At the rally — which turned deadly — he participated with gusto, carrying a banner that, according to court documents, said, “Gas the kikes, race war now!” during a march past a synagogue.
But when Robert Warren Ray was indicted in June 2018 for using tear gas on counter-protesters at the event, police discovered he was nowhere to be found.
The fugitive, known in far-right circles as a prolific podcaster under a Bigfoot-themed avatar and the name “Azzmador,” has vanished — at least from real life.
However, Ray’s podcast, which he calls The Krypto Report, later appeared on a new gaming livestreaming service that has become a haven for right-wing extremists who have been deplatformed from YouTube and other mainstream social media channels.
Called DLive, the live-streaming platform with a blockchain-based reward system allows users to accept cryptocurrency donations — another perk for extremists barred from using services such as PayPal or GoFundMe, or who want to raise money internationally. Ray, a 54-year-old Texan, was a hit.
He quickly became one of the top 20 earners on DLive, according to an analysis by online extremism expert Megan Squire of Elon University in North Carolina, who studied the period from April 2020 — the earliest data available — through mid-January 2021.
It’s not just the police who are searching for Ray. Since September 2019, he has been flouting court orders and missing appearances in a civil case that names him as one of 24 defendants accused of conspiring to plan, promote and carry out the violent events of Charlottesville.
As for the criminal case, which charges Ray with maliciously releasing gas, authorities have labeled him a fugitive since his 2018 indictment.
To be sure, Ray — who mysteriously stopped podcasting from DLive a few months ago — didn’t get rich on DLive. But while he was ignoring court summonses for his alleged role in organizing Unite the Right, he earned $15,000 on the platform in just six months, according to Squire’s analysis. He cashed most of it out, she said.
“The idea that he’s wanted for all of this stuff, but then just gets to sit at home behind a microphone and make money on the side — I thought that was just not good at all,” Squire said.
Experts say the story of Ray and DLive underscores a reality about people who get chased into the shadows by lawsuits or deplatforming crusades: There will almost always be an entrepreneur who is willing to provide a venue for exiled promoters of hate.
“Where there is demand, eventually supply finds a way,” said John Bambenek, a cyber security expert who tracks the cryptocurrency accounts of extremists.
A game of cat and mouse
Public scrutiny drives alt-right personalities deeper into the bowels of the internet, reducing their visibility.
And while their retreat to ever more obscure corners can make it more difficult to monitor the chatter, Michael Edison Hayden, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, says the game of whack a mole is ultimately worthwhile.
“I have seen firsthand the degree to which figures who were…extremely successful in radicalizing large numbers of people, become extraordinarily marginalized, extraordinarily fast in so-called dark corners of the internet,” he said.
This made it more difficult for laypeople to find his…