look into diversifying their sources of funding (having just re-read that sentence, I really sound like a corporate consultant).

    There are several decentralized sources of funding, which cannot be so easily cut off. I am personally rather involved with Steem, which I think would be perfect for artists and other content-creators. The actual content is stored in a decentralized way, so there is no way to remove someone off the platform, or to censor their content.

    I am also involved in Viva, which is another decentralized economy program which seems likely to provide a platform for a Patreon alternative, but that is still at an early stage.

    Finally, there is LBRY for distributing video content. I have no involvment with them, besides playing around with the open beta, but they also seem promising.

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