The surge of crowdfunding websites has brought about a new wave of innovation and charitable drives. We've seen products like the Oculus Rift rise up from nothing thanks to a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, ultimately being bought out by Facebook for a cool $2 billion last year. Many have used personal fundraising sites like GoFundMe to help pay for expensive medical bills that would have otherwise put them in turmoil. I have friends and relatives who are actively using the venue to help alleviate the costs of reoccurring cancer treatments and to help children with disabilities.
This past week, the "Relentlessly Gay" GoFundMe campaign appeared out of nowhere and took the media world and social networking sites by storm. As the story goes, a widowed mother found an anonymous note on her door from a neighbor scolding her home decor (a line of colored glass jars), which they perceived as "relentlessly gay" and a threat to their "Christian" area. In retaliation, Julie immediately established a GoFundMe campaign asking for $5,000 to make her home more colorful. Five days later the campaign has raised a staggering $43,500 and shows no signs of stopping.
The Anonymous Letter
In typical fashion, dozens of media outlets picked up the story and ran with it, no questions asked. Stories continue to be regurgitated ad nauseam in a seemingly infinite loop. The fundraising page itself was shared around 20,000 times in five days, showing up on my own Facebook feed an obsessive number of times. Julie herself wasn't doing much of any talking to the media (her friend claims she grew ill about the same time the campaign was launched), and the media wasn't doing much probing for that matter. Below is the alleged letter received and the fundraiser description Julie posted.
Since this entire story hinged on a vague, anonymously-typed letter with no supporting facts, I expressed an immediate caution about blindly donating when commenting to a few friends on Facebook who had shared the story, singing its praise. I pointed out the unusual similarities in writing styles between the printed letter and Julie's own comments and campaign description. Julie has the abnormal habit of capitalizing random words throughout sentences and also using all-caps at different points to draw emphasis, a style not often seen but one depicted in the anonymous letter she allegedly found as well. While some argued that she may have just been lampooning the original letter by writing in a similar fashion on GoFundMe, further research confirms that she has always written in this style including on many of her Facebook posts throughout the years.
I do not need to reinvent the wheel by assessing more to this story, as there is now ample suspicion elsewhere and some well-written pieces about it. Of course all of this scrutiny comes from the general community, the media still seems to be eating up the story without investigating further. I've yet to see an article even mention the peculiar writing styles found in the campaign and the letter.
One last bit worth mentioning before linking to additional readings... An official website has been put up at RelentlesslyGay.com, owned and managed by Julie's friend Eleanor. The descriptions found on the site about where all of this money may go suggests that most of it will go towards other home improvement and construction projects outside of the scope of the fundraiser. Specifically, Julie announced plans to create a bee sanctuary, bat houses and a book library at her home. On the subject of donating all proceeds beyond the original $5,000 amount to a charitable organization to further the cause, it is arrogantly proclaimed: "...that would be, pardon my french, an epic fucking waste, regardless of the charity, because Nixy is more generous than twenty average people put together." Despite many now seeing the warning signs about this campaign and commenting as such on the official campaign page, donations continue pouring in.
Below are some unaffiliated sources that have taken the time to research and report on the many questionable aspects of this campaign.
- Fabulously Fraudulent? - Image gallery containing many of Julie's public Facebook posts that match the letter's writing style.
- Fake Hate Scam - In-depth writing analysis of Julie's writing and that of the letter
- Snopes.com - General discussion with skepticism and updates about the campaign
Update: A few hours later and Julie has now turned off future donations for the campaign. In an update, Julie indicates that "I just learned moments ago that I could turn off the donations..." So, it took Julie five days of raising nearly nine times the intended goal under immense media coverage to finally discover this option and halt future donations (while still receiving all funds donated to this point). This, despite the 'Turn Off Donations' link being readily available from the campaign overview page at all times and illustrated nicely by GoFundMe's help page. had any amount of effort been spent before today querying 'Turn Off Donations' or 'Close Campaign' on Google, the solution would be found immediately. Amidst increasing skepticism by the community, Julie goes on to state: "I want to work to remove any doubt about the authenticity of the letter. Until then I am not taking a dime out of this account." How she plans to do so was not disclosed and she has yet to address the writing style similarities.
Update 2: Before the evening ended the entire campaign has been deleted from GoFundMe. It is unclear whether Julie deleted it or GoFundMe removed it for unspecified reasons. Unfortunately this means the entire page is unavailable for viewing (except via Google Cache) which is unfortunate as there were many worthy comments and much drama throughout.
Update 3 (June 24, 2015): Snopes got in touch with a detective in Julie's jurisdiction, who announced that "Baker was either unwilling or unable to produce the letter in question, and that she had maintained it was no longer in her possession. The detective also indicated that he had attempted to meet with Baker in person the previous day but was unable to do so." So, Julie apparently discarded the whole letter amidst mass media attention, meaning that it can never be physically analyzed by detectives. I have reasonable suspicion that had the paper been forensically studied, the ink would lead back to Julie's home computer printer. There is also a new story on The Daily Caller pointing out the string of peculiarities in the story. The rest of the media has yet to go beyond the original story.
Update 4 (June 24, 2015): ...And now, a day or so later, the GoFundMe page is mysteriously back online again. Future donations are still halted but all existing donations are accounted for and presumable available to Julie whenever she wishes to cash out. However, with various reported probes into her activity and the suspicious letter (which she claims to no longer have despite just vowing to prove its authenticity) she may wish to withhold any withdrawals at this point.
Update 5 (June 28, 2015): A story yesterday from Baltimore Sun includes a new interview with Julie about the campaign. In it, Julie denies writing the letter and states "I don't think I'm the only person on the planet that has ever randomly capitalized things. I've seen that around and if people want to believe that, that's fine, I don't care. I don't know why people want to be negative." Furthermore, Julie explained that the campaign was briefly removed from the site as "the fundraising site's administrators reached out to her to check on the campaign's legitimacy," but it is not clear what sort of verification GoFundMe sought or how Julie provided it to them since she reportedly refused to communicate with detectives and misplaced the letter thus preventing and further analysis of it. A short blurb a few days prior in the Baltimore Sun Times called the campaign into question. [5% of all raised funds go to GoFundMe]. As a final observation, Julie/Eleanor silently removed the eyebrow-raising phrase from the official website—the quote explaining that donating any of the money would be an epic waste and that Julie was more generous than 20 average people combined.
Update 6 (July 25, 2015): A full month after the suspicious $43k+ fundraiser ended and Julie has yet to make any alterations to her home. Patch.com has posted a new photograph showing her yard remains unaltered. Furthermore, it has been reported that police do finally have the letter and have opened the case as "suspicious condition." Recall earlier that Julie claimed she no longer had the letter and was reportedly uncooperative with detectives.
Update 7 (August 18, 2015): Julie, after another month of silence, today announced in an update to the campaign that all donations will be refunded. Julie stated, in part: "...While thousands donated and thousands more offered support, the truth is that this project went from an artistic snow ball tossed in the face of hate to an avalanche. To deal with the debris, which includes taxes and an overabundance of resources it is with a saddened heart that all donations will be returned...I ask you to take your donations back and give to local artists or educational nonprofit organizations." Last month, police opened an investigation into the letter and at the time declared it to be a "suspicious condition", meanwhile more media outlets began reporting on the questionable aspects of this campaign. The "taxes" angle for explaining the refunds seems a bit peculiar, as she would still have exponentially more net revenue after taxes than the original target amount. However, if faced with the prospect of a fraud investigation, it would obviously be wiser to reject said funds outright. In this seemingly final update to the campaign, Julie does not make any mention of the controversy surrounding the letter nor the formal investigations into it. The IndieGoGo site explains that "contributions on Indiegogo are nonrefundable" so it will be interesting to see how and when Julie processes all of the individual refunds to her supporters.