It’s been a tough few days for Bitcoin. On Sunday, the South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Coinrail was hacked, which caused the price of Bitcoin to tumble. Prices fell again on Wednesday after a study found Bitcoin’s huge spike last year (the currency reached nearly $20,000) might have been the result of strategic price manipulation.
Despite all the bad news, Bitcoin still has its believers, including Steve Bannon. In an interview with the New York Times, the former White House strategist said that he has a “good stake” in Bitcoin and is interested in working with entrepreneurs and countries interested in creating their own cryptocurrencies. Bannon may also have ambitions to create a currency of his own. Earlier this year, in a meeting at Harvard University, he apparently discussed creating a new digital currency called “deplorables coin”.
Bannon says he isn’t interested in cryptocurrencies solely for the financial potential; he sees decentralized money as a key component of his political mission. Cryptocurrency is “disruptive populism, it takes control back from central authorities”, said Bannon. “It was pretty obvious to me that unless you got somehow control over your currency, all these political movements were going to be beholden to who controlled the currency … control of the currency, is control of everything.”
The deplorables coin’s name references the time Hillary Clinton called half of Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables” during the 2016 election. Clinton later said she regretted it; it had handed Trump “a political gift”.
White nationalists were interested in the political potential of cryptocurrency long before Bitcoin entered the mainstream. In 2014 Andrew Auernheimer, a neo-Nazi who goes by the name “weev”, wrote on his blog: “I heartily encourage you to consider cryptocurrency, including Bitcoin.” And in March 2017 Richard Spencer declared on Twitter that “Bitcoin is the currency of the alt-right.”
A number of neo-Nazis have also been pushed into cryptocurrency because they have been barred by traditional payment platforms. Shortly after the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last year, Apple and PayPal disabled payment support for websites that support hate groups.
Bitcoin is the most well-known digital currency, although white nationalists are beginning to gravitate towards Monero, which Wired recently called “the dark web’s favorite currency”. Monero, which claims to be more untraceable and secure than Bitcoin, has, for example, been enthusiastically promoted by white nationalist podcaster Christopher Cantwell. Cantwell is offering 10% subscriptions to his site if you pay in Monero.
Despite recent dips in cryptocurrency prices, their astronomical rise last year made a lot of white nationalists, including weev, very rich indeed. In his interview, Bannon didn’t say how much money he has made from cryptocurrency, but one imagines he’s got more than enough to start minting baskets of digital deplorables.