Chase Bank Denies Political Motives as Controversy Erupts Over Closed Accounts

April 17, 2019 Updated: April 17, 2019

Chase Bank has closed the accounts of three right-wing personalities, in what appears to have been arbitrary executive decisions that aren’t based on any official company policy.

The bank stated it wouldn’t shut a client’s account because of political affiliation, and also denied having a “hate speech” policy. Chase officials refused, though, to comment on the situations of particular clients. The clients themselves also couldn’t get an explanation from the bank, or at least one that would square with known facts.

Martina Markota

The first one known to have an account closed in this manner is Martina Markota. “After a recent review of your account, we have decided to end our relationship with you,” reads a Jan. 24 letter she received on behalf of her company, Magnum Opus Productions.

“I called and asked why,” she said in a Twitter message. “They said they have the right to end our relationship and not tell me why.”

Markota, a performance artist of Croatian origin, used to perform in New York City until her colleagues learned of her right-wing views, leaving her shunned by the industry. She then worked at the right-leaning Daily Caller as a video producer and reporter, before joining The Rebel, where she reports on arts, politics, and culture.

She came under the scrutiny of left-leaning press in 2017, when she appeared in a Daily Caller video with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai. Humorous in tone, Pai voiced his views on net neutrality in the video and at the end, danced with the paper’s staff, which included Markota. Slate then called her a “proponent of Pizzagate.”

The “Pizzagate” controversy emerged in late 2016 after the publication of emails leaked from the account of John Podesta, who chaired the presidential campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Some people noticed several emails referred to “pizza” or “cheese pizza.” Arguing that some of the references seemed out of place, some speculated that the emails referred to child pornography, which is sometimes referred to by code words such as “cheese pizza” by others on the so-called dark web. Podesta dismissed the allegations.

Markota published a video on her YouTube account commenting on the allegations, confirming that, based on her earlier research of the dark web, “cheese pizza” is indeed a code word for child pornography. Pizzagate also includes other allegations, but Markota didn’t comment on those in her video.

She said she didn’t want to assume her politics had anything to do with Chase’s move, but found it strange, since her crowdfunded graphic-novel project was just taking off and she had tens of thousands of dollars in the account.

She came to the assumption that Chase targeted her politically after she learned other right-wing figures faced a similar situation at around the same time.

Enrique Tarrio

Enrique Tarrio, the chairman of the Proud Boys organization, first received a notice on Feb. 1 that Chase decided to stop processing payments for his online store. Then, he received a letter dated Feb. 4. “After careful consideration, we have determined that we can no longer support your banking account(s) and will be closing it on April 1, 2019,” it said. “Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience.”

Tarrio went on to talk to multiple Chase representatives, but to no avail. They told him they couldn’t find out why his account was closed.

He was told the account was “being closed by compliance” and that the matter should be brought up with the Chase “executive office,” according to a recording of the conversations that Tarrio provided to Project Veritas.

“[It’s] so mindboggling to me,” Chase Business Manager Marcel Smith Jr. told Tarrio. “I see nothing that indicates any reason why the account should be closed.”

Tarrio was a client of Chase for more than 10 years and “nothing looks out of whack as far as the order in which you’ve been doing your transactions or handing your business,” Smith said.

Finally, a person from the executive office who identified herself as “Nora” told Tarrio that the bank observed “inconsistent information” about his online shop. His website redirected to his online shop, 1776.shop, and “Chase has no relationship with the 1776.shop … and therefore couldn’t conduct required due diligence.”

Tarrio pushed back, saying the online shop went through a three-month certification process with Chase and the bank set up a checkout page for the online shop on its server. He even had emails with a Chase certification team that listed links to the 1776.shop website, he said.

He was told to give Chase his “dispute.” He did. But his account was closed on April 1 nonetheless.

Proud Boys

Tarrio, who’s of Afro-Cuban ancestry, was in November elected the chairman of Proud Boys, a somewhat satirical drinking club that describes its members as “Western chauvinists”—a term coined by its founder, comedian and former Fox host Gavin McInnes to mean “a proud and unabashed proponent of Western Civilization.”

Some of its members go to right-wing rallies and events to “do free security for conservative speakers,” its website says. Some members have been involved in fights with members of violent leftist groups such as Antifa.

From short online clips of some of the fights, it’s sometimes hard to discern who started them. Tarrio was adamant, though, that there’s not a single example of a Proud Boy breaking the group’s precept of not starting a fight.

“Get on YouTube, search it all day, you’ll never find a Proud Boy that goes and initiates something,” he said in a February interview with conservative YouTuber Sarah Corriher.

“I had a New York Times reporter call me today. He was like, ‘Oh, but you guys are violent.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s always what you guys say. Can you give me one example of us starting something?’ And they could never give me a solid answer.”

He said that the Proud Boys “100 percent” support Antifa’s right to protest. “We’re actually there to defend their right to do that, also,” he said. “But what we’re not OK with … is when they turn violent.”

Tarrio’s e-shop sells t-shirts and other merchandise, usually sporting the Proud Boys insignia and slogans, commonly provocative and sometimes involving crude language. One slogan advocates for a death penalty for pedophiles, saying “Hang ’em high.” Another depicts the anecdote about former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who in his suppression of communists and socialists is said to have had some people killed by throwing them off a helicopter. “You’re next, comrade. Socialists and communists fly free,” the slogan reads.

The Proud Boys’ social-media accounts were largely shut down after Oregon’s Clark County Sheriff’s Office said in an August 2018 memo that the FBI considers “Proud Boys to be an extremist group with ties to white nationalism.”

The group contested that description, highlighting the plethora of ethnic and racial backgrounds of its members and repeated disavowals of white nationalism by its leaders.

Oregon’s FBI office clarified in December that the bureau didn’t designate the group as extremist and suggested that the sheriff’s office misunderstood an FBI presentation that “tried to characterize the potential threat from individuals within that group,’’ Special Agent in Charge Renn Cannon told media, The Oregonian reported. By then, however, one of the sheriff’s deputies had already been fired for wearing a Proud Boys’ Girls sweatshirt.

Joe Biggs

Another one to lose his account was Joe Biggs, an Iraq War veteran who runs an online shop selling merchandise mostly emblazoned with anti-leftist slogans. “Register communists, not firearms,” says one T-shirt slogan. “Deportation saves lives,” says another.

“Chase bank just closed out my account!” he said in a Feb. 16 tweet.

As his Twitter post received traction with hundreds of retweets, his phone started ringing with calls from Chase’s executive office.

“After about hour and a half on the phone, I wasn’t able to talk to anybody and get a clear reason as to why they closed my account,” he later told the OAN news network.

Then, on Feb. 18, he received a call from a Chase representative who told him the bank “got a lot of backlash from veteran groups out there.”

Biggs says the representative told him: “They’re threatening to close their accounts now. We’d like to make it up to you and give you your account back.”

He still wasn’t told why was his account was closed to begin with.

“Since then, I’ve decided to take my business elsewhere and I think that’s what we should do,” he said.

Chase Response

The Epoch Times spent nearly two months in regular correspondence with Chase spokespeople, but couldn’t get an explanation regarding the account terminations.

“We can’t share information about customers for privacy reasons, but we would never close an account due to political affiliation,” spokesman Tom Kelly said in an email.

When questioned about whether Chase takes a stand on the issue of hate speech and whether it would cut ties with a client who makes a public comment that could be perceived as hateful, Kelly said, “Every situation is different, so there is no point in talking about hypotheticals.”

When repeatedly asked whether the bank has a hate-speech policy, the spokespeople maintained silence for weeks.

Then, on April 16, Project Veritas released a report about Tarrio’s case. One of its reporters called the Chase media line and asked whether the bank has “standards in place that would preempt [business] relationship with anyone” such as Steve Bannon, former executive chairman of right-leaning Breitbart News and a former White House chief strategist to President Donald Trump.

“Oh, definitely,” said the representative, who identified himself only as Asran. “Definitely, definitely. … Chase is not involved with any like, you know, alt-right people or anything. I really can’t name names but it’s basically like we don’t get involved with any of that. … No, just any business relationships, period.”

“Really?” the journalist responded. “Okay. So I mean on my end, I’m talking about people like Trump supporters for instance. The MAGA, whatever, ‘Make [America Great Again]’, whatever the hell they, those types of people, I mean individuals.”

“Right, right,” Asran responded. “I know what you mean, but like I said, the call is being recorded, monitored, so I can’t get too political. And say I don’t support these people, or this, but you know, any kind of business entity, people like that, no moral character or anything like that, the bank usually doesn’t get involved with that.”

Chase’s Kelly said there was no Asran working in the bank’s media relations operations.

“That number is the switchboard and the call apparently was routed to a call center,” he said. Asran was “apparently, a customer-service [representative],” he said.

Another spokesperson, Patricia Wexler, then stepped in:

“Just to be clear … we don’t know he’s a customer service rep, right? I’ve actually not seen any evidence this is an employee. Meaning, we can’t confirm it based on what we are seeing.”

After being pressed again on the issue of hate speech, she replied that “there’s no hate-speech policy.”

Hate speech has been commonly cited as a reason for suppression or banning of right-wing users on social-media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook acknowledged that “there is no universally accepted answer for when something crosses the line” of hate speech. That seems open to interpretation by the overwhelmingly left-leaning workforce of the big tech companies. The companies have faced allegations of political bias in content policing that are backed by a growing pile of evidence. The companies have denied bias.

Deplatforming

Shutting down opposition by preventing opponents from spreading their message isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to the political left, but incidents of it coming from the left have been many—especially in recent years—as suggested, for instance, by attempts to disinvite speakers from college campuses that have been documented by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
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