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Last-Modified: 2001/09/24

Matthew Lauder, Director Anti-Racism Program
Guelph and District Multicultural Centre
Guelph, Ontario

       The Importance of websites to the Extreme Rightwing

     The success of websites as a recruitment tool for the racial-
nationalist movement remains a topic of debate among anti-racist
researchers and activists. For many, websites are recognised as
an incredibly successful recruitment tool because it is
inexpensive and provides access to a large audience (in relation
to traditional means such as flyers) by circumventing geographic,
financial, and legislative limitations. In other words, increased
access to hate literature via websites simply means more members.
However, David Goldman, the former director of HateWatch, and
Chip Berlet, from Political Research Associates, ardently
disagree. Instead, they suggest that hate-based websites do not
translate into more members because they fail to create a sense
of community. That is, websites do not increase a group's
membership because they do not satisfy the psychological and
social needs of the individual.
Increased access as a measure of success

     For several years, experts have warned policymakers that the
proliferation of hate-based websites directly results in
increased group membership because they provide greater access to
group literature. Mark Weitzman, from the Simon Weisenthal
Centre, argues that access to the Internet and the increase in
the number of hate-based websites has given "extremists the
largest potential audience for recruits and for propaganda that
they have ever had."<1> Moreover, Ross Davidson notes that websites
are "playing a central role, allowing hate groups to recruit,
network and plan events more easily than in pre-Web America."<2>

     Davidson notes that, in the pre-web period, a racialist, "would
have to go to a great deal of effort and spend quite a bit of
money and find a sympathetic printer in order to produce a
pamphlet that might reach 100 people."<3> Raymond Franklin, the
director of the Hate Director, agrees: "[The Internet is] the new
mimeograph, the new poster, the best way to get the word out - a
way to literally broadcast to the entire world."<4> With a website,
even a single racialist organiser has the potential to reach
millions of people. Richard Martin succinctly notes, "Web sites
are cheap, they're easily produced, and they don't have to
compete for shelf space or viewers."<5>

     The concern that the presence of hate-based websites
encourages greater involvement may be warranted given that a
recent survey indicates use of the Internet has increased among
all age groups and family types and that approximately 5 million
Canadian households now have access to the world-wide-web.<6> In
addition, the survey notes, "access rates are particularly high
among households with children" and that two-thirds of those who
responded to the survey expressed concern about Internet-based
material "by household members under the age of 18."<7> In
addition, a study conducted by NUA Internet Surveys indicates
that there are more than 171 million Internet users worldwide and
that the United States and Canada accounts for more than 97
million users, indicating that a hate-based website has
tremendous potential for reaching a broad and new audience.

     Even the racialists agree with the idea that the websites
are a highly successful mechanism for recruiting new members and
     expanding the movement. Don Black, the administrator of the
world's largest racialist website, notes:

     It's been a tremendous boon for us. That's why I dedicate
     most of my time to this. I feel like I've accomplished more
     on the Web than in my 25 years of political activism.
     Whereas before, we could reach only people with pamphlets or
     holding rallies, now we can reach potentially millions.<8>
     
In an interview with New Times in 1998, Black puts into
perspective the use of the Internet by the racialist movement:

     The Internet is a means of planting seeds for the future.
     There are a lot of middle-class people who feel disaffected
     - and in Stormfront they can find what they can't in the
     mass media. It's about building a community and attracting
     hard-core supporters.
     
Moreover, Black notes:

     The Net has provided us with the opportunity to bring our point
     of view to hundreds of thousands of people who would never have
     otherwise subscribed to one of our publications or otherwise been
     in touch with any of our organisations.<9>

     Likewise, David Duke, who has been involved in the racialist
movement for more than 30 years, recognises websites as a
valuable tool in furthering the white nationalist movement.
Recently, Duke established an office in Russia to develop ties
with European nationalists and promote his latest book, but he
remains in constant contact with North American racialists
through his website and email. In an article he wrote on the
white revolution, Duke praises hate-based websites for their
accessibility:

     Millions of people are going online in America. Now, if they
     want to find out about me and my ideas all they have to do
     is go to a search engines and search for "David Duke."
     Hundreds of sources will show up. There they can access my
     site and read my writings and reference material, and even
     hear my radio program which is broadcast 24 hours-a-day to
     the four corners of the earth.<10>

     Experts are also concerned by the use of carefully crafted
child-friendly websites designed to recruit young people into the
racialist movement. In just a two-year period, several groups
have started websites explicitly tailored for youth users,
including the World Church of the Creator, Stormfront, Women for
Aryan Unity, and Mothers of the Movement. By offering children's
stories, video games, music, comics, colouring books, crossword
puzzles, and home school educational materials, all of which are
designed from a white nationalist perspective, the leadership
hopes to indoctrinate young minds into the racialist movement.
Gail Gans, a director at the Anti-Defamation League, notes that
the world-wide-web provides greater access to young people: "It
used to be, in order [for a racialist group] to attract a kid,
somebody would have to mail stuff to them or go to their
neighbourhood. Now a kid can sit at the computer and type in
'Nazi.'"<11>

Cyber-racists lack community

     Not everyone agrees with the argument that websites are
successful in recruiting new members. For example, David Goldman
and Chip Berlet suggest that websites have largely failed to
bring in new members because they do not satisfy the
psychological or social needs of the individual. The Intelligence
Report notes,

     [A] flashy site on the World Wide Web is no guarantee that
     people will continue to visit your site to buy products - or
     ideology. Students of the Net have found that in order to
     flourish, Web sites must create a sense of community, a
     feeling that you will find new ideas and people who will
     engage your mind and interests. Otherwise, visitors may view
     a site on one or two occasions, but find little reason for
     returning regularly.<12>

Furthermore, Goldman argues:

     As time went on, it became clear that while the Internet
     offered extremists certain advantages, it was not going to
     be this fantasy of goodness that they expected. It is
     difficult for any organisation to get people to come back
     and to participate in its web site, and to have a successful
     web site, you have to create a community of users who do
     return. People want to feel that there's a reason to come
     back to the site, new information or people that they might
     encounter there. But Klan and neo-Nazi group members simply
     have not felt these sites were communities, and that why the
     hate groups have had a hard time increasing their numbers
     through their sites.<13>

In other words, Goldman argues that simply accessing a website
does not make an individual a committed member, or even
encourages membership, rather the person becomes a member after
finding a likeminded community and engages in direct
communication with others, most notably the leadership.

     This argument is not new. Goldman, in fact, questioned the
value of websites to the development of the racialist movement in
1998, just three years after the first hate-based website went
online, noting "if you're an angry white male you still need
someone in your face to bring you into one of these groups, to
talk with and make you an active member."<14>

     While discarding websites as insignificant, Goldman and
Berlet argue that interactive forums (i.e. discussion boards and
chat rooms), are essential in the recruitment process. Unlike
that of static websites, Goldman and Berlet argue interactive
forums create an environment where like-minded individuals can
meet, exchange viewpoints, learn about each other, and decide to
join a particular group. The Intelligence Report notes,

     There is a growing consensus of experts who study hate on
     the Web that the presence of such sites is not nearly as
     important as another aspect of the Internet - the more
     private, text-based venues such as e-mail, discussion
     groups, chat rooms and the like. While many people still
     visit a hate site once or twice, even the committed
     typically want to move on to venues where real discussion
     takes place.<15>
     
     The crux of the argument is based on whether or not the mode
of communication satisfies the needs of the individual - that is,
does the forum provide an opportunity for the individual to
engage in personal contact with others? Goldman and Berlet
contend that hate-based websites, by nature, act in the same
manner as traditional flyers or brochures and simply offer
information; although the information is frequently be updated,
the mode of communication lacks intimacy. While it is true that
websites provide unmitigated access to information, they are
incapable of creating an environment whereby potential members
are welcomed into a community and engage in group-oriented
behaviour designed to reinforce a specific mode of thinking. In
other words, human contact (along with intimacy and sincerity) is
essential to the creation and maintenance of the group:

     Chatters engage in direct, unmediated discussions that flesh
     out their pre-existing views. For those who are not members
     of the hate groups, these venues allow a safe exploration of
     extremist ideology.. For people who are members, discussion
     groups haven been likened to a virtual cross-burning - a
     kind of hatefest in which participants reinforce one
     another's racist views.<16>

Goldman elaborates on the need for human contact, "Extremists
need to be told that what they do is good and right and true.
These interactive groups, even more than the Web, let them feel
hope, like they're participating in a community bigger than
themselves."<17>

     This may be why many racialist organisations, like that of
the National Alliance, have recently undertaken a multifaceted
approach to recruitment by augmenting website access with
traditional means of propaganda distribution (such as flyer
drops), meetings, personal email messages, chat rooms
discussions, and access to racialist music.

Statistics indicate increased access to information

     A close look at the numbers indicates that websites provide
greater access to hate-based material for potential participants.
For example, since 27 March 1995, Black's website has received
more than 5 million visitors with a (current) daily average of
nearly 5,500 users (in 1998, Black's site received a daily
average of 1,700 users). Even Stormfront's website for children
(supposedly created and maintained by Black's 11 year-old son,
Derek) has received more than 400,000 visitors since it came
online. Marc Lemire, Canada's equivalent to Black, reports that
his website (the Freedomsite) has had more than 10 million
visitors since it went online in 1996 and currently contains more
than 2000 pages of information. Certainly, traditional means of
outreach, such as flyer distribution (that reaches a limited
number of potential members or the printing of a newsletter at a
substantial cost to the group in question), cannot match the
capabilities of a website. Furthermore, the sheer number of hate-
based websites in operation is, quite possibly, the best
indication that cyberspace plays a vital role in the development
of the racialist movement. That is, as based on a cost-benefit
analysis, racialist groups would not spend the time or the money
creating and maintaining a website if it does not translate into
quantifiable results. Currently, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre has
a database of 3000 hate-based websites18 in operation and the
Southern Poverty Law Centre tracked more than 300 websites in
1999 alone.<19>

     But does all of this access mean greater membership levels?
The problem with assessing the impact of hate-based websites on
the development of the far right movement is that a formal study
has not been conducted that quantitatively measures the
association between website access and member recruitment and
retention. Gail Gans notes that it is difficult to verify the
impact of the Internet, arguing, "the Net allows them to
exaggerate their numbers and gives them a sense of well-being. It
allows them to hide what in fact may be a disintegrating
organisation. I don't think that they are actually growing, but
they Internet gives them a chance to proclaim to the worlds that
they are."<20>

     Although a conclusive study has not yet been conducted, we
can draw upon two preliminary test cases and three working
examples that offer quantitative support to the assertion that
websites do have a significant impact on the development of the
far right, in particular the recruitment process. The first
example is that of the now defunct Knights of Freedom (KOF). This
neo-Nazi group, based out of a residence room at Wofford College
in Spartanburg, South Carolina, grew from relative obscurity to
international prominence in less than a year due to its website.
The KOF, which recruited members online, grew from less than 15
members in 1998 (in its pre-web phase) to more than 600
newsletter subscribers and 150 full-time members in 1999.

     Although the KOF attempted to hold a series of real-life
meetings, it primarily existed in cyberspace and its website
operated as the main contact point with much of the communication
being unidirectional (essentially top-down from the leadership to
the membership with little or no feedback). In fact, much of the
membership learned about (and subsequently joined) because of its
online presence.

     Another real-life example is that of the Canadian Heritage
Alliance (CHA), an anti-immigrant and white-rights nationalist
organisation based in Kitchener, Ontario. The group, which
started off with only two members, officially went online in
November 2000 (the website was originally hosted by the
Freedomsite). By the end of the first month of operation, the
group had more than 35 newsletters subscribers and approximately
10 paying members and, within a five-month period, the group
expanded to more than 130 newsletter subscribers and members,
almost all of whom learned of the group's existence from its
website. In addition, the CHA access report from December 13
through 20, 2000 (after just a month in operation), indicates
that the group had 63 novel clients accessing nearly 6,400 pages
of information.

     The third real-life example is that of the Heritage Front, a
racial separatist organisation based in Toronto with several
chapters across Canada. In 1994, after it was discovered that a
government agent infiltrated the group, the Heritage Front
suffered mass defections and was reduced to less than 100 members
from a high of approximately 600 a year earlier. Since 1996, the
organisation has primarily used its website as a method of
outreach and recruitment (using traditional methods of literature
distribution in an extremely limited manner), which has proven an
invaluable tool for recruitment. For example, during a 30-day
period in 2000, the Heritage Front received more than 20 requests
for information regarding membership, many from young people in
secondary school who learned of the group via the world-wide-web.
Wolfgang Droege, then leader of the Heritage Front, stated in an
interview that the organisation receives hundreds of inquiries a
year regarding membership as a result of its website, indicating
that the group does not have the funds to produce a regular
newsletter.

     In 2000, two test cases were conducted to measure the impact
of the world-wide-web on the development of the far right
movement. The first was an impostor website (that purported to be
a part of a larger racialist group) that offered minimal
information and requested visitors to complete a survey. It is
important to note that the knowledge of the website amongst
racialists was spread by word-of-mouth via the Internet (i.e.
traditional methods were not employed). During the test period of
30 days, the website received more than 1,000 hits and of those
who completed the survey, 87.5% responded they would join the
group, 75% responded that the group should not be entirely web-
based (that interaction is essential), and 18.5% said that had
previously been involved in the larger racialist group
(indicating that the majority of those who responded were new
participants and attracted to the group due to its online
presence). In addition, many of those surveyed responded that
they were frustrated by the lack of interactivity between members
and the leadership. Demographic analysis reveals that, of those
who answered the survey, 12.5% were under the age of 20 years,
50% were between 20-29, and 37.5% were above 30 years of age.

     Like that of the first test website, the second website was
advertised by word-of-mouth via the Internet. Over a two-month
period, the website received more than 1,500 user hits, had
approximately 60 frequently returning visitors (3 or more
visits), and more than 40 subscribers to a semi-regular, non-
interactive, email-based newsletter.

      The results of the preliminary test-cases and the real-life
samples suggest that the world-wide-web leads to higher levels of
initial involvement by providing improved access to information,
in particular to people who may not have had access to
information due to legislative or geographic limitations (such as
living in a rural community). In the samples of the KOF, the CHA,
and the Heritage Front (post-1996), the majority of members
became aware of the organisation, and subsequently joined, due to
the organisation's online presence (i.e. it was the website that
initially prompted interest). It is important to note, however,
that membership retention is likely dependent on a group's
ability to create a sense of community. The results of the survey
appear consistent with that of Goldman and Berlet, indicating
that long-term membership retention is dependent upon the group's
ability to offer interactive forums that satisfies certain social
and psychological needs.

     However, counter to that of Goldman and Berlet, it is the
website (and not interactive forums), which plays the essential
role of creating awareness of the group (in essence, fulfilling
the role of ideological advertising) and serves to encourage the
individual to seek membership. That is, websites create the
initial interest that prompts further exploration (and
membership) by offering ideological justification for greater
involvement. Lois Dauway, of the United Methodist Board of Global
Ministries, notes, "it [the Internet] provides anonymity and, at
the same time, a support base for individuals who take the
information, use it as encouragement and act upon it."<21> For
example, Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, who went on a shooting spree
in 1999, is thought to have been encouraged to the join the
group, and subsequently inspired to act in a violent manner, by
the World Church of the Creator website.

     It is therefore imprudent to assert that websites are
categorically "less important" than interactive forums. Rather
than understanding the dynamics of recruitment and participation
as being influenced by two distinct elements (the static website
and the interactive forum), it should be recognised as a fluid
and complimentary process involving two equally important phases.
    

_______________________________
1. Staff (July 8, 1999). Child-friendly, racist indoctrination on
Internet. CNN.Com
2. Davidson, Ross (November 16, 1998). Web of hate. News Real.
3. Davidson, Ross (November 16, 1998). Web of hate. News Real.
4. Richardson, Sandee (June 28, 1998). Net spreads message, draws
in recruits. Montgomery Advertiser.
5. Martin, Richard (February 1998). Web of hate: Soldiers of
bigotry march online. Pretext Magazine.
6. Staff (July 26, 2001). Household Internet use survey. The
Daily.
7. Staff (July 26, 2001). Household Internet use survey. The
Daily.
8. Richardson, Sandee. (June 28, 1998). Net spreads message, draws
in recruits. Montgomery Advertiser.
9. Abel, David Schwab. (1998, February 19-25). The racist next
door. New Times.
10. Duke, Daivid (no date). The coming of the white revolution:
Born on the Internet.
11. Staff (July 8, 1999). Child-friendly, racist indoctrination on
Internet. CNN.Com
12. Staff. (Summer 2001). Reevaluating the net. Intelligence
Report, p. 54.
13. Staff (Spring 2001). Cyberhate revisited. Intelligence Report,
pp. 44-45.
14. Martin, Richard (February 1998). Web of hate: Soldiers of
bigotry march online. Pretext Magazine.
15. Staff (Summer 2001). Reevaluating the net. Intelligence Report,
p. 54.
16. Staff (Summer 2001). Reevaluating the net. Intelligence Report,
p. 55.
17. Staff (Summer 2001). Reevaluating the net. Intelligence Report,
p. 55.
18. Bloom, Linda (October 2, 2000). As Internet grows, so does the
number of hate sites. United Methodist News Service.
19. Staff (Winter 2000). Hate groups on the Internet. Intelligence
Report. Pp. 36-39.
20. Martin, Richard (February 1998). Web of hate: Soldiers of
bigotry march online. Pretext Magazine.
21. Bloom, Linda (October 2, 2000). As Internet grows, so does the
number of hate sites. United Methodist News Service.

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