Short-term apartment rental site Airbnb has banned over 60 users of Iron March, the defunct white supremacist web forum that recently had its entire SQL database leaked to the internet, the company told Gizmodo.
That included their post histories, direct messages with other users, and email and IP address records. An Airbnb spokesperson told Gizmodo that the company had identified the accounts through its normal identity-verification system. The spokesperson added that all of the Iron March users found on Airbnb appeared to have been guests, rather than hosts.
Airbnb added that it has taken steps to remove attendees and organisers of white supremacists from its platform before, including before the disastrous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 that resulted in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer and scores of other injuries. Airbnb also took action to ban users who planned to attend a conference held by white supremacist site American Renaissance earlier this year, as well as booted Canadian far-right activist Faith Goldy.
“This was a no-brainer - when we see people on our platform pursuing behaviour antithetical to our Community Commitment, we take action to prioritise the safety of our community,” an Airbnb spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement. “Through our trust and safety systems, we are continuously seeking to proactively identify those who could put our hosts and guests at risk.”
The spokesperson went on to say it is the company’s stance that, “Anyone sympathetic to neo-Nazi ideology and violent extremism has absolutely no place on Airbnb, and our community is a better place without them.” Airbnb did not release the offline identities of the Iron March users but said that it would cooperate with law enforcement if contacted.
Mike Signer, former mayor of Charlottesville, told Gizmodo via email that his Communities Overcoming Extremism: the After Charlottesville Project had highlighted Airbnb’s decision to ban rally attendees in a report and worked with Airbnb to host an anti-extremism conference in October 2019.
“The invasion of the city by over 10 alt-right militia organisations inflicted tremendous trauma on the community,” Signer told Gizmodo. “This included not only the victims of neo-Nazi James Fields, who weaponised a car to drive into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others but hundreds of others who experienced vile physical and verbal assaults, including overt racism and anti-Semitism.”
Signer added that he applauded Airbnb’s decision and that tech companies “can and should act to move the Internet away from the ‘wild west’ model, where anything goes and where bad behaviour and even violence are rewarded.”
Iron March was founded in 2011 by Russian extremist Alexander “Slavros” Mukhitdinov. It’s known as the place where members of Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi terrorist organisation whose members have been linked to five murders, violence in Charlottesville, and a Las Vegas bomb plot, first organised. The Guardian noted that far-right group Vanguard America, whose supporter James Alex Fields carried out the terrorist attack in Charlottesville, also has ties to Iron March.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre says that the forum was “ultimately affiliated with or offered support to at least nine fascist groups in nine different countries,” including Serbia Action in Serbia, Casa Pound of Italy, Golden Dawn of Greece, Antipodean Resistance of Australia, Skydas of Lithuania, and Azov Battalion of Ukraine, and Vanguard America and Patriot Front stateside.
Iron March vanished from the web with little notice in 2017. Its disappearance was just months after Atomwaffen Division member and Iron March poster Devon Arthurs murdered two of his Tampa, Florida roommates, who were also members of the group, over an ideological dispute. Florida Army National Guard member and Atomwaffen leader Brandon Russell, also an Iron March user and Arthurs’ third roommate, received a five-year prison sentence after authorities discovered explosives in their garage.
Why the forum went offline hasn’t been explained, but ZDNet suggested that the massive leak could mean it was hacked. Independent researchers at open-source journalism outfit Bellingcat and elsewhere continue to sort through the data in hopes of identifying more members of the group.