Pax Dickinson wants to fund the revolution. Not a blood-in-the-streets revolution, but one where hardcore right-wingers can economically secede from the parts of society they vehemently dislike. "We need parallel everything. I do not want to ever have to spend a single dollar at a non-movement business," Dickinson, the former CTO of Business Insider and general startup veteran, declared on Twitter.
Dickinson believes the money to build that parallel everything will come from crowdfunding. His new project, called CounterFund, is a lot like Patreon, a service that allows users to make monthly pledges to creators -- only with an unorthodox super-PAC grafted on. The way it works is that influencers -- Twitter personalities, podcasters, YouTubers, and so on -- join the platform, and then members of their audience donate like they would on Patreon.
Eighty percent of the money goes directly to the influencers. Ten percent is devoted to running CounterFund, and then the remaining 10 percent is spent by the top influencers as they see fit. What exactly that will be is a little hazy, but they could theoretically do anything -- commission a long narrative article, throw a benefit for an organization they like, or pay for a CounterFund member's healthcare.
The technology behind CounterFund will be owned by a separate company called Confed.Co. Dickinson told Inc. that Confed.Co will grant CounterFund a perpetual license, as well as exploring licensing deals with other entities interested in forming their own Patreon-esque fundraising sites.
Those entities will have to meet Dickinson's ideological requirements -- this is a strictly right-wing endeavor, and not tepidly so. "If Fox News will let you be on TV or Breitbart would be willing to employ you, @CounterFund is not for you," Dickinson said on Twitter. He's gotten some pushback from the other side -- Twitter users have expressed concerns about his team having a Jewish member.
In conversations with Inc., Dickinson explained that he sees CounterFund as the linchpin of a parallel far-right economy. The alt-right movement shouldn't fund or depend on platforms that are hostile to their goals, he believes. CounterFund's website sports endorsements from Richard Spencer, the suit-wearing white supremacist who went viral after being punched in the face, and comedian Sam Hyde, whose divisive show Million Dollar Extreme was kicked off the air by Adult Swim.
Dickinson is pitching CounterFund itself as a new kind of political party, one that cares for its community rather than pouring money into candidates' campaigns. It's hard to overstate the degree to which he's willing to take this project beyond mainstream acceptability. Dickinson compared CounterFund to Hezbollah: "Hezbollah is a government within a government. They collect garbage, they operate hospitals, they're an economy within an economy, and a government within a government."
He wants to connect "party members" with features like: "A jobs board, for only people who are in the party. A shopping board that only lists companies that are selling products that are within the party. So that you can take your money out of the leftist economy and put it into this new economy."
Dickinson is keen on this idea because he's been blackballed in the technology community for past ideological transgressions, as he tells it. In 2013, Dickinson was fired as the CTO of Business Insider for tweeting rape jokes (among other inflammatory things, some of which were intended as satire, he said at the time).
Dickinson later ran a crowdfunding site called WeSearchr alongside Chuck Johnson, a semi-notorious internet troll. WeSearchr raised more than $150,000 for a legal fund to benefit The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, and $7,700 to support former Breitbart employee Katie McHugh (including a donation from Dickinson himself) after she was fired for anti-Muslim tweets. Another lucrative campaign centered on the conspiracy theory that DNC staffer Seth Rich's murder was a political assassination. WeSearchr still exists, but Johnson and Dickinson had a falling-out (including unresolved financial disputes), which led to Dickinson splitting off to start CounterFund.
The arrival of CounterFund comes as Americans increasingly seem to be agreeing with the thrust of the Supreme Court's ruling on Citizens United vs. FEC: spending money is a form of political speech. People want to financially support companies that share their values and stick it to those that don't. Hence the #grabyourwallet campaign that encourages consumers to boycott any company associated with Donald Trump. Hence the outcry when people realized that Shopify hosts Breitbart's store, and that Cloudflare's technology protects virulent white supremacists from DDoS attacks. "You're either an SJW company, or you're not," as Dickinson bluntly put it. Neutrality -- taking all comers regardless of their politics -- is perceived as siding with the enemy.
Meanwhile, the concentrated liberalism of Silicon Valley means that right-wing dissidents, as well as some anodyne conservatives, worry about their ability to broadcast and monetize their views through popular social media services and other internet platforms. Consider the furor caused by rumors that Facebook discriminated against conservative news in its Trending Topics module, which eventually led to Facebook laying off its editorial team. For a member of the alt-right, it makes no sense to tacitly support a perceived "SJW" (social justice warrior) company like Patreon, which garners a percentage of every pledge.
Thus the current political climate is primed for ideologically oriented startups to take hold. "We're sort of having a hollowing out of the middle, where everyone's miserable," according to Dickinson. "The left half wants full-blown communism because they're miserable, and that's their solution, and the right half maybe doesn't know what they want, but they don't want that."
Dickinson is not the only one trying to organize. Cody Wilson is the man behind Defense Distributed, which develops 3D-printed guns. Wilson recently launched Hatreon as a way to support a YouTuber called TV KWA, after the latter was banned by Patreon. Podcaster Dick Masterson pulls in more than $20,000 per month on Patreon, and he reached out to Wilson publicly to ask about his options. Regardless, Wilson doesn't regard Hatreon as a business venture first, and told Inc. that he doesn't need it to take off like a rocket, the way a typical startup would hope to. "I don't see my site as exclusively the domain of the right, although I suppose that's the first group that will participate," he added.
"It's a schism," Dickinson told Inc. "We're becoming even more like two Americas than we were." Dickinson's ultimate aim is to wrest control away from his ideological opponents by building right-wing-friendly alternatives to their services and making the community more self-sufficient. "There's a cry for more organization amongst the alt-right movement," he explained. "They want something more than just these atomized people all doing their individual things."