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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Did Joe Manchin block climate action to benefit his financial interests? | Joe Manchin | The Guardian

Did Joe Manchin block climate action to benefit his financial interests?

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

"Nancy Hilsbos, a former coalminer living in the West Virginia county that Senator Joe Manchin calls home, barely noticed the nondescript office block she passed almost daily.

The property, at the top of a rise on the road out of the small city of Fairmont, bears a large sign: “Manchin Professional Building”. Nameplates announce the offices of accountants, financial advisers and insurers. But there is no mention of the most profitable and influential company registered at the address – the Democratic senator’s own firm, Enersystems.

Manchin was recently revealed to have quietly made millions of dollars from Enersystems over the past three decades as the only supplier of a low grade coal to a high-polluting power plant near Fairmont. That came as news to Hilsbos and just about everyone else in the city.

“What surprised me was that we didn’t know it. One of the most shocking things was that I’ve driven by that place thousands of times in the last 30 years and I had no idea that’s where his business operation was headquartered because there’s no sign,” said Hilsbos.

“I wonder why he’s not prouder of what he’s done. Why doesn’t he have a big sign that says Enersystems?”

In 2020, Manchin earned nearly half a million dollars from the company, and $5.6m over the previous decade.

But Hilsbos, who worked underground for 13 years and was also a union activist, is less bothered by the senator keeping the source of his wealth shielded than by what else may have been hidden from view.

For years, Manchin has justified voting against curbs on the burning of fossil fuels and other measures to tackle the climate crisis on the grounds that they were bad for West Virginia, whose economy and culture are rooted in coal mining. Last year, he used his vote in a hung US Senate to block President Biden’s $3.5tn economic plan in part because he said he was “very, very disturbed” that its climate provisions would kill the coal industry.

But after the revelations that Manchin has made what most West Virginians would regard as a fortune from the Grant Town power plant, Hilsbos was left wondering if US climate policy, and by extension the global response to the crisis, has been held hostage to the senator’s financial interests.

“If he used it to slow the responsible addressing of climate change issues then that’s an international responsibility,” she said. “What’s wrong is him throwing so much weight against the public interest when he has so much to gain by the continued existence of this kind of facility.”

Hilsbos is not alone in her concern.

Christopher Regan, a former vice-chair of the West Virginia Democratic party who worked as an aide to Manchin, recalled a time when the senator painted prominent Republican officials in the state as “involved in self-service as opposed to public service”, a line Regan then promoted.

“This thing with the coal plant turns that around on him. What’s he doing? Is this for West Virginia? Or is this just strictly for his own narrow pecuniary interest?” he said.

Regan said that’s a question that could haunt Manchin as he considers a run for re-election in two years.

Manchin founded Enersystems in 1988 with his brother, Roch, at about the time the state was considering an application to build a power plant in Grant Town, a small former mining community less than 20 minutes’ drive north of Fairmont.

Manchin, then a state senator, helped clear the way for the construction of the power plant while negotiating a deal to become the only supplier of its fuel. Not just any fuel but discarded coal known as “garbage of bituminous”, more popularly called “gob”, which is even more polluting than regular coal.

When the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) raised concerns that the Grant Town plant was too close to other coal burning facilities, increasing pollution levels in the area, Manchin intervened and the objections went away. Later, as his state’s governor, Manchin used his political influence to win approval for an increase in the rate charged for electricity charged by the plant, which increased bills for ordinary West Virginians. The New York Times reported that, in a highly unusual arrangement, the senator has been getting a cut of those bills.

People protest against Senator Joe Manchin as they blockade the Grant Town coal waste power plant in Grant Town, West Virginia, on 9 April.
People protest against Senator Joe Manchin as they blockade the Grant Town coal waste power plant in Grant Town, West Virginia, on 9 April. Photograph: Stephanie Keith/Reuters

After his election to the US Senate in 2010, Manchin sat on the energy committee, and then became its chair, from where he has blocked environmental regulations that would have hit the Grant Town plant and other gob-burning facilities. Manchin also stood in the way of Biden’s multi-trillion dollar Build Back Better plan which could have threatened the power plant with tighter federal climate regulations. The senator defended the move as necessary in the midst of the Covid crisis, economic uncertainty, and with fuel supplies threatened by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

But the suspicion remains that he was, at least in part, acting in his own interests. Hilsbos said that the first she knew about the source of Manchin’s wealth came from recent revelations in the Intercept and later the New York Times. They prompted demonstrations outside the power plant in April to demand its closure because of the additional pollution caused by gob.

Although Hilsbos said she sympathised with the protesters’ concerns, she also understood the fears of people in Grant Town, once home to the largest underground mine in the world by the amount of coal produced. The mine closed in the mid-80s, shedding hundreds of jobs. Now the power plant, with about 50 workers, is the only large private employer in a town without a gas station or convenience store.

“Some neighbours came forward and said, I’ve always hated that place. But when we went to the town council meeting and tried to explain to them why people were coming from everywhere to demonstrate here, they said, ‘We don’t want you here, don’t come,’” said Hilsbos.

“A lot of the people involved in the town council have worked in the mines themselves. They feel like this is what we can do to hold on to our homeland, not have to move away, have this little plant as long as we can.”

While few in neighbouring Fairmont knew where Enersystems was, Manchin maintained a highly visible campaign office opposite the county courthouse in the heart of the city, between Bill’s Bail Bonds and a yoga studio. From there, he built a strong loyalty among West Virginia voters as a conservative Democrat prepared to stand up to the liberal wing of his party and to defend coal.

Regan said the senator spent years cultivating an image of himself as his own man, above party politics.

“He’s done a good job of it. He had his famous rifle ad, shooting the climate bill during the Obama administration, that he used to gain distance from the Democratic party on the national scale. But the effectiveness of that strategy may be running out. The magnitude of the shift within the state is too large for it to work any more,” he said.

In 2010, Democrats had a firm grip on the West Virginian legislature. Today, the Republicans are in control and they hold the governor’s office.

All of West Virginia’s congressional seats have fallen to the Republicans, leaving Manchin as the last Democrat holding statewide office. Manchin won his Senate seat in 2012 with nearly 61% of the vote, beating the Republican candidate by more than 24 points. Six years later, his margin of victory was just three points and he took less than half the vote after openly criticising Donald Trump in a state where he was hugely popular and remains so.

For all that, Greg Thomas, a prominent West Virginia Republican operative and Manchin opponent, does not think the coal plant revelations will damage the senator with most voters.

“If you’re a West Virginia politician and you’re not under some sort of investigation, you’re not trying hard enough to help your people,” he said. “No one here cares about environmentalists protesting Joe Manchin’s personal financial holding. It’s gotten to the point where it’s like, who cares if he does? We assume they’re all corrupt.”

Thomas said that Manchin’s political stands against his fellow Democrats have reinvigorated support.

“His popularity in West Virginia is coming back after it dropped over his fights with Trump. Pushing back against Biden has helped. His position on energy issues has been big,” he said.

Manchin’s approval rating among West Virginia voters has surged to 57% from just 40% early last year – and is even higher among Republicans.

Regan disagreed, saying that suspicions about his actions over the power plant are “threatening” to the senator because they come on the back of disenchantment among the state’s dwindling band of Democratic voters over his failure to support Biden’s agenda. Manchin’s vote against establishing abortion rights in federal law as the supreme court appears poised to strike down Roe v Wade will further alienate some Democratic voters in the state.

Regan said the last election left Manchin with a margin of victory of fewer than 20,000 votes – a narrow cushion to soak up the loss of angry Democrats who will not turn out to vote for him. He said the Grant Town power plant revelations are likely to stoke the dissatisfaction within that part of the electorate.

“Those Democrats he has alienated by being against Build Back Better and the child tax credit, and those very, very popular provisions among Democrats, may cost him in terms of people who don’t vote or people who just simply won’t vote for him any more. That may cost him the margin he has left and leave him in a bad situation in 2024.”

Then there is Trump. West Virginia voted for him in both presidential elections by the largest margin of any state except Wyoming.

“I think anybody in 2024 who is not prepared to say that Trump won the election is not going to be an acceptable candidate any more,” he said. “He can’t walk into the Republican camp, and he’ll have alienated too many Democrats to win.”

Did Joe Manchin block climate action to benefit his financial interests? | Joe Manchin | The Guardian

Opinion | It's time for Biden to strongly attack the White-grievance industry - The Washington Post

Opinion It’s time for Biden to strongly attack the White-grievance industry

President Biden speaks to the University of Delaware Class of 2022 during its commencement ceremony in Newark, Del., on May 28. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP) 
"President Biden speaks to the University of Delaware Class of 2022 during its commencement ceremony in Newark, Del., on May 28. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP) 

On Saturday — the day before he departed for Uvalde, Tex. — President Biden told University of Delaware graduates: “In the face of such destructive forces, we have to stand stronger. We cannot outlaw tragedy, I know, but we can make America safer.” He also warned of the “oldest and darkest forces in America” preaching hate and “preying on hopelessness and despair.”

Biden is renowned for his expressions of empathy. But such language feels increasingly inadequate and, frankly, counterproductive in the face of nonstop political outrage.

Now is the time for precise language. “Forces” are not the problem; one political movement encased within the Republican Party is. “Ultra-MAGA” ideas are not the problem; Republicans spouting anti-American ideas that threaten functional democracy are.

It’s not the plague of “polarization” or “distrust,” some sort of floating miasma, that has darkened our society. Bluntly put, we are in deep trouble because a major party rationalizes both intense selfishness — the refusal to undertake even minor inconveniences such as mask-wearing or gun background checks for others’ protection — and deprivation of others’ rights (to vote, to make intimate decisions about reproduction, to be treated with respect).

There is a through line between celebration of a defeated president who demeans women, excuses neo-Nazi marchers and refuses to accept election results and the GOP’s appeals to White grievance, contempt for political compromise and displays of toxic masculinity — which celebrate unbridled access to guns, excessive use of police force and authoritarian strongmen.

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The White-grievance industry (right-wing media, politicians, pundits, think tanks) keeps its voters in a constant state of rage over the loss of a society in which far fewer women competed with men in the workplace, White power was largely unchallenged, and diversity was less pronounced. And it has persuaded millions of White Americans that they are victims of “elites” or the media or globalism or attacks on masculinity or … something.

It’s not hard to understand how we got here. Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, wrote recently in Time about the MAGA formula, ascendant after the United States’ election of its first Black president: “the stoking of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-Black sentiment while making nativist appeals to the Christian right.”

“The nostalgic appeal of ‘again,’” Jones observes, “harkens back to a 1950s America, when white Christian churches were full and white Christians comprised a supermajority of the U.S. population; a period when we added ‘under God’ to the pledge of allegiance and ‘In God We Trust’ to our currency.”

Our future as a tolerant, decent society ultimately may depend on White Christian communities’ recovering their moral equilibrium and support for American democracy, and rejecting the movement to turn churches into platforms for QAnon and white nationalism. But we cannot wait for an evangelical reformation.

MAGA voters think everyone else is the problem. As perpetual victims, they feel entitled to ignore the demands of civilized society — e.g., self-restraint, care for actually vulnerable people, pluralism, acceptance of political defeat. Theirirritation with mask-wearing gets elevated over the lives of those most susceptible to a deadly pandemic. Their demands to display an armory of weapons mean schoolchildren become targets for acts of mass gun violence. Their religious zealotry, fed by the myth that Christianity is under attack, means poor women cannot have access to safe, legal abortions.

Under such conditions, Democrats would do well to eschew avuncular bipartisanship and abandon the fantasy that they can reason with the unreasonable or shame the shameless into dropping their conspiracies and lies. “Lowering the temperature” or seeking unity with those intent on dividing Americans is counterproductive.

Like other toxic political movements, the MAGA crusade flourishes thanks to the collaboration of cynics, true believers and cult followers. In turn, our democracy’s salvation depends on a broad-based coalition that rejects the MAGA crowd’s reactionary aims and myths of White victimhood.

Democracy’s survival demands that mainstream media prioritize candor about the nature of today’s GOP over fake balance in political coverage. And it needs pro-democracy politicians to rise to the occasion with exacting, truth-based language — not to fuzz up the stark reality of a democracy imperiled by one political party."

Opinion | It's time for Biden to strongly attack the White-grievance industry - The Washington Post

Opinion | Merrick Garland's Harvard commencement speech was full of obfuscation - The Washington Post

Opinion Garland’s mushy speech to Harvard grads does not inspire confidence

"Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during commencement exercises for Harvard's classes of 2020 and 2021, which were originally not held in person because of the coronavirus pandemic, in Cambridge, Mass., on May 29. (Brian Snyder/Reuters) 
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during commencement exercises for Harvard's classes of 2020 and 2021, which were originally not held in person because of the coronavirus pandemic, in Cambridge, Mass., on May 29. (Brian Snyder/Reuters) 

Attorney General Merrick Garland, whose slow-motion investigation of the plot to overthrow the 2020 election has frustrated defenders of democracy, spoke at a Harvard commencement ceremony on Sunday. He delivered a sincere, high-minded ode to democratic ideals and public service. But the address illustrated two fundamental complaints about his leadership of the Justice Department.

First, in an effort to appear nonpartisan, he inoculated the party responsible for the assault on American democracy. On Jan. 6, “as the United States Congress was meeting to certify the vote count of the electoral college, a large crowd violently forced entry into the Capitol,” Garland said. “We all watched as police officers were punched, dragged, tased and beaten. We saw journalists targeted, assaulted, tackled and harassed.” He added: “Members of Congress had to be evacuated. And proceedings were disrupted for hours — interfering with a fundamental element of American democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next.”

It is apparently a mystery who motivated the insurrectionists — and which party set the stage for the insurrection and now perpetuates the “big lie” of a stolen election. Garland intoned that “the preservation of democracy requires our willingness to tell the truth” and declared that “we must ensure that the magnitude of an event like January 6th is not downplayed or understated.”

Is there not one party “downplaying” or “understating” the events of that day? Can we not identify who has called this sort of domestic terrorism “legitimate political discourse”?

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“At the same time that we are witnessing efforts to undermine the right to vote,” Garland said, “we are also witnessing violence and threats of violence that undermine the rule of law upon which our democracy is based.” He lamented the “dramatic increase in legislative efforts that make it harder for millions of eligible voters to vote and to elect representatives of their own choice.”

We are “witnessing efforts” by whom? Garland’s fuzzy talk disguises the culprits behind the intense campaign, well underway, to suppress and subvert American elections. One would never know listening to him that there is one party to blame — the Republicans — or that there has yet to be a single instance in which a Democratic legislature or Democratic governor has pursued such tactics.

The attorney general’s excessive use of the passive voice and refusal to clarify who did what and who is lying about what provide rhetorical cover for a party that has gone all in on the “big lie” and runs candidates who rationalize the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Garland would not prejudice his investigation were he to say something like this:

On that day, as the United States Congress was meeting to certify the vote count of the electoral college, the defeated president, Donald Trump, assembled a large crowd. He called for them to march on the Capitol. They followed his directive and violently forced their way into the building. The mob inspired by the lie that the election was stolen proceeded to punch, drag, tase and beat police officers. The mob acting in support of Trump forced members of Congress to evacuate. Just as Trump intended, the mob disrupted the proceedings for hours, interfering with a fundamental element of American democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next.

How hard would it be to provide that minimum level of candor?

Second, Garland limited his remarks, as he habitually does, to the violence of Jan. 6 — leaving out the fact that to properly account for what happened that day, officials have a duty to investigate the overall conspiracy to install the 2020 loser as president.

The coup attempt began long before Jan. 6, even before the 2020 election. An entire universe of conduct should be under scrutiny, from Donald Trump’s lies about absentee ballots, to his lawyers’ frivolous lawsuits to overturn the election, to Trump’s attempts to strong-arm the Georgia secretary of state to “find” votes, and to compel the Justice Department to somehow invalidate the election.

Garland may very well believe such conduct is illegal. But we are left wondering. If he does not, this will set a dismaying precedent under which losing presidential candidates will feel empowered to solicit a phony slate of electors, or to scheme to force the vice president to short-circuit the electoral-vote proceedings.

Granted, Garland does not want to publicly list the particulars of an ongoing investigation. But surely, he could confirm that the Jan. 6 violence was just one aspect of the coup attempt. Surely, he could reiterate that the Justice Department is tasked with investigating attempts to invalidate the election by both peaceful and non-peaceful means.

Supporters of democracy should not root for the sort of blatant partisanship from the attorney general that we saw from his predecessor. But Garland has an obligation not to obfuscate. If he aims to restore the credibility of the Justice Department, he can at the very least acknowledge that the threat to democracy is not bipartisan. It emanates from a right-wing political movement led by a former defeated president and his enablers.

And if Garland is “following the facts” as they relate only to armed insurrection, he should know that this is dangerous, too — that he would be giving a pass to dozens of executive officials, including the president (and perhaps members of Congress), who plotted to wreck our democratic election process.

We can only hope his vision is more comprehensive than his public remarks."

Opinion | Merrick Garland's Harvard commencement speech was full of obfuscation - The Washington Post

U.S. sees at least 12 mass shootings over Memorial Day weekend - The Washington Post

U.S. marks Memorial Day weekend with at least 12 mass shootings

"Since the Uvalde, Tex., elementary school tragedy, there have been at least 15 other shootings that had at least four victims

Kountry Queens food truck owner Tiffany Walton at the scene of a shooting at a Memorial Day event that left one dead and seven injured in Taft, Okla., on May 29. (Ian Maule/AP)
Kountry Queens food truck owner Tiffany Walton at the scene of a shooting at a Memorial Day event that left one dead and seven injured in Taft, Okla., on May 29. (Ian Maule/AP)

After a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., that claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers last week, many politicians, public figures and gun-control advocates said the U.S. government should ensure mass shootings could not happen again.

But mass shootings have already happened again — and again. At least 15 mass shootings have taken place across the United States since Tuesday, from California to Arizona to Tennessee.

This Memorial Day weekend alone — spanning Saturday, Sunday and the federal holiday on Monday — there have been at least 12 mass shootings.

Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland victims' families spoke to The Post about their shared grief, trauma and hope for action following the Texas school shooting. (Video: Joshua Carroll, Joy Yi, Leila Barghouty/The Washington Post, Photo: Eric Gay/AP/The Washington Post)

These incidents, gleaned from local news reports and police statements, meet the threshold for mass shootings as defined by the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research organization.

GVA defines a mass shooting as one in which “four or more people are shot or killed, not including the shooter.” Several of those shootings occurred at parties, and one at a Memorial Day event.

At least eight people have been killed and 55 injured in the mass shootings over the holiday weekend, according to GVA and local news sources. Since the Uvalde shooting last Tuesday, at least 11 people have been killed and 67 injured in mass shootings.

Brian Stelter, chief media correspondent and news anchor at CNN, interrupted a broadcast Sunday about the response to the mass shooting in Uvalde to tell viewers about another — in Tennessee.

“Mass killings like Buffalo and Uvalde become national news, but many mass shootings do not. They just end up being local stories,” Stelter said, in a clip that has been viewed over 370,000 times on Twitter.

On Saturday evening, six teenagers were injured by gunfire in Chattanooga, Tenn., in what Mayor Tim Kelly said was probably “an altercation between other teenagers.”

The victims, who were between the ages of 13 and 15, were transported to a hospital, and two had life-threatening injuries, according to the Chattanooga Police Department.

Kelly said he was “heartbroken” for the families of the victims and “angry” about political inaction on gun laws during a news conference following the shooting.

The Chattanooga shooting was one of at least five mass shootings that took place on Saturday alone, according to GVA.

On Sunday, there were at least another five mass shootings, including one at a Memorial Day festival in Taft, Okla.

Authorities said one person was killed and seven people were injured, including a minor. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said a suspect turned himself in and was in custody.

Meanwhile, one person died and three others were injured during a shooting at a party in Merced County, Calif., the sheriff’s office said. One victim was still in “critical condition” Sunday afternoon.

The shootings continued into Monday, when police in Benton Harbor, Mich., were called to an area around a liquor store where a shooting had taken place in the early hours of Monday. One man was dead, and six were injured by gunfire, according to WNDU.

Around the same time, two people died and two others were injured during a shooting at a party in Port Richmond, Pa., according to statements from law enforcement. The victims ranged in age from 14 to 21, and police told FOX 29 Philadelphia they found 47 shell casings at the scene.

It was the city’s “2nd DOUBLE HOMICIDE scene in two hours,” according to Steve Keeley, a reporter for FOX 29 Philadelphia, after a father and his 9-year-old son were shot inside their car in Philadelphia on Sunday evening, law enforcement said.

The grim litany of mass shootings began even before the official start of the holiday weekend, when police in Anniston, Ala., said gunfire erupted after a graduation party attended by more than 150 young adults and teenagers as young as 14. Six people were injured by gunfire.

And on Friday afternoon in Michigan, officers in Mecosta County found three children under the age of 10 and a woman dead of apparent gunshot wounds when they responded to a report of a man with a gun and shots fired at a private residence. They also found a man with a gunshot wound to the head, who was taken to a hospital. Relatives told a local news outlet that the children were siblings and were 3, 4 and 6 years old, and that the woman was their mother.

In the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting, many local leaders and community representatives issued emotional pleas for action. As The Washington Post has reported, it is unlikely that Congress will be able to pass gun-control measures.

U.S. sees at least 12 mass shootings over Memorial Day weekend - The Washington Post

Sunday, May 29, 2022

First she documented the alt-right. Now she’s coming for crypto

First she documented the alt-right. Now she’s coming for crypto.

“Molly White, a veteran Wikipedia editor, is fast becoming the cryptocurrency world’s biggest critic

Molly White, a 28-year-old software engineer, documents the failures of the cryptocurrency industry on her blog “Web3 is Going Just Great.” (Tristan Spinski for The Washington Post)

In a strange, animated YouTube video, Cryptoland paints itself as the ultimate utopia, featuring luxurious villas, a casino and a private club, all located on a pristine island in Fiji. Built by and for cryptocurrency enthusiasts, it was looking for investors.

To Molly White, the project wasn’t just cringeworthy bluster, it was promotional material for yet another potential scam — one that was targeting the money of real people. Digging into Cryptoland’s organizing documents, she found a business plan full of contradictions and other red flags, like an address in the Seychelles islands, a tax haven which has hosted previous high-profile crypto scams.

White unpacked the project in a dashed-off Twitter thread, which went viral, kicking off a wave of criticism and ridicule and spawning copycat videos that boast millions of views. Now, Cryptoland’s website appears inactive, and supporters have abandoned it. Requests for comment to its founders were not answered.

A 28-year-old software engineer who writes Wikipedia articles for fun, White is an odd figure to make the crypto industry cower. On her website, “Web3 is Going Just Great,” White documents case after case of crypto malfeasance: investments that turn out to be scams, poorly-run projects that collapse under mismanagement and hacks that drain supporters’ money.

As much of the financial and tech elite has rallied around crypto, White has led a small but scrappy group of skeptics pushing the other way whose warnings have seemed vindicated by the cratering in recent weeks of cryptocurrency prices.

“Most of my disdain is reserved for the big players who are marketing this to a mainstream audience as though it’s an investment, often promising to be a ticket out of a really tough financial spot for people who don’t have many options,” White said. “It’s very predatory.”

To White and her fellow critics, crypto company founders and the venture capitalists backing them are presiding over a massive, unregulated attempt to rid regular people of their money by exaggerating the potential of crypto technology. Years spent online, researching esoteric Internet cultures have made White a rare figure who can maneuver the technically complex, meme-filled world of crypto, translating it into digestible prose.

White works from her home in Massachusetts, which she shares with two cats and a 70-pound pandemic puppy. She sports a youthful uniform of jeans, sweaters and Converse sneakers and communicates with her fellow crypto skeptics through Zoom and Twitter direct messages. She’s declined several offers to speak at in-person conferences, citing the time commitment.

As more people begin to question cryptomania, White’s prominence has grown: Journalists call her to gut-check stories, and she has lectured for students at Stanford University and provided advice to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on potential crypto legislation.

“In the world of cryptocurrency, many things are not what they seem,” said Ben McKenzie, a TV actor and former star in “The O.C.” who began writing about cryptocurrency during the pandemic and has become another one of the industry’s best-known critics. “Molly shines a light through darkness and presents it for the world to see.”

White’s targets say her brand of criticism is too cynical, cherry-picking dramatic examples of failure to mischaracterize an entire industry that is mostly full of good people and good ideas. She in turn has been experiencing an uncomfortable form of vindication.

“I wasn’t the only crypto skeptic who expected some of these projects to fall apart, but it doesn’t make it fun to watch,” she said.

The cryptocurrency world and its boosters are forging on. Mega-investors such as venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, which struck big years ago with early investments in Facebook, Skype and Airbnb, have put billions of dollars into the space. The debate over who crypto serves and who will ultimately win is far from over. White’s voice is rising, but the money and power plowing into crypto is, too.

Molly White grew up on the Internet. As a preteen, she began writing and editing Wikipedia pages, first for bands she liked, and then to document unsung women scientists. During the Trump presidency, her interests shifted to right-wing Internet movements and domestic extremism: She edited articles on the brutal online attacks on women gamers and journalists, which came to be known as “GamerGate,” and the “boogaloo" militia movement. In the past 15 years, White’s racked up more than 100,000 edits and served on the organization’s arbitration committee, the high court that settles disputes on the site.

So when the term Web3, a catchall for organizations and companies built around cryptocurrency technology, began cropping up on social media in 2021, White started to write a Wikipedia article on it.

The task proved harder than she had imagined. “I kept seeing the word everywhere but no one was saying what it meant,” White said, referring to Web3. Billionaire venture capital firms were pouring money into crypto companies, blockchain start-ups were buying Super Bowl ads and tech luminaries such as Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey were hyping up various cryptocurrencies.

But White’s research kept bringing her back to one conclusion: Web3 was filled with a litany of scams, failures and frauds meant to separate regular people from their money.

The experience inspired her to double down on her blog and social media posts, which she spends several hours a day on, even while she had a full-time software engineer job. (White quit in mid-May but plans to go back to full-time work soon.)

She posts to the site constantly, often writing several short dispatches a day. They’re written in a deadpan, straightforward style, with a few snarky flourishes: hashtags that categorize each post include “#badidea,” “#hmm” and “#yikes.” The site’s header features an image of the Earth erupting in flames with a crying “Bored Ape” — a hugely popular cartoon avatar for crypto fans — looking on. The bottom-right hand corner adds up the money lost in the scams and hacks she’s documented. By mid-May, it was nearing $10 billion.

White said she’s been skeptical of the industry for years, but hadn’t paid too much attention because most of those losing their money to hacks and scams were tech-savvy and wealthy. That’s changed.

“People are putting in money that they can’t afford to lose,” White said. “They thought this might be their ticket out of poverty or they can finally stop working that minimum wage job and then all their savings are gone.”

That reality has only deepened as the total value of cryptocurrencies tracked by crypto data company CoinGecko fell to around $1.3 trillion, from its high in November of nearly $3 trillion. Crypto forums on Reddit are awash in stories of people losing their life savings after investing in high-profile crypto coins and projects.

Many of the posts on White’s website focus on projects that target middle-class investors looking for a way to trade their way into a new level of financial freedom. In longer posts, she untangles the devilishly complicated structures that prop up most crypto companies and initiatives, such as Axie Infinity, a business that allowed people, many in the Philippines, to make money by playing a crypto-based video game.

News articles had been written extolling the company as a way for people to quit their jobs and make money. Then the company was hacked, and thousands of people cumulatively lost around $620 million. “We’re seeing more and more incidents like this one, where it’s not just someone losing some extra cash that they decided to take a risk on, but people losing the money that they need to live,” White wrote at the time.

Other crypto skeptics have produced deep, insightful critiques of the field. Moxie Marlinspike, founder of the messaging app Signal, wrote a 4,000-word essay in January laying out his concerns with Web3. A two-hour and 18-minute videofrom YouTuber Dan Olson about the issues with crypto-based art went viral and has scored over 7 million views.

But White’s “snackable” daily posts about the crypto “clown car parade” has made a skeptical critique of the industry accessible to those who don’t have the time or attention span for a deep-dive, said Andrew Lih, a Wikipedia administrator and writer of “The Wikipedia Revolution.”

He has known White since she was a teenage Wikipedia contributor. “That’s what’s so great about her, she is like, ‘I’m not going to club you over the head with it. Just you read this conveyor belt of ridiculousness and draw your own conclusions.’ And I think that’s been the strength of her blog,” Lih said.

From fringe to front page

Until the pandemic, cryptocurrency was a relatively fringe technology, with bitcoin gaining popularity in the early 2010s as a way to buy illegal drugs on online black markets, such as Silk Road. Cryptocurrency’s core innovation, the blockchain, a record of transactions that can run without a centralized authority, such as a bank or government, has been hailed by Libertarians, opposition groups in authoritarian countries and open Internet advocates as a way to potentially remove oppressive middlemen from human relations.

It isn’t fringe anymore. Prices for cryptocurrencies skyrocketed during lockdowns, turning early investors into millionaires overnight and spurring a wave of interest from people who were worried about missing out on a tantalizing new tool for generating wealth. The stock-trading tool Robinhood and crypto firms such as Coinbase alike built apps that made buying and selling cryptocurrency as easy as swiping on Tinder. Crypto companies launched massive marketing blitzes, spending millions on Super Bowl ads and paying for celebrity endorsements from Matt Damon, Kim Kardashian and Tom Brady. Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, a special kind of crypto technology that connotes ownership of a digital image, video or song, broadened the industry’s appeal by bringing in artists, marketers and musicians. A digital artist named Beeple sold one for $69 million.

Almost 90 percent of Americans have heard about cryptocurrency and 16 percent say they have invested in or used one, according to a November 2021 Pew Research study.

White and her fellow skeptics say the traditional media has mishandled the story, treating bitcoin as an exciting innovation while underplaying the idea it could be a giant pyramid scheme. Crypto-focused publications tend to have ties to the industry, while financial news organizations treat it like an asset class. “The crypto industry has benefited from the siloing of journalism,” McKenzie said. “You have to step back much broader and get outside the industry to get some perspective on what might be going on inside it.”

Today, the battle lines over crypto are clear. Proponents see it as a world-changing technology that could have as big of an impact on society as the printing press or trans-Atlantic travel. Critics say these utopian dreams obscure a much darker reality.

Despite her growing following, White is still an outlier among the wealthy, more powerful investors and entrepreneurs who have gone all-in on crypto. She often hears from people who are angry, accusing her of spreading “FUD,” or fear, uncertainty and doubt. She’s been called names and told “have fun staying poor.”

White takes it all in stride. “No one likes to read bad things about themselves but I think I’ve also been around on the Internet long enough to see that that’s just what people do, people are nasty online,” she said.

And though she doesn’t pull punches when going after venture capitalists and powerful people pushing crypto investments, she said it doesn’t help to bully regular people who are enthusiastic about the technology’s potential or have lost money on it.

“Some people get a lot of joy in seeing average people who’ve bought in to crypto losing money,” she said. “I can understand the impulse given the crypto-shilling and toxicity from a lot of people in the space, but I think a lot of people were also convinced to buy in based on false promises.”