December 2, 2022

Mariedelices

Taking The Lead For Fashion Quality

Fascist Fashion: How Mainstream Businesses Enable the Sale of Far-Right Merchandise

Fascist fashion items can help promote and provide funds for extremist groups. In some instances, it appears, their sale relies upon key services provided by prominent businesses that have policies against promoting racist organisations and hateful content.

An investigation by Bellingcat has found that a number of far-right and neo-Nazi online stores are openly utilising the infrastructure provided by major payment processors, commercial content management systems and web domain registrars.

Bellingcat was also able to establish that some far-right web stores appeared to be purchasing garments from wholesale manufacturers, whose charters celebrate diversity and equality, before embossing their own hateful messaging onto the clothing and selling it at a profit.

Some of the far-right sites could even be seen using mainstream social media platforms to promote links to their own online shops and those of their far-right allies.

Illustration: Ann Kiernan

Several groups studied by Bellingcat maintained Instagram pages that were carefully curated to stay within the boundaries of the platform’s rules. However, some of these accounts linked out to Telegram channels and web stores where the same groups were promoting and selling fashion items that depict Nazi and racist symbols.

Other items of clothing visible in far-right online stores showed more subtle or coded references to fascism and Nazism, such as the coordinates of a castle used by prominent Nazis during World War II.

T-shirts sold by the European Brotherhood. On the right, the coordinates point to Wewelsburg castle, a spot considered important by many neo-Nazis.

The above T-shirts, for example, were being sold on a site that was hosted by GoDaddy, which has previously spoken out against racism and homophobia. 

Other far-right websites, meanwhile, appeared to offer  buyers the opportunity to pay for goods using payment processing platforms such as Payops, Nets Easy, MolliePayments, Bungeecolud and Paysera.

A screen grab from Whois.com which shows European Brotherhood website hosted by GoDaddy.

Numerous far-right and neo-Nazi organisations have taken to raising cash and spreading each other’s brand names by hawking a variety of clothing and merchandise in recent years.

According to Dr. Hans Jakob-Schindler from the international policy organisation, Counter Extremism Project, far-right webshops are “one of a range of methods by which the overall movement is financing itself.” 

Such operations have two distinct advantages, he added. “They allow easy cross border sales, as you do not have to have a physical shop in the jurisdiction of your customer base, and they can easily [be] adapted to changing circumstances” if, for example, a crackdown occurs in one country or area. 

But it’s not just about being a potential source of finance. As others have noted, including professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss in her book, “Hate in the Homeland”, these stores can help connect the global far-right discourse, strengthen ideologies and help the far-right see itself as part of a broader, global movement.

International Brothers in Harm

Far-right clothing and items have previously been reported as being sold in mainstream online stores. But the likes of Amazon, Google and Wish have taken steps to remove obscene material  in recent years. 

This has led some far-right groups to seek other means of promoting and selling their products.

While the Telegram instant messaging service has become a place where many far-right groups promote themselves and communicate with others, the platform’s interface and architecture means it is not somewhere that items can be easily bought and sold. 

Far-right traders therefore generally have to operate their own online stores if they wish to hawk their wares. 

Many of those that do also take to advertising a variety of other products on top of their own lines of clothing. These include mixed martial arts sportswear, far-right music, as well as the flares and smoke bombs commonly used by ultras football groups. 

Cross promotion by far-right and neo-Nazi groups for online stores in other countries also appears common. Such collaboration helps boost awareness within international networks, spreads racist messaging and widens the potential market for the niche products on sale. 

For example a post on the Telegram page of European Brotherhood – a group of self-styled European nationalists that could be seen selling T-shirts that depict several Nazi symbols – detailed dozens of “WLM” or White Lives Matter stores across Europe.

A message promoting far-right and neo-Nazi stores throughout Europe and the US, shared by the European Brotherhood in it’s Telegram channel. Bellingcat has censored part of the names to reduce amplification.

Pride France, meanwhile, is a brand that mixes martial arts with some white supremacist and neo-Nazi lifestyle clothing and is sold through a French language website called 2yt4u (which stands for “too white for you”). 

A look at the 2yt4u website confirms it also promotes products from other far-right stores such as ‘Svastone’ from Ukraine and the Russian ‘White Rex’ online shop.

Some of the clothing sold on 2YT4U, featuring nazi and white supremacist symbols.

The 2yt4u website also features the logos of several other neo-Nazi groups on its website header image. Among them is the ‘Rise Above Movement’, an American white supremacist gang previously investigated by Bellingcat

Some groups even appeared to be selling the same un-branded products at a significant markup. Bellingcat found an item, described as “police gloves” on one far-right store, was also being sold on several others.

Results of a reverse image search of a pair of gloves sold on one far-right web store leads to matches on other sites.

A reverse image search of the gloves and table of their specifications lead investigators to several more far-right websites with the same product offering.

Interestingly, however, the same reverse image search revealed that an army goods store that appeared to have no affiliation to any far-right brands or groups was selling the same gloves for close to half the price.

The same gloves product sold on a far-right web store was found being sold at a cheaper price on more mainstream sites.

It was not possible to find who the original producer of the gloves was, but the fact that the same product was being sold in various far-right stores suggests similar learnings or tactics were being employed by the outlets – some of whom even advertised each other’s products.

Still, other far-right outlets appeared to piggyback off of more mainstream services to get their name and products noticed.

Social Status

Some of the stores identified by Bellingcat could be seen either using or attempting to use mainstream social media sites. 

However, most appeared to tone down their messaging to avoid contravening rules around hateful content.

Many far-right websites often displayed both Facebook and Instagram links on their stores and pages. More often than not, however, the Facebook pages were defunct, indicating that if they ever did exist they had been taken down. 

Yet maintaining a presence on Instagram seemed to pose less of a problem for a select group of stores. When banned, some appeared to have renamed themselves and returned to the platform under a different guise.

A message shared on the Telegram channel of European Brotherhood advertising an account on Instagram.

The groups that used Instagram, and managed to avoid censors by staying inside the platform’s guidelines, generally included a link to either an online store or Telegram page in their bios where far more extreme content would be visible.

The Ukrainian ‘Schutzenbrand’ appears to have pursued this strategy, advertising relatively innocent T-shirts on Instagram under the name Schutzen.product to over 1,800 followers.

But a link in their Instagram bio led to a Telegram channel, where a whole new group of T-shirts appeared. Some of these depicted sonnenrads, white power logos, glorification of the Ku Klux Klan and teddy bears adorned with swatiskas.

An image from the Telegram channel of Schutzen.brand. “Rahowa” is an abbreviation of “Racial Holy War” and is widely used by neo-Nazi groups.

Other stores with pages on Instagram even appeared able to upload posts that openly depicted far-right symbols. Ruswear, a Russian store with an official website in its bio, advertised sweaters and T-shirts that appeared to be clearly emblazoned with swastikas.

A screen grab from the Ruswear Instagram page.

On Ruswear’s official website, where plenty of clothing without Nazi or hateful symbols can also be purchased, this design is described as being a traditional Slavic and Russian pattern. 

But other clothing advertised on their Telegram channel appears overtly fascsist. 

One T-shirt depicts a German eagle over a black sun (or sonnenrad), a neo-Nazi symbol. A version of this image appeared on the cover of the ‘Steel Eagles’ album by the neo-Nazi Russian band, Russkiy Styag. Several of the group’s songs from this album were branded extremist by Russia’s Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in 2015.

A T-shirt with a German eagle over a black sun (or sonnenrad) advertised on the Ruswear Telegram channel.

Another store promoted by far-right vendors on Telegram is ‘Sturm Store’ (usually abbreviated to SS and seemingly another hat-tip to neo-Nazi lore). This store also advertised white supremacist merchandise openly on Instagram itself. The Sturm Store Instagram bio consisted of a link to the group’s Telegram channel, which has nearly 1,000 subscribers.

A screen grab shows clothing promoted by Sturm Store on Instagram.

Bellingcat sought to ask Instagram about the details in this report. A spokesperson for Meta, Instagram’s parent company, said it had taken down several of the accounts flagged by Bellingcat and that they employ various technologies and 350 counterterrorism specialists to try and keep up with evolving trends. 

They added : “We ban people and groups involved in organised hate or violence from Facebook and Instagram. We take down any content that praises, supports or represents them, including symbols like the swastika or sonnenrad, and when accounts repeatedly break these rules, we’ll disable them completely. But this is an adversarial space, and we know people will try to find different ways to share this content.”

The accounts of the European Brotherhood and Ruswear detailed in this article did appear to have been removed at time of publication. But while the initial Sturm Store channel appears to have been taken down at some point over the last few months, an account with a near identical name appears to have replaced it – linking out to the same Telegram channel selling white power and neo-Nazi merchandise. Another account advertising what appeared to be Ruswear clothing also remained on the platform. One picture on this channel displayed a T-shirt that contained a Swastika and other symbols that have been adopted by neo-Nazi groups. The same schutzen.product account appears to remain on Instagram but the link to its Telegram channel is no longer in its bio.

Hate-Filled Threads

The far right groups who sell these items don’t manufacture the materials themselves.

The garments, as well as other accessories, usually come from wholesale suppliers who most likely have no idea how their products are later adapted and used.

The designs depicted so far in this investigation seem to have been applied to generic clothing on a DIY basis before being sold on to consumers.

For example, the website of one online store, Martelentete, which sells neo-Nazi clothing from brands with seemingly openly racist names like “Keep it White” and “Ubermensch” also sells a sweatshirt featuring a death rune (another pagan symbol coopted by neo-Nazis). 

The product description for this sweatshirt includes a link to a product spec sheet which in turn points to the website of russelleurope.com. 

A sweater decorated with the logo of the Belgian ‘hate-core’ band Les Eburons, a ‘death rune’ symbol that has been coopted by Nazi’s, and the text ‘nuclear winter’.

Russell is a subsidiary of Fruit of the Loom and a major business-to-business garment producer. 

It must be noted that neither Russell nor Fruit of the Loom will have much knowledge of how their product has come to be used in this way. Their clothing items are sold to a variety of customers and suppliers at various stages of the value chain, each of which could be the vendor that knowingly or unknowingly sells the materials to the far-right brands or the individuals representing them. 

A spokesperson for Fruit of the Loom told Bellingcat that respect for people is one of the company’s core values. They added: “We in no way condone hate speech or any actions by groups or individuals that are contrary to our values. As our products are sold through wholesale distribution, we cannot identify or control the final sale of our product. 

“However, we will thoroughly investigate this situation and take appropriate action to stop any association with our brands or use of our products in the future.”

Bellingcat also found that garments from B&C Collection were also featured on the Martelentete website. The image below shows a T-shirt with a vegvisir symbol that has been co-opted from Norse mythology by some far-right groups and figures.

A T-shirt with a vegvisir symbol is sold on the Martelentete website, with the description pointing to the website of B&C Collection.

In response B&C Collections said: “Of course, we do not support extremist messages, nor any types of discrimination based on gender, origin, religion, as stated in our code-of-conduct.”

“Unfortunately, we are in a B2B2B2C market and we do not sell to final users. We sell our boxes of garments to big international European multi-brands wholesalers, that sell to agencies or resellers, that sell to printers, that sell to associations. We have unfortunately no way to control the place where our tees will end-up. We hope you understand that we can not be suspected of any sympathy for these messages but that we can absolutely not control the downstream supply chain.”  

Sites of Interest

Many far-right groups are also making use of prominent processing and web-hosting platforms, Bellingcat’s research found.

In some cases, the technical services required to run far-right stores are clearly mentioned on the websites themselves. 

For example, several extremist websites in Russia, Serbia and Germany state they have been “developed in SmkStyle”. 

Bellingcat found some far-right websites had been developed by SmkStyle.

SmkStyle did not respond to emailed requests for comment as to whether it was aware that its services were being used in this way. Its website, meanwhile, now appears to have shut down and is no longer accessible.

In most cases, far-right websites do not offer such obvious clues as to the provision of these services. Yet a number of easy-to-use online tools can help reveal this information. 

The aforementioned far-right website, 2yt4u.com displays no information about how it was built and designed. But by using the whatcms.org tool (or by ‘inspecting’ and checking website elements) it is possible to see that 2yt4u appears to depend on a service called WIX for its design and web-hosting.

The WhatCMS service shows that the 2yt4u website is built and managed through WIX.

WIX is a prominent Israeli software company which offers an easy to use website building tool and cloud hosting services. The company’s website states that its services are not meant for content which “…may be deemed as defamatory, libellous, obscene, harassing, threatening, incendiary, abusive, racist, offensive…”.

The messaging and T-shirts sold by 2yt4u – such as those featuring notorious SS symbols and slogans or a KKK-figure holding a noose and a torch – would appear to contradict WIX’s policies.

In an emailed response, Wix told Bellingcat that it was opposed to all types of abusive content published on its platform and thatall reports and notifications of abusive and fraudulent websites are taken extremely seriously.”

“When a complaint is received against any content published by one of Wix users, our Policy Team will apply discretion and judgement on the content which is on the website. We work diligently to evaluate every claim and take the relevant actions as soon as they are received, but do not have the capacity to judge what is outside of the website built on Wix. We are continuing to implement measures to ensure safety on the platform and will comply with any order from a law enforcement agency instructing our company to remove the website.”

At time of publication, the 2yt4u website, where T-shirts like the one detailed in the image below have been advertised for sale, remained online.

A T-shirt sold on 2yt4u website.

Major domain registrars and hosting providers also have policies for those that use their services and few, it seems, would be compatible with the messaging or fashion products of the various the far-right groups detailed in this investigation.

By using a site like who.is, which provides a large database of domain names and details, it is possible to see that the European Brotherhood’s domain name is registered with GoDaddy, which has previously taken a stand by kicking neo-Nazi sites off its platform

Despite this policy, the anti-LGBT, anti-migrant, and subtle references to Nazism can still be found on the t-shirts that are sold on the European Brotherhood’s website. 

Some of the clothing sold by the European Brotherhood details far-right and anti-LGBT tropes.

For example, the T-shirt on the right (above) depicts a young man with alongside the call: “Time to fight – Join the resistance”. The image of this man comes from an Hitler-Jugend SS postcard (seen in this image) that also contains the message “Auch Du” which translates as “You Too” in English.

GoDaddy’s terms of use forbids anything that “promotes, encourages or engages in terrorism, violence against people, animals, or property”. 

Bellingcat reached out to GoDaddy by phone and email on multiple occasions to ask about European Brotherhood’s use of its platform but did not receive a response before publication.

Making Hate Pay

The services of prominent payment providers also appeared to have been utilised by some of the far-right outlets analysed by Bellingcat.

The Swedish outlet, Midgaardshop, which sells products from the European Brotherhood as well as its own merchandise that promotes positive references to neo-Nazi ideology and white supremacy, states it accepts accepts payments through the likes of Payop, Paysera and Nets Easy.

A T-shirt sold by Midgaardshop featuring an Nazi SS-soldier.

Payop’s own website states that it has forbidden the use of its services to sell “material which incites violence, hatred, racism or which is considered obscene”.

Similarly, Paysera states that it can fine clients for engaging activities which promote “hatred and violence”. Nets Easy also has numerous policies on equality, ethics and diversity on its website.

In an emailed response, Payop said that it has clear terms which “prohibit selling products with such content” and that they were grateful that Bellingcat had “pointed this website out”.

They continued: “Payop would never approve such industry and actively monitor[s] incidents to prevent unauthorised usage. We will investigate internally on how the website might be connected to our infrastructure.”

Payop added that they currently did not see any transactions from this website on its software setup while also pointing out that there were other processors on the Midgaardshop checkout.

Paysera thanked Bellingcat for drawing its attention to the case and said that the seller only had a “current account” and was not able to automatically process online payments. It said that while Paysera had 13,000 e-merchants that use its gateway to sell millions of items around the world, it would do its best to look closer at this merchant and then an appropriate decision will be made.” 

A spokesperson for Nets said: “Thank you for dragging our attention to this. Meeting all regulatory requirements, being fully compliant on KYC [know your customer] obligations in line with law and upholding our high ethical standards is a top priority for us.”

The spokesperson also added that the account used by Migdaardshop had been terminated after an investigation was conducted in response to Bellingcat’s request for comment.

In another case found by Bellingcat, a payment portal revealed that a web shop with a seemingly far-less offensive clothing range appeared to be somehow involved in sales made by another far-right website. 

Ordering a product from the website of the German far-right group Ansgar Aryan leads to the Bungeecloud payment portal. What was interesting about this transaction was that a message appeared on-screen stating that it was being carried out not with Ansgar Aryan but with an organisation called antagonist.shop.de.

Bellingcat did not complete the transaction.

A screen grab detailing a transaction on the Ansgar Aryan online store.

But the process seems to suggest that the ‘Antagonist’ brand’s store appears to be part of the transaction when items are purchased from Ansgar Aryan. 

Clothing sold on antagonist-shop.de does not include any obscene imagery, nor does its website contain any references to Ansgar Aryan. 

Bellingcat reached out to Antagonist via email to ask about the details in this report. It received a response that stated simply: “FU”.

Bungeecloud did not respond to Bellingcat’s request for comment before publication despite being contacted by email and on Discord.

Most other groups investigated by Bellingcat appeared to receive payments from payment processing sites more directly.

Nordic Sun Records, a Hungarian white supremacist store that sells music and clothing states that it accepts payments through a Dutch payment processor called MolliePayments. 

This can be seen by inspecting the source code of the payment portal on the Nordic Sun Records website.

A screen grab shows the source code on the Nordic Sun online store, detailing payment ins accepted via MolliePayments. A separate banner states payment can also be made via CoinPayments.

Or by proceeding with the order till the payment screen.

Another screen grab from the Nordic Sun store states payments are accepted by Mollie.

MolliePayments states on its website that it does not allow products to be sold that are deemed ‘socially unacceptable’, including products that might harm Mollie’s reputation, or encourage political violence.

After asking them about Nordic Sun Records, Mollie Payments responded: “Our policy prohibits businesses that use our payment services from selling products that promote political violence. We launched an internal investigation into Nordic Sun Records and concluded that the firm had breached our terms and conditions. We have discontinued our services with immediate effect.”

As can be seen in the image above, Nordic Sun Records also accepts transactions through ‘Coinpayments’, a crypto platform.

Many cryptocurrencies already have a reputation for being used by neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists due to the anonymity it can provide. 

Nevertheless, that does not mean that crypto platforms don’t have policies that aim to prevent their services being used by far-right or hateful organisations. 

CoinPayments explicitly forbids its use for activities that “incite, threaten, facilitate, promote, or encourage hate, racial intolerance, or violent acts against others”.

CoinPayments thanked Bellingcat for bringing the case of Nordic Sun to its attention. It also said: “This account was found to be in breach of our User Agreement, which clearly defines the types of products and services that we will not support. We have terminated this account and they will no longer be able to use CoinPayments to process crypto payments on their site.”

Stamping out Hate

Bellingcat was only able to fully examine a sample of the far-right shops it found detailed or advertised in many far-right Telegram posts and channels. It is highly likely that further analysis will reveal that far more make use of other payment services, clothing manufacturers and web-based infrastructure. 

In recent months, some stores appear to have added merchandise that celebrates the fight against Russian “bolsheviks” with images of Adolf Hitler.

A web store advertising merchandise related to the war in Ukraine.

It is important to note, though, that many stores appear more like hobbies, with low and limited stock and shabby, outdated websites. 

Others like the European Brotherhood and Midgaard, however, appear more well-established and professional.

But it’s not just about being a potential source of finance for these groups, with many sharing and helping spread the products, memes, labels and ideology of like minded groups in different regions or countries.

The fact that so many large companies in the likes of manufacturing, web technology, social media and payment processing  appear to be unwittingly enabling this trade also raises pertinent questions for each of them.

While some have acted after being notified by Bellingcat, much more likely remains out there waiting to be discovered.


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