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House To Hold Hearing On White Supremacist Threat Amid Financial, Social Media Crackdown

Now that Trump’s “Russian collusion” ties, and various assorted Congressional hearings on the topic have quietly moved away from the front pages, there is a new hot topic in the Hill, and as Reuters reports, the Homeland Security Committee of the House of Representatives will hold a hearing next month “about threats from extremist groups, including domestic terrorism“, following a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.

In a letter to the panel’s top Democrat, Representative Bennie Thompson, panel’s chairman, Republican Representative Michael McCaul, announced that he will hold a hearing on Sept. 12.  “We must stand together and reject racism, bigotry, and prejudice, including the hateful ideologies promoted by neo-Nazis, the KKK, and all other white supremacy groups,” McCaul said.

McCaul’s letter was in response to a request from Thompson and the other Democrats on the committee to hold a hearing on the subject. “It is past time for this Committee on Homeland Security to act,” the Democrats wrote to McCaul.

 

The committee will invite leaders of the Homeland Security Department, the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center to discuss the most serious threats the United States faces, McCaul said.

Meanwhile, the financial crackdown against extremist organizations is picking up speed. According to Bloomberg, Discover Financial announced it was ending merchant agreements with extremist organizations that incite violence.

“In light of recent events, we are terminating merchant agreements with hate groups, given the violence incited by their extremist views,” the Riverwoods, Illinois-based credit-card company said Wednesday in an emailed statement. “The intolerant and racist views of hate groups are inconsistent with our beliefs and practices. While we do not share their opinions, we recognize their right to voice them, no matter how reprehensible we find them.”

Advocacy groups have been calling on major credit-card companies to stop providing financial services for groups such as white supremacists. Color of Change, a racial-justice advocacy group, said Monday that financial services provided by major credit-card companies have been enabling hate groups. Discover declined to say how many groups it’s ending agreements with, or name them.

Separately, Mastercard said it will continue to actively monitor the use of its network by websites that “unlawfully promote or incite violence,” according to a statement from spokesman Seth Eisen. If the network is made aware of activity that is illegal or violates its rules, then it will work with the merchant’s bank to ensure the activity stops, Eisen said. Still, Eisen said the company has consistently stated its belief that offensive speech “has and will be seen for what it is.” “For that reason, we generally do not prohibit the acceptance of Mastercard-branded payment cards by merchants based on our disagreement with specific views espoused or promoted,” Eisen said in the emailed statement.

Visa has also reviewed the list of hate sites, religious organizations, and political groups provided to it by “concerned organizations,” Amanda Pires, a spokeswoman, told Bloomberg. The company determined that a number of the sites weren’t adhering to the merchant acquirer’s acceptable-use policies or were engaging in illegal activities.

“For this reason, these sites are no longer able to accept Visa payments,” Pires said. “Visa does not, however, restrict transactions that are legal and involve free speech or lawful expression of views, even if we may find the organization or its positions to be offensive.”

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Finally, the crackdown is also taking place on social media, where Reuters reported that Twitter on Wednesday suspended accounts linked to the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, keeping up pressure from Silicon Valley. Twitter said it would not discuss individual accounts, but at least three accounts affiliated with the Daily Stormer led to pages saying “account suspended.”

The San Francisco-based social network prohibits violent threats, harassment and hateful conduct and “will take action on accounts violating those policies,” the company said in a statement. Facebook, which unlike Twitter explicitly prohibits hate speech, has taken down several pages from Facebook and Instagram in recent days that it said were associated with hate speech or hate organizations. 

The Daily Stormer has been accessible only intermittently the past few days after domain providers GoDaddy Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google Domains said they would not serve the website.

By Wednesday, Daily Stormer had moved to a Russia-based internet domain, with an address ending in .ru. Later in the day, though, the site was no longer accessible at that address.

 

Facebook confirmed on Monday that it took down the event page that was used to promote and organize the “Unite the Right” rally, saying it was “actively removing any posts that glorify the horrendous act committed in Charlottesville.”

On Wednesday, Facebook said it had removed accounts belonging to Chris Cantwell, a web commentator who has described himself as a white nationalist and said on his site that he had attended the Charlottesville rally. Cantwell’s YouTube account also appeared to have been terminated.