Henry “Enrique” Tarrio had already publicized his plans to participate in the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally. The 36-year-old Miami resident and national chairman of the Proud Boys posted on social media that he would direct small teams of his far-right group with a history of violence to wear black and fan out across Washington.
But when he arrived in D.C. on Jan. 4 ahead of the scheduled demonstrations, he said, “15 cop cars” swarmed his Honda Crosstour soon after he passed through the Third Street Tunnel. Tarrio was wanted on a misdemeanor charge from December accusing him of setting fire to a historic Black church’s Black Lives Matter banner.
During the traffic stop, authorities found high-capacity firearm magazines in his backpack, resulting in felony weapons charges, according to court records. And as he sat in a jail cell for 24 hours, Tarrio said, he thought about how he would need a lot of money to get out of this mess. Good lawyers, he said, don’t come cheap.
He said family members had the idea to monetize the support of his online followers through GiveSendGo.com, a niche Christian fundraising website that bills itself as “a place to fund hope.” Within a week, the “Enrique Tarrio Defense Fund” had amassed more than $113,000 from 2,359 donors, according to the site. Tarrio has pleaded not guilty.
“It’s not just Proud Boys that are raising money there,” Tarrio said in an interview Thursday, noting that his group’s chapters nationwide have used the site to fund their cause. “There’s just so many people that are raising money there.”
A review by The Washington Post shows that the self-described Christian website has become a refuge of sorts for outcasts and extremists, including fringe groups such as the Proud Boys as well as conspiracy theorists who seek to undercut the results of the presidential election by promoting debunked claims of fraud. Some of the users claim to have been booted from other crowdfunding websites for violating terms-of-service agreements.
Postings on GiveSendGo show that at least $247,000 has been raised for 24 people – including at least eight members of the Proud Boys – who claimed online that the money was intended for travel, medical or legal expenses connected to “Stop the Steal” events, including the Jan. 6 rally.
One post asked donors to “sponsor a warrior” and help “buy body armor and other protection pieces for our patriots.” It has raised only $5. Another featured a screenshot of President Donald Trump’s tweet promoting the Jan. 6 event above a man’s plea for help after he claimed that a different crowdfunding site, GoFundMe, had removed his page. “I plan to meet you all there and fight alongside you,” he wrote on GiveSendGo, raising $958.
The pleas for money illustrate how even small-dollar donations could make the trip to Washington possible for some Trump supporters.
A Texas woman asked for $500, listing her expenses: $15 for pepper spray, $100 for cab fares and $100 for a room at a hostel, with extra money for food and an emergency fund. She said one donor already contributed his frequent flier airline miles to defray the cost of a plane ticket.
Another woman pleaded for $400 to cover her travels: “Funds are tight and I’m behind on bills. . . . For the last rally I drove straight through with no motel and no sleep. It was difficult. By giving, you would allow me to sleep on the 5th and 6th and keep my trip and driving safer.” She ended her post by writing: “We’re going to MAGA” – referring to Trump’s pledge to “Make America Great Again!”
The Post’s review also found that more than $321,000 has been raised through GiveSendGo for funds that promote conspiracy theories about the presidential election.
Following the siege of the U.S. Capitol, which resulted in the deaths of one police officer and four rioters, GiveSendGo has found itself in a firestorm over the use of its platform to finance travel or legal defense funds related to the events of Jan. 6.
Several days after the rally, PayPal announced that it would no longer process transactions for the site.
“The account in question was closed due to a violation of our Acceptable Use Policy,” a PayPal spokeswoman said in a written statement. “PayPal carefully reviews accounts to ensure our services are used in line with our well-established policy, and has a long history of taking action when we deem that individuals or organizations have violated this policy. We do not allow PayPal services to be used to promote hate, violence, or other forms of intolerance.”
Jacob Wells, the chief financial officer of GiveSendGo, told Bloomberg News that he “broke up first” with PayPal after growing alarmed by its plans to censor some funds.
In interviews with The Post, Wells said he is “definitely not comfortable” with the presence of the Proud Boys on his site but had no plans to remove their pages.
“I’m extremely hesitant to trample or walk on that freedom at the outcry of public opinion,” Wells said. “If the law dictates that we can’t have things [on the website], we adhere to the law.”
Over the past few days, however, the site has suspended donations to several funds set up by the Proud Boys and other Stop the Steal participants. Wells said he removed the donate button on these pages after Stripe, a company whose software enables online payments from credit or debit cards, emailed with objections. He said he hopes to come up with a solution that would allow donations to resume to those accounts as soon as Feb. 1. Stripe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
GiveSendGo drew criticism last year following its apparent willingness to host campaigns connected to people accused of crimes, including Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the killing of George Floyd, and Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with killing two men and wounding a third in Kenosha, Wis. Chauvin and Rittenhouse have pleaded not guilty; Rittenhouse has claimed self-defense.
Wells acknowledged that the site has at times struggled to stay true to both Christian principles and its commitment to facilitate fundraising for individuals or causes irrespective of their popularity.
“We’re not radicalized people,” he said. “I’m a Jesus guy. . . . I love the message of the cross and the gospel, which is an equalizer for everybody.”
Wells added, “The mission at GiveSendGo has [been], and will always be, to share the hope of Jesus in the midst of a divided place.”
A handful of Christian pastors who had publicly condemned the events of Jan. 6 said in interviews that they feared the website could become a tool in what they see as the dangerous rise of Christian nationalism, an ideology rooted in its followers’ intent to take back what they view as the American identity.
“When you’ve got people waving flags and taking Jesus’ name in vain like this, what seems to happen is that Jesus becomes more of an ‘Uncle Sam’ character than what we proclaim as the living Christ,” said Garrett Vickrey, who leads the Woodland Baptist Church congregation in San Antonio.
“That’s how Jesus kind of becomes a mascot for your movement and a blank canvas to project whatever your values or vision is of what’s good and right. And that’s how things get dangerous.”
On GiveSendGo, the religious branding is central to the site. If would-be donors can’t afford to chip in money for a cause, they can hit the “PRAY NOW” button to let a fundraiser know they are supporting the effort through prayer.
Wells and his sisters, Emmalie Arvidson and Heather Wilson, began brainstorming the idea for GiveSendGo in 2013, according to the website. The siblings grew up in the Boston suburb of Milton. Wells said he attended Boston Baptist College and served five years in the Navy as a cryptology technician before eventually starting the site.
“The creators of this new site desire for all to understand that they believe God wants www.givesendgo.com to be a place for Christians,” Wilson wrote in a 2015 news release. “A place to fund hope. A place to pray and connect with other believers worldwide, and most importantly, a place for GIVERS, SENDERS and GOERS to work together to be the light of the world.”
Wells said staff members for the website, which bills itself as the premier free Christian crowdfunding site, work remotely. He declined to generally describe where he lives, citing security concerns. Arvidson, who could not be reached to comment, is not involved with operating the website, Wells said.
GiveSendGo is a for-profit business and the site has experienced “year-over-year growth” since its inception, said Wells, who added that he hoped to “hit $1 million” in revenue in 2021. He said the site processed more than 10 million payments last year.
“We operate on the generous donations from our Campaign Owners and Givers,” according to its website. “You will never be asked by us to make a payment.”
When users attempt to donate, the site defaults to a $1 suggested “gift” for GiveSendGo to help defray costs.
Emily Clagett, 25, of Gaithersburg, Md., said she interned for GiveSendGo in 2015 while she was a student at Salisbury University. Clagett said she worked remotely but would meet with Wilson, who was her direct supervisor, once a week at a coffee shop to work together for an hour or two. At the time, Clagett said, the site was just starting and the founders were hoping to get the attention of prominent Christian churches and their followers.
Every day, Clagett said, she was tasked with choosing three quotes from well-known Christian leaders to post on social media with graphics. But after a while, she said, it grew difficult to find succinct quotes that she had not already featured.
“I slipped up once and I guess I put like a Buddha quote in there and I got in trouble,” she said. “The quote was really just something about being kind to other fellow humans. I get that he’s not a Christian religious figure.”
Clagett said Wilson didn’t get angry, but told her: “Hey, that’s not OK. Don’t do that again.”
Last year, she said she was puzzled to read about GiveSendGo’s willingness to host Rittenhouse’s legal defense fund, which has raised more than half a million dollars, according to the site.
“I’m not a practicing Catholic anymore, but the tenets of Christianity are, you know, ‘Don’t hurt people,’ ” Clagett said. “So I was surprised about that and pretty much equally as surprised about all of the Proud Boys fundraisers. I’m not really sure how that can be spun as being Christian.”
A few days after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, Clagett said, she updated her online résumé to delete the reference to the time working for the website.
“I just don’t really agree with what they are doing now,” she said. “I don’t want to be associated with them at this point.”
Asked to comment, Wilson, Clagett’s former boss, said by email, “Emily was a great intern and we wish her well in whatever she does.”
In some instances, GiveSendGo has leaned into the criticism – issuing news releases to call attention to payment vendors that it claims have tried to block transactions.
On Sept. 4, GiveSendGo wrote: “Discover Card is attempting to ban their customers from donating. . . . It is our assumption that they reached this decision due to the fundraiser for Kyle Rittenhouse.”
The same day, Wells recorded a video in which he calls Discover’s actions “horrendous” and takes a pair of scissors to his own Discover card, cutting it into small shards and dropping them, one by one, into a trash can.
“Why don’t we make this go viral?” he asked his Facebook followers, challenging them to film videos of themselves destroying Discover cards.
In a statement to The Post, Discover spokesman Jon Drummond wrote: “GiveSendGo.com is a platform that facilitates a variety of fundraising endeavors. Activities that violate our operating regulations are terminated through our financial institution partners. Activities that comply with our operating regulations are allowed to accept Discover.”
In response to some of the recent criticism, Wells told The Post that he strives not to judge the people who use his site.
“For the people that use our platform that we might not agree with, we are going to give them grace, because they’re going to deal with the ramifications of their actions,” Wells said, referring specifically to the Rittenhouse example.
“And same with everyone that busted into the Capitol and did anything wrong there. They’re going to have to deal with the ramifications of their actions, and they are. They’re being caught, and they’re being arrested.”
Before his GiveSendGo post, Tarrio, the national chairman of the Proud Boys, said he had used a crowdfunding website only once before.
In 2017, he posted a pitch on the nation’s largest crowdfunding site, GoFundMe, asking for donations for a Proud Boys trip to Houston for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. But once he made it to the city, he said, he received notice that GoFundMe had deactivated his page for violating its terms of service.
Tarrio said the hurricane relief money was refunded to donors. But GoFundMe’s decision to pull the plug on his charitable efforts infuriated him, he said. He said that anger – along with the realization that many sites were “de-platforming” people affiliated with the Proud Boys – made GiveSendGo the only viable destination to host his legal defense fund.
In the wake of the Jan. 6 events, GoFundMe issueda statement explaining its position on the use of its platform: “We continue to enforce our terms of service and do not tolerate fundraisers supporting hate, violence, harassment, or spreading misinformation about the 2020 election.”
The website stressed that it condemns “the violence and attempted insurrection and will continue to remove fundraisers that attempt to spread misinformation about the election, promote conspiracy theories and contribute to or participate in attacks on US democracy.”
Wells said GiveSendGo has not solicited the controversial users.
“We don’t go out looking for campaigns,” he said. “They pop onto our site because they were booted off somewhere else or because they knew about us.”
The photo accompanying Tarrio’s GiveSendGo legal defense fund shows him wearing a black cap emblazoned with yellow letters that spell out “The War Boys.” He is holding his hands outward, with his fingers forming a hand gesture that appears similar to the “okay” sign. The signal has been interpreted by some experts on extremism as a call for “white power.” Tarrio, who is of Afro Cuban descent, disputed that he is calling for white supremacy. He said his hand gesture was a way to “troll” the media.
The terms of service for GiveSendGo state that it should not be used for harassment or “to promote violence, degradation, subjugation, discrimination or hatred against individuals or groups based on race, ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age or veteran status.”
Wells said GiveSendGo screens its participants to ensure that no fundraising appeals call for violence or law breaking of any kind.
“I don’t know, necessarily, any group that’s used our platform that has outwardly advocated using violence,” Wells said. “I’m not Google, so I don’t have all the answers in the world.”
Nicholas Ochs is a self-described Proud Boy from Honolulu who posts online under his self-styled social media brand called “Ochs Report.” On GiveSendGo, a post under his name raised $300 for expenses to attend the Jan. 6 rally.
“It’s an alt-media dream team,” he wrote on the plea for money, saying he was “going to DC because the president asked.” He said that he expected to lose money on the trip but that “our sweet boys wouldn’t miss it and promise to deliver the heinous, ugly truth to a heinous, ugly city.”
He added, “We will try not to get stabbed but if one of us does that’s when the real bucks come in so keep an eye out for that fundraiser too.”
Ochs was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of unlawful entry stemming from his presence inside the Capitol on Jan 6, according to court documents. The Los Angeles Times reported that he filmed videos of the insurrection for a California right-wing news outlet called “Murder the Media.” With Ochs’s criminal case pending as he sat behind bars in Hawaii, a new GiveSendGo page popped up: the “Legal fees for Nick Ochs” fund. As of Sunday, it had raised nearly $20,000, but the ability to donate had been disabled.
Asked by email to comment, Ochs responded, “Shut up nerd.” His attorney declined to comment.
A GiveSendGo fund listed under the name of Zach Rehl, who has been described as the president of the Proud Boys Philadelphia chapter, raised more than $5,500 for travel to the Jan. 6 event. In California, a page bearing the name of Ricky Willden took in more than $1,300 after a request to fund travel for 13 Proud Boys to Washington for the rally. “We have found our purpose in life and we know what must be done,” read a statement on the page, which signed off with: “We are no longer Standing By! God Bless America,” followed by the praying hands emoji.
Rehl and Willden did not respond to requests for comment.
The legitimacy of some of the GiveSendGo pages tied to the Jan. 6 events is unclear.
As of Sunday, at least six pages claimed to be fundraising for the family of Ashli Babbitt, the San Diego woman who was shot by a Capitol Police officer when she was trying to make her way through a broken window of a door inside the building.
One memorial fund for Babbitt was listed under the name of “thedonald.win” – the moniker of a group of Trump supporters with their own online forum. The fund raised nearly $4,500, but a family friend, Destinie Condon, told The Post that they had no idea who was behind the effort.
“It really is sad how so many are able to get approval overnight, even those taking advantage,” Condon wrote in a text to a Post reporter. “Yet those who are honest and family members can’t get a campaign up and running even a week later.”
Condon has since posted the “Ashli Babbitt Official Memorial” on GoFundMe, where she had raised $2,460 as of Sunday.
On GiveSendGo, there are numerous public posts that have nothing to do with Trump or fringe groups. The website includes tabs to filter campaigns by the expressed purpose of the fundraising, including community, mission, church and medical expenses.
As of Sunday, one campaign had raised $36,487 in memory of a schoolteacher who died of covid-19. Another had raised $72,643 for survivors of a father who died in a truck accident.
Lorie Murphey said she turned to GiveSendGo after school closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic dried up her horse-riding business and placed her at risk of losing her five-acre ranch in Central California. As of Sunday, she had raised $81,561, according to the site.
In an interview, Murphey said she learned about GiveSendGo in the fall while posting complaints about the state’s coronavirus restrictions on social media. The raised money, she said, will help her to satisfy terms of a balloon payment for a loan that is due Feb. 1 on her ranch in Wilton, about 20 miles southeast of Sacramento.
“I’m absolutely blessed with the response I’ve gotten,” Murphey said. “I’m not a political person. I’m just trying to survive.”
Some pastors told The Post that, despite its intended Christian audience, they had never heard of GiveSendGo until they learned that some of those involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol had used the site to raise money.
“I don’t really know any Proud Boys,” said Bill Ireland, the pastor of the Norris Religious Fellowship, a small interdenominational congregation about 20 miles north of Knoxville, Tenn. “But I just don’t think that there’s a place for Christians to be fomenting violence. I see that being contrary to the way of Jesus.”
Emily Hull McGee, a pastor who leads the First Baptist Church on Fifth congregation in Winston-Salem, N.C., said she is upset that some potentially bad actors are adopting fundraising mechanisms used by Christian churches for such efforts as mission trips to aid the poor. McGee said she was troubled that GiveSendGo was used to promote plans for disruptions on Jan. 6, which she noted is the Epiphany, a day to celebrate “the light of Christ in the world.” She said she sees an irony.
“For decades, we have pooled our money to do together what we cannot do apart,” she said. “And this takes the very heart of a commitment that has been exercised in a number of Christian traditions for years and perverts it to the very sort of worst impulses that I can see.”
Wells said GiveSendGo has recently sought advice from public relations consultants about how to handle the controversy.
“These aren’t things that we are approaching lightly,” he said. “And they’re not things that we’ve got so solidly locked that there’s no room for [change]. We’re trying to navigate it with advice from people that we trust.”
As for Tarrio, the Proud Boys leader said he sees nothing wrong with his decision to use the Christian site. He said that he admits to burning the Black Lives Matter banner but that he did not know it belonged to a church.
“The disciples that Jesus had around him weren’t, like, perfect human beings,” he said, noting that his views align most closely with those of Baptists. “They were human beings that sinned. And I’m not free of that sin. I’ve f—ed up many times in my life.”
The Rev. Ianther M. Mills, who leads the Asbury United Methodist Church whose banner Tarrio is accused of destroying, declined to comment.
The generosity of GiveSendGo donors has been overwhelming, Tarrio said, so much so that he recently stopped accepting new donations.
He said that once the $113,000 in GiveSendGo money is transferred to his bank account, he will start his search for a top lawyer to mount his defense.
“I’m gonna go with the best one I can find,” he said.
– – –
The Washington Post’s Alice Crites and Marissa Lang contributed to this report.
Video: http://www.washingtonpost.com/video/local/proud-boys-leader-vows-to-keep-fighting-after-arrest/2021/01/05/4ab7cd43-2340-4f0c-b53c-4c008b22d90c_video.html(REF:alexanderkl/The Washington Post)
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