Hatred has gotten a facelift. With the help of Internet technology and cyberspace marketing, once-decrepit organizations like the Ku Klux Klan are regaining their youthful energy and competing for the attention of increasingly educated audiences. But don't let the good looks fool you: Behind the virtual makeover hides the same old-fashioned hatred that bigots have always promoted.
The Internet has given hate groups ample reason to feel young again. In the United States, online bigots enjoy full protection under the First Amendment and have access to a potentially limitless audience. Webmasters are anonymous and difficult to silence; leaders suffer few consequences for their followers' actions. And their strategies for organizational growth are beginning to look more corporate than cross-lit.
"The Internet has allowed hate groups to develop by leaps and bounds," states Dr. David Blumenthal, author of The Banality of Good and Evil. "The danger is that the uninitiated can get to them [hate sites]: people who are on the borderline and have been in the closet and now feel they can come out." Instead of leaflets under your windshield or on the lawn, haters now post their messages on the Web for you to find--by accident or choice.
Although America's free speech laws make prosecution of Internet haters difficult, their cyber-romps do not go unmonitored. Leaders in the anti-hate movement--including the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League, And HateWatch--are working to unmask cyber-bigots and expose their strategies to the public eye.
Who are the virtual haters?
Brian Marcus has his work cut out for him. As research director for HateWatch, a five-year-old organization that tracks the movements of online haters, Marcus faces the task of identifying, categorizing, and monitoring between 300 and 350 Internet hate groups. HateWatch provides an exhaustive index of cyber-haters, covering everything from neo-Nazi to anti-Muslim to anti-disability groups. And while not all claim religious affiliation, an increasing number of groups--including anti-Christian, Christian and Racial Identity, and Christian fundamentalists--alternately attack, twist, or espouse the teachings of Christianity.
`FOR A WHITER WORLD ...'
I have two daughters, a 6-year-old and a 3-month-old. I home school my oldest. I am a homemaker-when I did work I was an Office Manager and I also waited tables for a while. I have been a member of the WCOTC for two years and a Racial activist for eight years.
--Melody LaRue, Webmaster, Sisterhood of the World Church of the Creator
On first read, Melody LaRue sounds like a fresh-faced evangelical with all the zeal of a mega-church devotee. She writes eagerly about her church and its efforts to bring new converts into the fold. Yet she is also a fiercely dedicated white supremacist, signing her e-mails "For a Whiter World, Sister Melody LaRue." The 25-year-old Seattle resident designs the women's Web pages for the World Church of the Creator, perhaps the best example of an anti-Christian religious hate group.
One of the largest and most active white supremacist groups in the United States, the WCOTC embraces religious structure and dogma but remains vehemently--even violently--opposed to Christianity. LaRue explains: "The WCOTC is definitely not a Christian church. In fact, we are anti-Christian. We believe that christ-insanity is one of the reasons that the White Race is in the position that it is in today. The `holy' bible teaches our people suicidal advice, such as `love your enemies....' We have an extreme love for our people and refuse to follow teachings that will inevitably betray us."
Apparently LaRue's efforts are paying off. "There were over a thousand hits the first month," she says. "I am sure our new and improved Web site will get at least that much attention."
USING THE BIBLE TO JUSTIFY HATE.
We believe in an existing being known as the Devil or Satan and called the Serpent (Genesis 3:1, Revelation 12:9), who has a literal `seed' or posterity in the earth (Genesis 3:15) commonly called (Anti-Christ) jews today (Revelation 2:9, 3:9; Isaiah 65:15). The anti-Christ jews are the image of the Beast of Revelation Chapter 13:14.... They cause the death of Christians.
--`Christian' Bible study Web site
Virtual haters twist scripture into a white-power pretzel. The most common version of their convoluted hermeneutics is "Identity" thought, a theology that uses the Bible to justify racism and to prophesy apocalyptic judgment against non-white, non-Aryan races.
Identity sites are often eye-glazingly similar. Scripture is quoted at great length and with great gusto. Jews are the seen as the "anti-Christ" or "Satan's seed." Persons of color are deemed the "Unchosen" or "mud people." Self-preservation of the white race becomes an imperative for true "Christians," regardless of the personal costs involved.
Two different strands of Identity thought are currently in circulation--Christian Identity and Racial Identity.
The Christian Identity movement is linked to the doctrine of British Israelism that equates white people with the "true" Jews descended from the lost tribes of Israel. Racial Identity adherents believe that while today's Jews were once the true Jews of the Bible, Aryans have long since replaced them as God's chosen people. These variations engender competition and even hostility between the two groups.
VIRTUAL BIGOTS, IN ALL SIZES AND SHAPES. Like Identity adherents, Christian fundamentalist hate groups utilize the Bible to justify their beliefs. Unlike Identity members, however, fundamentalists focus much of their vitriol on gay and lesbian people and other sexual "abominations." While theological disagreement with sexual behavior does not, of course, qualify a church as a hate group, the ferocity of some online attacks have warranted sites like Westboro Baptist Church a place on HateWatch's monitoring list.
Started by Fred Phelps, the infamous "God Hates Fags" demonstration leader, Westboro Baptist currently boasts two sites: www.godhatesfags.com and www.godhatesamerica. com. Phelps' grandson Ben, a Gen-Xer who works for a software company in Topeka, Kansas, maintains both. Phelps invites Web suffers to join fire-and-brimstone protests against gays and lesbians across the United States. "WBC to picket a million sodomite beasts at their pathetic Millennium March on Washington Apr. 30," reads one announcement. "WBC to picket Episcopal Fag Church General Convention in Denver, CO, Colorado Convention Center, July 5-14, in religious protest and warning," states another.
Virtual bigots like Phelps and World Church's LaRue come in all shapes, sizes, and religious leanings. But their intolerant attitudes do not in themselves qualify a site for monitoring, Brian Marcus points out. "We look for sites and groups that have online presences--not a catalog of every site with hate material on it." Serious hate sites are those that not only display overt hostility toward a person or group based on religion, gender, race, disability, or sexual orientation, but also use specific cyber-tactics that identify them as up-to-date and growing.
Strategies of online hate
The following strategies, culled from online research and from interviews with hate site Webmasters, anti-hate activists, and scholars, provide a sample of the tactics employed by virtual hate groups for recruitment, retention, and organizational growth.
STRATEGY ONE: MAKE HATE NOBLE. Virtual bigots like to couch hate in lofty terms. Emoting about freedom and racial self-preservation, they allude to a racial holy war and exhort others to join the struggle. Sacrifice becomes the mark of a dedicated racialist. Experiences of alienation, disapproval, or persecution are thus eased by the inner assurance that one is battling for a cause greater than oneself.
Some haters, Brian Marcus explains, see themselves as "Phineas Priests"--a biblical analogy from the tale of Phineas striking down those who consorted with the Midianites (Numbers 25:6-13) and being blessed by God for his courage. "This is read to justify racist actions taken by groups of haters," Marcus says, "and especially to sanctify those Who take it upon themselves to commit these acts to bring about a `proper' world."
Jerry's Aryan Battle Page gives violence a Phineasian twist with a monthly "Patriot of the White Race" award. In June 2000, Jerry honored a man named Mike Stehle for killing an "anti-racist" in supposed self-defense: "For his bravery in combat with our enemies, and for saving the lives of two other White racial patriots, Mike Stehle has become a hero of his people."
STRATEGY TWO: MAKE HATE ANONYMOUS. An anonymous bigot is more threatening than an identifiable one. The federal government recently confirmed this when it denied Klan members the fight to wear hoods at public rallies. On the Internet, however, haters can reclaim the anonymity once granted by white robes. The Anti-Defamation League notes that items banned in public can now be symbolically donned in cyberspace--without legal or governmental reprisal.
Virtual anonymity makes prosecution of haters difficult. In the United States, bigots cannot be taken to court unless their words are proven to be a "course of conduct" rather than a single occurrence. But with the emergence of technologies that offer substantial online anonymity, a bigot can repeatedly threaten someone without being readily identified.
Virtual anonymity also makes disclaimers easy. Hate leaders can disavow themselves from "random" shootings committed in their organizations' names because linking "lone wolf" haters to established Web sites is tricky, says Brian Marcus. Unless haters identify themselves or can be shown to have visited sites or conspired with others, determining which shooters are actually part of a group and which are mere isolated vigilantes becomes difficult.
STRATEGY THREE: MAKE HATE TECHNOLOGICAL. In previous years, a hate group's success depended on the charisma of its leader. Today it depends on the technical savvy of its Webmaster. "Hate leaders don't have to have good looks or good public speaking ability anymore," says ADL's Jay Karman. "They need technical knowledge--and the ability to articulate a message through written words instead of speech."
In a field where technology changes almost daily, hate groups hunger for the skills to promote their message effectively. A few groups began using computers as early as 1983 to set up dial-in bulletin boards for promoting their ideas. Don Black, a former Grand Dragon of the KKK, was one of these early-bird haters, creating the first full-fledged Internet hate site in 1995. Today Black's Stormfront site continues to set the technological pace for white supremacists.
The Webmasters I interviewed displayed considerable technological creativity. Each claims to have learned Web design for the express purpose of putting up white supremacist sites. "I learned internet technology within the last month or so," writes LaRue. "I taught myself for the sole purpose of the [World Church of the Creator] Sisterhood Web site." Alex Curtis, Webmaster for the white supremacist site Nationalist Observer, says that while he learned computer basics for school, he developed Web site skills expressly for "White activism."
Putting up the site is just the beginning. High-powered sites often create their own "mirrors"--seemingly innocuous replications of a site designed to evade blocking. They also craft extensive link pages, multiple e-mail lists, and e-commerce arenas for selling white power paraphernalia. Don Black's Stormfront site even provides its own Internet service to avoid conflict with concerned Internet service providers.
STRATEGY FOUR: MAKE HATE CHRISTIAN.
"I am a Presbyterian and both racism and religion come naturally to me.... I put race first though, because biological extinction is right now the worst threat. Religion can always be relearned."
--Alex Curtis, Webmaster for the Nationalist Observer
Is hate Christian? Identity and fundamentalist groups want you to think so. And many have the know-how to prove it. Westboro's Web master Ben Phelps could proof-text most seminary students into stunned silence. "Most people aren't supposed to believe the Bible," says Phelps, "because Jesus said that most people will go to hell. Matthew 7:13-14 ... The goal is not to get everyone saved. The goal is to preach the truth to people and through that preaching God will call His elect into the fold."
Basing bigotry on the Bible helps virtual haters in two ways. First, it absolves them of responsibility for their hatred. Westboro's site claims to preach hate "because the Bible preaches hate. The maudlin ... touchy-feely preachers of today's society are damning this nation and this world to hell."
Second, making hate "Christian" helps online groups recruit members from Bible-based and conservative churches. The line between respectful theological disagreement and out-and-out bigotry is sometimes a fine one. Haters such as Fred and Ben Phelps manipulate Christians into embracing hate in the name of biblical integrity.
STRATEGY FIVE: MAKE HATE MARKETABLE. What's the best way to build a new business? Attract adolescents. Filmmakers do it. Evangelical mega-churches do it. Hate groups are doing it, too.
In an effort to make hate marketable, some sites sell computer games, such as White Power Doom, that have been altered to include African-Americans, Jews, and other minority groups as shooting targets. Other sites such as Resistance Records (see "You Say You Want a Revolution?" page 21) sell skinhead music that can be purchased with a standard credit card. The Resistance label is now owned by William Pierce, head of the incendiary Aryan Nations Web site and author of the racist treatise The Turner Diaries.
Still other sites provide links to the White Heritage Emporium, an e-shop that sells everything from Celtic jewelry to racist T-shirts. Don Black's Stormfront site even has a "white singles" dating section and a "kid's page" supposedly maintained by an 11-year-old boy named Derek. "I used to be in public school," says Derek. "It is a shame how many white minds are wasted in that system. I am now in home school. I no longer get beat up by gangs of non-whites and I spend most my day learning, instead of tutoring the slowest kids in my class."
How can we fight back?
The virtual sludge available on the information highway can be overwhelming. Hate, it seems, is everywhere and nowhere at once. It is both highly visible and completely anonymous. For many of us, responding to online bigotry feels like a nearly impossible task. The good news is that HateWatch's Brian Marcus and other anti-hate activists have done a lion's share of the research and strategizing. Responses include censoring hate groups, using online "hate filters," and basic education.
CENSORSHIP? How do you stop a bully from terrorizing the playground? Get him to pick a fight with an even bigger bully. With the rise of Internet hate, virtual bigots have effectively picked a fight with government and constitutional authorities, prompting some officials to suggest that free speech laws be overturned in order to eliminate hateful speech. Citing the successful removal of the violently anti-abortionist "Nuremberg Files" site from the Internet, censorship advocates argue that outlawing hate speech is the most expedient way to curtail virtual bigotry.
The "Nuremberg Files" were banned, however, not because of inherently hateful speech but because a court determined that they presented a genuine threat of physical harm to doctors and nurses who perform abortions. Hate sites in the United States remain protected by the First Amendment unless they can be clearly linked to concrete threats or acts.
Even the censorship-prone Europeans admit that banning hate speech has not brought an end to virtual hate. If anything, censorship complicates matters by failing to clarify who bears responsibility for policing the Internet. The International Herald Tribune reports that the same week a Paris court ordered the French government to block access to the U.S. version of Yahoo (where Nazi memorabilia can be sold), a court in the city of Nanterre refused to order a French Internet service provider to crack down on a neo-Nazi site. The Nanterre court stated that "the providers had no legal obligation to investigate the identity of their clients."
Brian Marcus and ADL's Jay Karman remain firmly opposed to censorship. Their position is echoed in a recent ACLU report. One theme in all these cases, says the ACLU, is that we can adjust our concept of free speech by slicing off a few tiny comers and leave the core intact. "But that's the argument that's always been used to justify restricting speech." We might hate what a bigot says, but when push comes to shove, many of us will still defend his right to say it.
ON-LINE HATE BLOCKERS? If you can't ban hate, block it. Such is the reasoning behind the new filter software cropping up on anti-hate sites. The Anti-Defamation League offers the trademarked HateFilter--a "software product designed to act as a gatekeeper" by blocking access to anti-Semitic and other hate sites from a home or office computer.
Filters block offensive sites only on those computers whose owners have chosen to buy or download the necessary software. Use of filters by public institutions such as schools and libraries is under debate, with opponents protesting that they violate the First Amendment. According to the ADL, at least one federal court has ruled that a local library board may not require the use of filtering software on library Internet computing terminals.
Another strategy used by anti-hate groups is to buy up Internet addresses containing offensive terms to prevent haters from using them. In this scheme, Web surfers who type in the offensive Internet address will be rerouted to the Anti-Defamation League or other anti-hate educational sites.
A potentially wider-reaching block involves the Internet service providers (ISPs) themselves, which are not bound by the First Amendment. Just as individuals can elect to block hate sites from their home computers, ISPs can choose to delete hate sites from their servers without governmental reprisal. But since ISPs are not held responsible for the content of their hosted sites, convincing a provider to block offensive material may require a substantial amount of persuasion. Many ISPs, including America Online and Erols, have responded to public pressure and developed "no hate page" policies. For example, AOL's terms of agreement make clear that AOL can refuse a site to any person or group that "transmits any unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, hateful, racially, ethnically, or otherwise objectionable content."
EDUCATE. EDUCATE. EDUCATE.
While new anti-hate tactics are constantly emerging, education is still the best and most lasting response. "The best way for progressive, socially active Christians to deal with hatred is to know what's out there," says Brian Marcus. Education, he says, is the hardest response to hate because it requires understanding how bigots think and knowing what biblical passages and beliefs they use to justify their ideologies. "We believe that those who are working to fight intolerance and bigotry should know what they are up against," Marcus says. "Then they will be better prepared to confront and shed light on these groups."
Educational efforts are already well under way. On the tech side, Hate Watch has just released "Hacking & Hate," a report that explores hate groups' misuse of the electronic medium and offers options for groups and individuals to protect themselves. The Wiesenthal Center offers "Digital Hate 2000," a CD-ROM educational guide that explores the Internet's "subculture of hate." On the academic side, Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt's recent court victory over a Holocaust-denying historian has done much to discredit the intellectual side of hatred.
Education and repentance go hand in hand. But whose repentance should we attend to first? Sharon Welch, a professor at the University of Missouri, is teaching prejudice reduction training. Her mission is to help white racists--both those whose intolerance is blatant and those who remain largely unconsciously biased--repent of racial bigotry without feeling humiliated or punished. "I try to help whites rediscover a sense of pride in themselves that has room for ambiguity and accountability," Welch explains.
Christianity itself has room for such accountability. Although haters delight in quoting everyone from Martin Luther to Charles Spurgeon to make their biases intellectually credible, a closer read of the theologians--and attention to the historical milieu in which they wrote--might alter the ease with which bigots revise Christian intellectual history.
In 1945, Protestant theologian Reinhold Neibuhr wrote, "Race bigotry is, in short, one form of original sin. Original sin is something more terrible than mere stupidity and is therefore not eradicated by enlightenment alone, though frequently enlightenment can break some of its power.... Race bigotry must be broken by repentance and not merely by enlightenment." Indeed, one wishes that someone would introduce Ben Phelps to Reinhold Neibuhr.
TEN WAYS TO FIGHT HATE
1. ACT. In the face of hatred, apathy will be interpreted as acceptance--by the haters, the public, and worse, by the victim.
2. UNITE. Organize a diverse coalition of allies, including children, police, and media.
3. SUPPORT THE VICTIMS. Hate-crime victims are especially vulnerable, fearful, and alone. Let them know you care.
4. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Seek advice from anti-hate organizations. Distribute accurate information to the community.
5. CREATE ALTERNATIVES. Do not attend a hate rally, even in protest. Hold a unity rally or parade.
6. SPEAK UP. Hate must be exposed and denounced. Buy an ad.
7. LOBBY LEADERS. Persuade politicians and business and community leaders to take a stand against hate.
8. LOOK LONG RANGE. Create a "bias response" team. Hold annual events that celebrate your community's diversity.
9. TEACH TOLERANCE. Bias is learned early, usually at home. Target youth who may be tempted by hate groups.
10. DIG DEEPER. Work against discrimination. Look inside yourself for prejudices and stereotypes.
Excerpted from Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide, available from the Southern Poverty Law Center, 400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, AL 36104.
You Say You Want a Revolution?
Resistance Records recruits soldiers for `racial holy war.'
Human rights groups have called William Pierce the "most dangerous racist" in America. Pierce is founder of the West Virginia-based National Alliance, which evolved from his 1970s National Youth Alliance, a group founded to counter the anti-war movement on college campuses. According to the National Alliance Web site, Pierce saw the anti-war movement as a "call for the destruction of White society by Jews and others."
Pierce made his mark in 1978 when his National Vanguard Books published his book The Turner Diaries, written by Pierce under the name Andrew Macdonald. The Diaries, and his second novel, Hunter, depict white power radicals overthrowing the U.S. government and marauding across the country killing "race traitors" and establishing "order." According to the publisher's promotional material, it is considered by the FBI to be the "bible of the racist right."
Added to Pierce's list of "bestsellers" is Resistance Records--a label started in 1993 by Canadian George Burdi, aka George Eric Hawthorne of the band Rahowa (Racial Holy War). "For many years, [anti-hate groups] have tried hard, and largely successfully, to keep me marginalized," Pierce told the LA Times. "Nevertheless, my audience kept growing, and now I have essentially moved into the mass media."
Erich Gliebe, president of the Cleveland chapter of the National Alliance, spearheads Resistance Records and its accompanying magazine. Gliebe, 36, an ex-boxer known as the "Aryan Barbarian," has extensive roots in the white power music scene and under his direction Resistance magazine has become the Rolling Stone of the hate music world. According to Pierce the label expects to gross more than $1 million by 2001. How long before we see a music channel dedicated to the Angry Aryans, White Wash, Blue Eyed Devils, SkrewDriver, and The Bully Boys?
LARRY BELLINGER is assistant editor of Sojourners.
WHO IS WATCHING THE HATE GROUPS?
For excellent research and organizing tips on hate groups, see:
* Southern Poverty Law Center (www.slpcenter.org)
* Simon Wiesenthal Center 1-800-900-9036; (www.wiesenthal.org)
* Anti-Defamation League (212) 885-7700; (www.adl.org)
* HateWatch (617) 876-3796; (www.hatewatch.org)
STACIA M. BROWN works for the Emory University Center for Ethics in Public Policy and the Professions.
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|Date:||Sep 1, 2000|
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