GiveSendGo back online after hack targeting Canadian ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests

The Canadian protesters have begun staging ‘Jericho Marches’ similar to those conducted in the lead-up to the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Truck drivers and others protest COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in Ottawa, Ontario, on Feb. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

(RNS) — Controversial Christian crowdfunding website GiveSendGo is back online after being hacked over the weekend, with digital attackers leaking the names and emails of people who donated to the ongoing protest against pandemic restrictions in Canada spearheaded by truck drivers.

GiveSendGo addressed the hack in a tweet Tuesday morning (Feb. 15), saying the website was “attacked by malicious actors attempting to eliminate the ability of its users to raise funds.”

“GiveSendGo has a dedicated team aggressively focused on identifying these malicious actors and pursuing actions against their cybercrime,” read the statement.

The hackers targeted contributors to the so-called Freedom Convoy protest that has halted traffic at some U.S. border crossings, ground parts of Ottawa to a halt and spurred Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to activate emergency powers in an effort to shut down the demonstration. The catalyst for the protest, which arrived in the country’s capital in late January, was Trudeau’s requirement that truckers quarantine if they are unvaccinated and cross the U.S.-Canada border.

Although Canada is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world — including most of its truckers, according to Trudeau — the protest has grown into a broader symbolic pushback against all pandemic restrictions, including masks, lockdowns and vaccine mandates.

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The demonstrators initially used the more mainstream fundraising website GoFundMe for their efforts, quickly accruing millions of dollars. But GoFundMe took down the donation page in early February, saying it violated the site’s terms of service.

The move outraged many conservatives in the U.S. but spurred demonstrators to utilize GiveSendGo, which has actively promoted the protest fundraiser. The shift to the Christian website, in turn, quickly encountered resistance: Last week, a Canadian judge issued an order halting access to funds housed in the website, and the Canadian government has warned it will freeze the bank accounts of truckers who continue to form blockades.

GiveSendGo noted in its statement that no money was stolen in the hack and credit card information was not exposed.

“We are in a battle,” the statement read. “We didn’t expect it to be easy. This has not caused us to be afraid. Instead, it’s made it even more evident that we can not back down. Thank you for your continued support, prayers and the countless emails letting us know you are standing with us.”

The hack, which made the website largely unusable until Tuesday morning, was conducted with a dramatic flair. According to a video captured by a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reporter, the website was temporarily replaced with a video from the Disney movie “Frozen II” on Sunday night, as well as the words “GiveSendGo is NOW FROZEN!” As the clip played, a column of yellow text scrolled across it addressed to “GiveSendGo Grifters and Hatriots.”

“GiveSendGo has a history of providing a platform for individuals and organized groups to fund hate groups, promote disinformation and insurrection disguised as ‘protests,’” the text read. “Most of their larger campaigns are, in some way, a continuing threat to democracy.”

GiveSendGo, which describes itself as the “#1 free Christian crowdfunding site,” has become a popular alternative fundraising website among U.S. conservatives in recent years, particularly among outspoken Christian nationalists. The site garnered widespread attention in August 2020 for hosting a fundraiser for Kyle Rittenhouse — a teenager charged and later acquitted after shooting three people, two fatally, during racial justice protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Months later, the website also hosted funding campaigns for the leader of the right-wing extremist group Proud Boys and for Ali Alexander, an activist who helped to organize the Stop the Steal movement that gathered people in Washington, D.C., ahead of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

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GiveSendGo has also been promoted by the founder of Gab, an alternative social media website popular with conservatives and a known haven for extremists. GiveSendGo has an active account on the site — its statement on the hack was listed as one of Gab’s most popular posts on Tuesday — and advertises on the platform.

According to the CBC, faith is a mainstay of the trucker-led protest in Ottawa, Canada, with sermons delivered from protest stages, participants citing God as inspiration and demonstrators holding signs emblazoned with Scripture. Their financial supporters appear to share the sentiment: A Vice News analysis of leaked, illegally hacked GiveSendGo data from 92,000 trucker protest donors revealed that messages attached to their contributions contained more than 13,000 references to “God” or “Jesus.”

The analysis also revealed that most of the donations appeared to originate from the U.S., where anti-vaccine and anti-mandate sentiment has emerged as a rallying cry for a vocal minority of religious people. The cause has become especially popular with religious voices who championed forms of Christian nationalism in the lead up to the Jan. 6 insurrection, and Canadian demonstrators appear to be sharing some of their tactics: Protesters have begun conducting “Jericho Marches” around Canada’s parliamentary precinct, just as religious supporters of former President Donald Trump did in the days before the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

At one point, a Protestant minister reportedly asked people to pray for Canada, saying it has deviated from its Christian foundation.

GiveSendGo says it intends to stay vigilant against hacks.

“We have also performed many security audits to ensure the security of the site before bringing the site back online,” the statement read.

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