THE NEW YORK
Sites Born of Hate
Racist Pages Grow in Number and
and May Lure the Unwary
By MICHEL MARRIOTT
At first glance, Nole's Page looks like any one of the
thousands of personal home pages digitally dashed upon the Internet by
adolescents with a modicum of computer skills and a hankering to be noticed.
The page, which claims to be all about Santa Barbara, Calif., displays the
name of the city, framed by American flags, above torches that burn with
animated fire. Along the left side of the page are buttons directing viewers
to some of Nole's favorite things, including "the beer of champions."
|KEEPING WATCH - Rabbi Abraham Cooper,
associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says the
subculture of hate on the Internet is growing at an alarming rate.
But visitors who scroll down, to the sound of rock power chords,
soon discover that the Web site is actually devoted to "white power."
Nole's Page turns out to be a neo-Nazi rant peppered with glowing
references to skinhead ideology. It also has 50 links to like-minded
sites, from those selling Nazi memorabilia to tracts about breaking "the
chains of Jewish materialism."
Another site, Martin Luther King Jr.: A Historical Examination,
appears to be a tribute, complete with pictures of Dr. King and his
family on the home page. A few mouse clicks later, however, Dr. King is
labeled as "just a sexual degenerate, an America-hating Communist."
On a site designed to look like a mainstream Internet news
service, there are stories about Jasper, Tex., where a black man was
dragged to his death behind a pickup truck. But this site features a
different take on Jasper, reporting that "negroes and race traitors" had
removed an old fence that in the writer's view had justly separated for
more than 160 years the graves of blacks and whites in a local cemetery.
Each of these Web sites can also be found on Digital Hate 2000,
an interactive report on CD-ROM that is to be released Friday by the
Simon Wiesenthal Center, a research and educational organization based
in Los Angeles that is best known for its focus on the Holocaust. The
report is a guided tour of what Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of
the center, characterized as a subculture of hate on the Internet. He
said such sites were growing at an alarming rate. "What used to be done
in the stalls of bathrooms is now online," Rabbi Cooper said in an
The difference, people who track hate sites point out, is that
online hate propaganda can disguise itself more easily than bathroom
graffiti and mimeographed pamphlets.
Digital Hate 2000 shows that many of the sites are little more
than traditional expressions of hate: pages of dense text arguing things
like the inherent inferiority of blacks and how the year 2000 computer
glitch is part of a Jewish conspiracy to establish a new world order.
online storefronts sell books by David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan
leader who is running for the Republican nomination for a Congressional
seat in Louisiana, along with Nazi propaganda posters and Hitler's "Mein
But other sites, like the Santa Barbara and Martin Luther King
Jr. pages, are presented as ordinary home pages or educational sites.
"Racist hate organizations are learning how to use this new electronic
media," said David Goldman, director of Hate Watch, a volunteer Internet
group that has been tracking hate speech on the Internet for five years.
Many sites operated by neo-Nazis, skinheads, Ku Klux Klan members and
followers of religious cults are growing more sophisticated, offering
Web environments that are designed to attract children and young adults.
For example, a site for the World Church of the Creator, a
neo-Nazi group based in East Peoria, Ill., is rendered in bright crayon
colors. (Three members of the church recently pleaded guilty to charges
of beating and robbing a Jewish businessman. One of the three said the
inspiration for the attack had been "The Turner Diaries," a
white-supremacist novel by Andrew Macdonald.)
Until a few weeks ago, the section of the site called Creativity
for Children linked to a vintage Nazi propaganda children's book that
likens Jews to "poisonous mushrooms."
Another site features animation of blond teen-agers firing
rifles at a poster of a pig; the poster reads, "Kill the Jew pigs before
it's too late." On another site, the cartoon teen-agers blast holes in a
poster showing a picture of Pope John Paul II that has been digitally
altered to show a pistol in his right hand.
Other sites offer popular computer games, like Doom and Castle
Wolfenstein, that have been reconfigured to include blacks, Jews and
other members of minority groups as targets. Even the Dancing Baby, that
ubiquitous computer animation that crossed into prime-time television,
has been reborn as the White Power Baby.
The Wiesenthal Center said it planned to produce 20,000 copies
of the CD-ROM report, which can link Internet users to all the sites it
has identified. The center's report will be given free to law
enforcement agencies, educational institutions and the media. People can
buy the report through the center's Web site for $25.
|It can be hard to determine
exactly what qualifies as a hate site on the Internet.
|"This is the bottom line: They're not overthrowing America
tomorrow," Rabbi Cooper said. "They're still a limited fringe. But they
have established a significant, unprecedented beachhead in the
mainstream of our culture."
Even so, the issue of what
to do about hate speech on the Internet, a medium that is both heralded
and notorious for its scarcity of gatekeepers, is hardly clear-cut.
Rabbi Cooper and the Wiesenthal Center advocate censorship of hate
messages on the Web. Yet others, like officials of the American Civil
Liberties Union, argue that Americans' speech must be protected in
cyberspace by the Constitution, as it is in any other medium.
It can be hard to determine exactly what qualifies as a hate
site on the Internet. The Wiesenthal Center last year found 1,426 sites
on the Web that it termed "problematic," which means that they were
either hate sites or sites that linked to hate sites. About 100 more
have been found since the study was completed three weeks ago.
But the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which
also watches hate speech on the Internet, counted just 254 hate sites
last year. Mark Potok, editor of the law center's quarterly Intelligence
Report, said that the law center focused on what it considered to be
explicit examples of hate speech and only on sites based in the United
"We are not trying to do an international listing," Potok said.
The Wiesenthal Center, by contrast, uses a much broader definition of
hate, and its CD-ROM breaks down the sites into 10 categories that
include hate sites affecting children and sites involved with hate
music, religious extremism, Holocaust denial, militia groups, and
conspiracy and new world order ideology, as well as pages offering
recipes for making bombs.
"When I say hate sites, I'm talking about those that in one way
or another are essentially attacking or denigrating the status of entire
groups -- whites, blacks, gays, Jews," Potok said.
But no matter how hate sites are defined, those who keep watch
say the numbers are growing rapidly. Rabbi Cooper said the Wiesenthal
Center found twice as many hate sites last year, compared with the
number found when it issued its first annual report in 1997. The
Southern Poverty Law Center noted a big jump as well, to 254 last year,
up from 163 in 1997.
Goldman, of Hate Watch, said that a factor driving the growth
was the low cost of Internet publishing. A Web site is far less
expensive to create and maintain than a newspaper or even an occasional
The report on the Wiesenthal disk also notes that some of the
most offensive speech can be found in some of the popular newsgroups,
chat rooms and digital communities encouraged by Internet portals. One
such site, called Aryan Geschweister (Brothers and Sisters), was
recently listed in the Yahoo Clubs area.
When Mark Hull, producer of Yahoo Clubs, was asked for comment
about hate sites at Yahoo, and about the Aryan site in particular, he
wrote via e-mail that members must agree to Yahoo's "terms of service."
That includes an agreement not to use the service to "promote bigotry,
racism, hatred or harm of any kind against any group or individual."
Hull also noted that the Aryan Geschweister site had been deleted after
he was asked about it.
|NOT ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM - Some hate
sites on the Web disguise themselves as tributes (above), while
others, like the White Nationalist Resource Page (bottom), are very
straightforward. Some even have areas designed to attract children.
But does the removal of such sites amount to unconstitutional
censorship of unpopular ideas? Rabbi Cooper said hate messages were
dangerous and should be removed and that decency and common sense should
be used on the Internet, much as they are in the mainstream press. The
Wiesenthal Center has had more success in curtailing hate speech on the
Internet in nations like Canada, Britain and Germany -- nations where
hate speech is illegal -- than in the United States, he added.
Norman Siegel, executive director of the New York Civil
Liberties Union, opposes censorship of online hate speech. "The Internet
should be an open, robust example of freedom of expression," he said.
"The concept and the principle is that the hate groups have First
Amendment rights as they would have in the open marketplace of ideas. So
if you can say X, Y and Z on a street corner on a platform with a
microphone, then the same principles and rules should apply on the
Internet." It is between the positions of the Wiesenthal Center and the
American Civil Liberties Union where Don Black has found considerable
wiggle room. Black, a 45-year-old former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux
Klan, is widely considered the godfather of hate speech on the Web. In a
telephone interview from his home in West Palm Beach, Fla., he said that
he saw nothing offensive about his white supremacist site, Stormfront,
which was probably the first World Wide Web site of its kind when it
appeared in 1995. It was a far more sophisticated multimedia version of
the kinds of hate sites that had already appeared on the Internet in the
1980's, before the advent of the World Wide Web.
"We are simply a white pride site," he said. "We believe white
people have the right to promote their interests and their values and
their heritage just as other races have the same rights." He referred to
his site, which he built after learning computer skills as an inmate in
a Federal prison, as "alternative news media." Like many Internet users,
he said he looked forward to the day when greater bandwidth would speed
access to the Net. The effect, he said, would permit his site to be less
like an electronic newspaper and more like a television news network.
Before the Internet, Black said, people who shared his beliefs
had little opportunity to try to spread them, other than through
leaflets, small newspapers and rallies. But today, he noted, a
relatively inexpensive Web site can reach millions. He said his site
cost about $1,000 a month to operate. His group, Stormfront, owns its
own computer servers and so is not dependent upon Internet service
One outcome of the growth of these sites, said Potok, of the
Southern Poverty Law Center, is that people who hold extremist views no
longer feel isolated. "These people who felt like outcasts and were
angry at the world have a whole different outlook on life now," Potok
said. "These people are getting in cars and driving to rallies and
meeting soul mates from the Internet."
Potok said that the law center wanted dangerous and offensive
speech to be exposed but did not endorse censorship. "It doesn't do any
good," he said, "to pretend that it doesn't exist."