Author(s): Louisna, Gariot Source: Caribbean Today Date: 30-JUN-1998 Citation Information: V.9; N.7; p. 11 "Hate Groups Embrace Internet's Reach, Speed." In less than a decade, the Internet has grown from an exclusive communications gateway into one of the most widely-used means of disseminating information that the world has yet known. Government agencies, businesses and private individuals have taken advantage of this cheap and effective method of communication and have posted everything from congressional bills to pictures of newborn children cradled in the arms of their mothers for all to see. But the Net is not always a safe and beautiful place. Pedophiles have used it to gain access to children who would otherwise be beyond their grasp. Likewise, extremist groups and hatemongers have found a home on the Net for their propaganda. White supremacists and black separatists alike spew racist dribble and "scientific" facts, while anti-Semites babble about the genius of Adolf Hitler and what they call the great lie, the Holocaust. At one time, these organizations had only limited resources and could not easily spread their messages. But with the development of the Net, these groups are reaching millions of people at little cost and without being held responsible for what they say. Since 1996, the number and sophistication of hate sites has grown dramatically on the Net, and mainstream society - especially its youth - is getting a close-up look at these once-secret societies. The Ku Klux Klan, for instance, solicits supporters through its home page, simply called KKK.Com. Through its site on the World Wide Web, the Klan sells artifacts and memorabilia like T-Shirts, paintings and books and provides a list of contacts for people interested in learning more about Klan-affiliated organizations and their beliefs. For people interested in joining the Klan, several links contain membership applications. Stormfront, a page created by Don Blackman [sic], an ex-Klan leader, is credited as being the first and longest-lived extremist site on the Net. Last year, Stormfront claimed that more than 800 people were logging on to its site every day. Stormfront has links to 50 locations on the Net which are devoted to anti-Semitism, says the Anti-Defamation League in a report called "High-Tech Hate: Extremist Use of the Internet." The Sacramento Redneck's page is supposed to be a joke. Although it comes with a disclaimer, its content is inflammatory. The page is designed to look like an official document from the desk of California Gov. Pete Wilson, but its text proves otherwise. "July 1, 1997 through June 1,1998, has been declared open season on Porch Monkeys (Unemployeous Africanus.) Regionally called Jigaboos, Saucer lips, Jungle Bunnies, Spooks and Spear Chuckers." Then there is a page containing a speech by J.B. Stoner, a member of the Aryan National Congress. In an excerpt covering almost two full pages, Stoner thanks God for creating AIDS, "the great racial miracle." Stoner asserts that whites, unlike blacks, have a natural defense against AIDS. AIDS, Stoner said, was created to help white people, who were losing a race war. Non-white hate sites Hate speech on the Net is not limited to white supremacist groups. Hate Watch, a private group devoted to monitoring bigotry on the Net, lists several black racist groups. Among them is the House of David, whose home page states: "As you can see the man/nation with the mark of the beast: 666 is the entire white race, America and all the Europeans nations (sic). Shalam!" Then there is Nations of Gods and Earths page, which claims that white people were created from back people by a scientist named Yacub, who discovered a recessive gene in the black man and formed a genetic mutation that evolved into the white man. The Nation of Islam's home page says that American society - including its news media - is controlled by Jews who ruin those who do not conform to their will. "And in the arena of political power," the page continues, "all presidents since 1932 are controlled by Jews." Nation of Islam representatives say they are not racist or anti-Semitic. Rather, they say, they speak the truth. Black people are the true Semites and the Nation of Islam is not against its own people, said Tavares Mohammed of Mohammed's Mosque, a Miami, Florida, chapter of the Nation of Islam. Mohammed acknowledges that some of the statements which representatives of the Nation of Islam make may seem harsh and offensive. Mohammed said: "You have to understand the pain that we were born out of. We were born out of the desires of the slave to have freedom. Now, when you hear some of us speak, we speak out of that pain. "The manner which we say a thing may be offensive to some. But if it is the truth, you have to rise above emotion. You have to accept truth." These examples are tame compared to much else that resides on the Net. On almost every point of philosophical and ideological controversy in America, numerous persons preach their versions of truth and defame and degrade their opponents. Internet hate speech is growing rapidly, says the Anti-Defamation League. Today, approximately 100 different hate groups post messages on the Net. Some observers estimate the number of hate sites at more than 800, reports Gina Smith of ABCNEWS.com. The number of hate groups also rose by 20 percent from 1996, reports the Southern Poverty Law Center. The great majority of these are militant white organizations. Holocaust deniers are catching up. Private individuals too are taking advantage of the Net to sound their discontent with integration, immigration, homosexuality, etc. Internet bulletin boards are filled with racist and profane speech. Shrouded by the blanket of anonymity they enjoy on the Net, people say all that they would not be able to say in public. Congressional action The U.S. Congress is again looking at bills that may curb free speech on Internet sites that fall within the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement, but it is doubtful that such bills would survive judicial review. "Thank God we have an independent judiciary," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, who believes the marketplace of ideas should be free of restraints. Congress will pass almost any legislation that has the words "children," "schools" and "hate" in the same paragraph, Simon said. "But the independent judiciary will strike it down as unconstitutional." On June 26, 1997, that scenario played out in the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices ruled that the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which put restrictions on indecent speech over the Net, was so broad and poorly defined that it violated the free speech provisions of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Most observers agree that in a free marketplace of ideas, there is no place for government sanctions on speech, no matter how offensive or politically incorrect that speech may be. The Blue Ribbon Commission for Online Free Speech scoffs at the idea that racism on the Net can have a profound effect on people's beliefs if they are not disposed to those beliefs before reading racist propaganda. "Racists and other fanatics and bigots are usually shown to have baseless views when they try to incite hatred," says the commission's online statement of purpose. "When they try to defend their views, the erudite reply tears their arguments to shreds." In agreement, the Hate Page of the Week's Web site says censoring hate speech would be safe-defeating, because the targeted organizations would go underground and would find illegal ways of posting their messages on the Net. The best thing to do, Hate Page of the Week argues, is to expose their hatred. Awareness and education seem to be the agreed-upon approaches to neutralizing hate on the Net. Adults need to combat hate on the Internet with trust, not with government imposed censorship," the ACLU's Simon said. So far, this approach has been prevalent. Several organizations, including Cyberwatch and the Nizkor Project, feel that the most practical protection against bigotry on the Net lies in the freedom afforded by the First Amendment to counter hateful speech with more speech and to expose hatemongers and extremist groups for what they are. But others, like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, would like to see the Federal Communications Commission implement restrictions, set up online watchdogs and rid the Internet of all bigoted speech. This is not likely to happen. No one is sure just how successful extremists have been in their efforts to gain support over the Internet. Many sites list the number of visitors, but no independent auditors verify these numbers. Even if the numbers are accurate, no one can say whether visitors to hate sites are accepting and acting on what they see. And no one even knows how many of the visitors to hate sites fit the ideological and racial profiles which individual sites are seeking to recruit. What once can be certain about is that the Net is growing rapidly - and hate speech along with it. And however people feel about bigotry on the Net, its presence there is a reminder that a lot of hate remains in the world. Gariot Louisna is a print-journalism major at the University of Miami. He has just completed his freshman year. Copyright © 1998 SoftLine Information Inc., all rights reserved.
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