The companies that handle our money have a lot of control over our lives. Credit card providers refused payments to adult content sitesand Venmo put donations to Palestinian relief organizations suspended during the Gaza conflagration in 2021. But when PayPal appeared to fine users up to $2,500 for posting misinformation, right-wing media, politicians and Twitter users got angry.
PayPal has since issued a statement stating that this was an error and that no one will be fined for misinformation. But the talk came to life and PayPal users started leaving the service. A new competitor was waiting to welcome them: GabPay, the new payment arm of right-wing social media site Gab.
GabPay is more than just an app, however. It’s part of a larger project: an attempt to build an entirely parallel Christian economy, a Christian Internet and, eventually, a Christian nationalist country.
Andrew Torba, the founder of Gab, thanked PayPal for sending him “tens of thousands” of new GabPay users in a post on his site.
Gab started in 2016 as an alternative social media site focused on free speech, infamous for hosting the Tree of Life shooter’s anti-Semitic screed. Like other unmoderated social media sites, it has become a hotbed of racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
But that’s the point, in part, for Gab. Christian nationalism, as a belief system, is open to the exclusion of non-Christians. “If we want to build a Christian movement it has to be exclusively Christian and we can’t be afraid to say that out loud,” he wrote on Gab’s blog.
PayPal blocked Gab in 2018 and Visa blocked him in 2020, largely because of his near-total refusal to moderate posts or content, including racism and urging violence. Even Coinbase, one of the leading cryptocurrency sites – whose main appeal is anonymity and freedom – blocked Gab.
The need for revenue is part of what inspired GabPay – until its launch, the only way to pay for a GabPro account, donate or buy ads was by check or wire transfer. Now, Gab can directly link users’ bank accounts and charges a fee of 1.9%, plus 15 cents, on transactions.
But it’s also an important part of Torba’s larger vision. Torba, 36, worked briefly in Silicon Valley before returning to found Gab in his native Pennsylvania to give conservatives – he describes himself as a “conservative Republican Christian” – a site where they could speak freely. Originally, the site was designed as a center for free speech. However, Torba’s rhetoric has changed over time; While protecting free speech is always at the heart of Gab’s message, the founder has also increasingly centered his Christianitylinking extremist posts on Gab to a religious vision of a new Christian-led society.
This company will need funding, whether it’s just to support Gab’s efforts – GabPay is, after all, one of the only ways to give money to Torba – or to donate to groups extremists such as the Proud Boys.
To give an idea of where the money might go, when I opened the site to write this article, one of the first posts I saw, with 1,500 likes, explained that all hatred of black people and Jews is not racist because it is based on “their behavior”, not their ethnic origin. Many responses challenged this position – as it was not racist enough. As one person put it succinctly in the comments, “Jews are inbred parasites”.
An email from Gab to his mailing list presented GabPay as a matter of freedom – specifically freedom from Jews. He reminded users that since 2021, the Anti-Defamation League has partnered with PayPal to better understand how extremism is funded. Torba linked to an article that defined the ADL as a “far left hate group”. In another blog post, he called the ADL a “Jewish nationalist” group.
GabPay joins the site’s other entries into the Christian economy: its social media site, a cloud service and server farm, a blog pretending to be a news site, its own ad-selling system, a market, video conferences, encrypted messaging application and video hosting on an analogue of YouTube. (The market features merchandise emblazoned with an American flag redesigned to replace the stars with a cross, as well as Torba’s new book on Christian nationalism.)
Since last summer, Gab had more than five million users — well below Facebook’s nearly three billion or even Venmo’s 70 million, but still a sizable number, and far more than competitors in the right-wing alternative social media space. (Trump’s Truth Social platform has about half a million users.)
Still, a payment processor is only as good as the number of people and merchants who will accept it, and as Torba said in a video on GabTV, GabPay was still somewhat “behind the scenes” until this week.
But incidents like Trump’s withdrawal from Twitter — and the PayPal debacle — are sending waves of users to Gab. While it’s unclear whether Torba’s parallel Christian economy will really take hold, Christian nationalism is already a rising force in the United States. Several politicians, like Pennsylvania candidate Doug Mastriano, have openly embraced the once marginal worldview. Mastriano and Marjorie Taylor Greene both paid Torba thousands of dollars for consulting services. (Mastriano later disavowed his connection to the founder of Gab.)
It’s always hard to get a critical mass to take people away from the ease of what they already know, so Gab and its affiliates may never dominate the internet or have millions of users. But with hate groups already using better-regulated payment methods to fund violence and hate, it’s clear that GabPay will increase extremists’ access to money – and with it, to power.