An anonymous online campaign is seeking to derail a federal crackdown on access to the banking system by firms that authorities see as fraudsters.
The campaign is called "Stop the Choke," a reference to "Operation Choke Point," the nickname for a Justice Department investigation that has ensnared dozens of banks and payment processing firms.
The campaign's website was registered anonymously, and an inquiry to its Twitter handle Wednesday about who's behind the effort was not answered.
Stop the Choke appears to be aimed at stoking fears among conspiracy theorists and harnessing popular outrage to persuade certain Republican members of Congress to attack Justice's investigation as part of a federal intrusion on basic freedoms.
"President Obama's hit list taking away your guns, closing down charities and destroying the free market," the website reads.
But there's no evidence cited to support those claims, and there's no reason to think that charities or gun makers have lost their ability to access the banking system. Ironically, a page on the Stop the Choke website titled "Just the Facts" is left blank.
It's unclear just how much traction the anonymous campaign, which appears to have started in mid-December, has gained.
On Twitter, @stopthechoke had 300 followers early Wednesday afternoon. Recent tweets sought to persuade followers to call the offices of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to complain about the Justice investigation.
Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, argued in a January letter to Justice that Operation Choke Point's true target is the online lending industry, not fraudsters.
The Justice probe has had a significant impact on online payday lenders.
A Justice lawsuit against Four Oaks Bank in North Carolina, which ended in a $1.2 million settlement in January, involved the bank's relationship with a third-party payment processor whose clients included more than 20 online lenders.
Justice's complaint alleged that various online lenders misled customers and manipulated repayment withdrawals, which resulted in unexpected charges.
Two trade groups that have been among the most vocal critics of Operation Choke Point said Wednesday that they don't know who's behind the online campaign.
"We have no idea who is behind the website," Peter Barden, spokesman for the Online Lenders Alliance, said in an email. "First I learned of it was from the media."
"I have no idea who is behind this, and I don't have any comment," Marsha Jones, president of the Third Party Payment Processors Association, said in an email.
The anonymous online campaign was first reported Wednesday by the Center for Public Integrity.