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Militant preppers, 'boogaloo' members and QAnon adherents can push products on Amazon

Katherine Khashimova Long, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

YouTuber Joseph Mauricio, who goes by Prepper Action, has garnered 9,560 subscribers by posting videos of himself explaining knife-carry laws, modifying handguns and training with a California private militia alongside people wearing patches of the far-right Three Percenters group.

But the top video on his YouTube channel is different: An advertisement for his affiliate marketing page on Amazon.com.

"Hey, it's Prepper Action," the voice on the 2020 video says, over an image of a person in a skull mask carrying an assault rifle. "And do I have survival gear for you — on my newly created Amazon storefront."

Mauricio, who did not respond to questions for this story, isn't directly selling any items, and doesn't operate a store on Amazon. Rather, his "storefront," an Amazon affiliate marketing program, is a curated selection of links to products he recommends — for instance, a bowie knife for which he filmed a video review against a backdrop of the Gadsden flag, flown by many in the attack last month on the U.S. Capitol. Each time a customer purchases a product through Prepper Action's Amazon page, Mauricio earns a small commission.

On this low-profile corner of Amazon's expansive online retailscape, militant preppers, pro-gun provocateurs and election-fraud conspiracy theorists are turning a buck on the back of their beliefs.

A review by The Seattle Times found that Amazon approved for participation in its affiliate marketing programs an adherent of the "Boogaloo Bois," who advocate overthrow of the U.S. government; a supporter of the obsessive, cultlike QAnon movement; a forum for assault rifle enthusiasts whose users have doxxed and harassed gun-control advocates; and more than one dozen other similar websites touting far-right conspiracy theories.

 

There is no publicly accessible database of Amazon affiliate marketers, and a company spokesperson declined to release details on the scope of its affiliate marketing programs, making it difficult to know how many far-right groups are making money on Amazon.

Many of the personalities The Times identified have been penalized by social-media platforms. YouTube has banned users promoting gun sales from earning advertising dollars. After the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, Facebook and Twitter took action against some of those same sites for promoting election-fraud conspiracy theories.

Facebook has repeatedly flagged Mauricio's posts as containing false or partially false information, including a post in which the California resident repeated a false claim tied to QAnon, implying top Democrats are pedophiles. Mauricio deleted his Twitter account last month in protest over "censorship."

After the Capitol riot, Amazon, too, moved against some proponents and merchandisers of right-wing ideologies on its platform. Amazon Web Services (AWS) booted Parler off its cloud-computing servers after the social-media network's users took part in the Capitol riot, saying Parler lacked an effective strategy to moderate posts advocating violence. Amazon disallowed the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters militias from raising money via its Amazon Smile program for nonprofits. And Amazon began scrubbing QAnon-related products from its online mall last month after some in the U.S. Capitol mob were seen sporting QAnon insignia.

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