When startup initiative Super Mission launched its own cryptocurrency token earlier this year, it promised to divert enormous sums — drawn from 10 percent fees on all transactions — to nominated charities chosen each week by the "community."
The two developers behind Super Mission initially appeared to follow through. In early June, American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) reportedly received over $100,000 of donations from this new cryptocurrency initiative — a fact they were quick to trumpet.
Involvement with the cryptocurrency, in the cause of donating to groups such as AMP, was encouraged by other prominent radical activists, including Hassan Shibly, a hardline radical activist and former head of the Florida branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Super Mission, it appears, does not seek to enrich and support Muslim organizations but Islamist ones.
An extremely active Telegram channel for Super Mission features over 2,000 members and 35,000 messages. Thousands of these messages endorse Super Mission's Islamist leanings, with some spouting familiar Islamist anti-Israel rhetoric.
Not all investors, however, share the developer's apparent agenda. Writing in the Telegram channel, some more guileless subscribers have questioned the choice of "religious" and "political" charities, even noting that — despite the developers' claims of "community" decision-making — members never actually asked whether or not AMP would make a suitable charitable beneficiary. In addition, despite claims of a new charity being chosen each week, over a month later, no new charity has apparently yet been announced.
AMP is certainly an interesting first beneficiary of what appears to be one of the first American Islamist-aligned cryptocurrencies. As a leading champion of Palestinian "resistance," AMP is the successor to the Palestine Committee, a fundraising network for the designated terrorist organization Hamas. Palestine Committee members were implicated in the notorious 2007 Holy Land Foundation terrorism trial — one of the largest terror finance trials in American history.
Analysts at the leading think tank the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in testimony before Congress, have noted the "significant overlap between employees from this Hamas-supporting organization and the American Muslims for Palestine network." And one of America's oldest anti-racism groups, the Anti-Defamation League, notes, "AMP has its organizational roots in the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP), an anti-Semitic group that served as the main propaganda arm for Hamas in the United States until it was dissolved in 2004."
AMP officials do not work particularly hard to conceal their views. The current AMP director, Osama Abuirshaid, has praised Hamas as "an army for liberation" whose fighters "rise up for the blood of martyrs."
That anti-Jewish, pro-terror organizations such as AMP are now turning to cryptocurrency schemes for donations is worrying. Other organizations and law enforcement agencies have increasingly pointed to the growing use of cryptocurrency — particularly the anonymity that such trading offers — as a lucrative source of income and opaqueness for violent Islamist organizations and their lawful cheerleaders in the West.
In June, following clashes between Israel and Hamas, U.S. Congressmen Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Brian Mast (R-Fla.) introduced bipartisan legislation seeking to impose additional financial sanctions on the Gaza terrorist group, in the wake of reports of "a surge in cryptocurrency donations to Hamas since the start of the conflict, circumventing international sanctions."
As U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has noted, "I see the promise of these new technologies, but I also see the reality: cryptocurrencies have been used to launder the profits of online drug traffickers; they've been a tool to finance terrorism."
Of course, lawful Islamist organizations — by virtue of the efforts they make to be lawful in the first place — do not have to shroud their finances. And yet many do.
AMP is certainly no exception, and it offers a useful example. Rather than establish its own nonprofit body, today the radical group fundraises primarily through a separate entity — the "AJP Education Foundation," a registered 501(c)(3) that reported just over $1.2 million of income in 2019. The exact origins of the network's income are somewhat murky.
And yet of the 10 million grants distributed by other registered 501(c) organizations and electronically filed with the IRS since 2011, less than $100,000 is shown to have been given to AMP or its parent organization; this was mostly provided by various other Islamist charities and grant-making foundations.
The majority of AMP's income, it would appear, is instead almost certainly provided by unknown individuals or private companies, making it extremely difficult to trace. Now, the growing use of cryptocurrency will make this task even more difficult and will complicate matters for law enforcement as well.
In recent years, those who track foreign funding of radical networks in the West have often wondered how regimes such as Turkey, Qatar, Pakistan, and others move money to their proxies and supporters in Europe and North America. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest foreign state subsidy of domestic extremists, but simply not enough hard evidence. Whether or not, then, such foreign funding is in fact laundered through cryptocurrencies, initiatives such as Super Mission undoubtedly offer foreign radical patrons yet another means to move such monies quietly — avoiding transparency laws and helping beneficiaries circumvent potential Foreign Agent requirements.
Undoubtedly, Islamists across the West are noticing the growing popularity of cryptocurrencies, along with the opportunities and challenges they might present. Mosques with radical ties, such as the Valley Ranch Islamic Center, today offer webinars on the subject, as do the Western youth wings of prominent extremist movements such as Jamaat-e-Islami.
The Fiqh Council of North America — a leading clerical body for American Islamists — has issued a cautious, somewhat-permissive ruling on Bitcoin trading specifically, with only a few limitations. Meanwhile, popular Islamist online preachers such as Joe Bradford, Salafi organizations such as AlMaghrib, and even hate preacher clerics such as Omar Baloch are repeatedly speaking out on and debating the question of the religious permissibility of cryptocurrency trading.
Indeed, not everyone in the Islamist world welcomes the ever-growing cryptocurrency obsession. For various economic reasons, Islamist regimes in Turkey, Qatar, and Iran have all introduced bans or limitations on cryptocurrency trading in recent months.
Rather notably, the British anti-Semitic Salafi preacher Abu Eesa Niamatullah has asked, "[I]s it ethical to be involved with a product that is almost exclusively used by criminals and those who want to hide things from public? Are Muslims meant to be people who dabble in the shadows or rather folks on the forefront of industry promoting openness and transparency in all their actions?" (A somewhat unusual take, given that "openness and transparency" is not usually the mantra of lawful Islamists.)
Despite domestic clerical concerns and interdictions in foreign Islamist lands, the recent Super Mission venture in the United States shows a willing base of Islamist-friendly investors and some very eager Islamist recipients of cryptocurrency-derived funding.
Indeed, in recent months, branches of the notorious, lawful Islamist organization CAIR have even declared that they will now accept cryptocurrency donations as part of zakat — the Islamic religious tithe.
Will such fundraising methods be adopted by other Islamist organizations? Almost certainly. And by no means is this just limited to Islamism. Extremist movements of all sorts, across the world, are about to get a whole lot harder to track.
Sam Westrop is director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.