Serving police officers and elected officials have contributed money to fundraisers for convicted vigilante killers, far-right activists, and fellow officers accused of killing black Americans, according to a data leak at a Christian crowdfunding website.
The contributions were often attached to their official email addresses, raising concerns about the use of public funds to finance such campaigns.
The leak, which was disclosed to journalists by transparency organization Distributed Denial of Secrets, revealed the personal information of several donors who had tried to hide their identities using GiveSendGo’s anonymity feature but whose identifying information was retained by the website.
Kyle Rittenhouse, who is accused of murdering two left-wing demonstrators in Kenosha, Wisconsin last August, is one of the recipients of public-sector donations.
According to Rittenhouse, he was driven from Illinois to provide armed protection to businesses during demonstrations over the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Rittenhouse, who became a conservative media darling in late 2020 and was also backed by then-President Donald Trump, hosted a GiveSendGo fundraiser billed as a donation to his legal defense.
According to the site’s data, he raised $586,940 between August of last year and January of this year.
Several of the donors had email addresses that could be traced back to police and other government officials.
One $25 donation was made anonymously on September 3 of last year, but it was linked to the official email address of Sgt William Kelly, who is currently the executive officer of internal affairs for the Norfolk Police Department in Virginia.
That donation also carried a comment, reading: “God bless. Thank you for your courage. Keep your head up. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
The comment continued: “Every rank and file police officer supports you. Don’t be discouraged by actions of the political class of law enforcement leadership.”
Craig Shepherd, a paramedic in Utah according to public records, was another Rittenhouse donor who used an official email address. On August 30, this donor made a $10 donation to Rittenhouse.
Donations were also sent to Rittenhouse with official email addresses for Keith Silvers, a city of Huntsville, Alabama employee, and another $100 was sent with the official address of Michael Crosley, an engineer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is responsible for maintaining the US nuclear weapons arsenal.
Meanwhile, several Wisconsin police officers contributed to a fundraiser for Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey, whose shooting of a black man, Jacob Blake, sparked the protests that brought Rittenhouse to the area.
Two $20 contributions to Sheskey’s fund were linked to the email addresses of two Green Bay, Wisconsin police lieutenants.
One anonymous donation was linked to an address associated with Chad Ramos, a training lieutenant in the department, while another was linked to Keith A Gehring, who is identified as a school resource officer lieutenant.
Another donation to Sheskey was linked to officer Pat Gainer of the Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin police department’s official email address.
The donation was made under the screen name “PPPD Motor 179” and included the message “Stay strong brother.”
Sheskey received another 32 contributions totaling over $5,000 from private email addresses affiliated with Kenosha officers, but under badge numbers rather than names.
More anonymous contributions came from city workers in Houston, Texas, who were protesting the behavior of then-police chief Art Acevedo, who fired four Houston cops after they shot and killed a man, Nicolas Chavez, who was on his knees and appeared to be suffering from a mental illness.
One anonymous $100 donation was linked to the official address of that city’s fire chief, Samuel Peña, who has faced recent staff revolts over cost-cutting but has been openly supportive of Acevedo, identifying him as a “brother & partner in Public Safety” in a tweet in March, when Acevedo announced his decision to become Miami’s chief of police.
Another $400 donation was credited in site data to an email addressed to Chris Andersen and bearing the following comment: “I think that Chief Acevedo is part of the ‘unrecognized form of police corruption’ that Chris Anderson [sic] wrote about in his book’. Hang in there guys!!!”
Andersen’s novel, Chris Andersen – A True Tale, claims to tell the story of Houston cops on the search for a serial killer during a period when the city was in the grip of a drug war, “the United States was experiencing a wave of civil discontent regarding the unwarranted shootings (either true or perceived) of black men by law enforcement (the Black Lives Matter era)”.
Andersen describes himself as a “39-year veteran of the Houston police force” who has served in positions such as homicide detective, supervising a Swat squad, and internal affairs, according to his Amazon profile.
The Green Bay police chief, Andrew Smith, wrote in an email that his department is “looking into the matter” about the donations, but that his department “does not take a stance on other agencies’ use of force.”
Michael Crosley made “an honest error,” according to Lynda Seaver, director of public relations at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who wrote in an email that he “never planned to use his Lab email on this matter.”
It was previously reported on the site’s use for fundraising by far-right organizations such as the Proud Boys, who have been barred from other crowdfunding sites following violent events such as the alleged involvement of members of the organization in an assault on the US Capitol building on January 6th.