Vancouver Sun, April 8, 1998 (Front page) BC tel asked to cut off net Nazis' connection William Boei, Sun Business Reporter Vancouver Sun Like mosquitoes in a wet summer, the Net Nazis are swarming again. Efforts are being made to swat them down, but there is every reason to believe they will be elusive targets. The focus this time around is on Fairview Technology Centre, an Internet service provider (ISP) in the peaceful south Okanagan town of Oliver. Fairview hosts a group of national and international "hate sites," Internet showcases for white supremacists, skinheads and Holocaust deniers. The propaganda they spread on the Internet rarely fails to get a rise from Jewish and anti-racist groups. This time, a Winnipeg-based branch of the B'nai Brith's League for Human Rights and Vancouver's Canadian Anti-Racism Education and Research Society are asking BC Tel to cut off Fairview's network connection to the Internet. That's raising eyebrows among free-speech advocates and veteran Internet hate fighters. They fear it will allow the racists to lay claim to the moral high ground of free speech, and they insist it can't possibly work. "Pragmatically, it's a waste of time," said Ken McVay, a British Columbian who runs the Nizkor Project, a massive on- line archive that documents and refutes every scrap of Holocaust denial, historical revisionism and Nazi propaganda published on the Internet. McVay has been fighting hate speech on the Net for six years, compiling archives, offering to establish links between hate sites and Nizkor's Web site, and responding to virtually every hate post that appears on the Internet's Usenet section. He said the main figure behind the racist Web sites hosted by Fairview is Marc Lemire, a key associate of Toronto Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel. If Fairview is shut down, "Marc Lemire is going to move those sites somewhere else, probably south of the border," McVay said, "and the whole thing is going to start all over again." In fact, Lemire has already placed a mirror site -- an exact copy -- of the Oliver hate pages on a Toronto Internet company's Web site, McVay said. More mirror sites can be established almost anywhere in the world. So even if the plug is pulled on Fairview, it will be business as usual for the hate sites. For McVay, the last few weeks have seen a little more business than usual. A few days after Oliver Mayor Linda Larson cancelled a March 21 "free speech" meeting in her town of some of Canada's leading far-right luminaries, Lemire and others flooded British Columbia Usenet news groups with dozens of lengthy postings. Usenet is the rowdiest section of the Internet, with tens of thousands of news groups dedicated to everything from technical computer issues to gardening tips, over-the-top political debates and skinhead propaganda. Lemire's postings temporarily drowned out most other topics on van.general and bc.general, groups where the normal discourse includes anything of interest to local Internet users. The postings included diatribes on topics such as how many people died in Nazi extermination camps and whether Jewish prisoners were really turned into soap. Also posted was the full text of The Turner Diaries, an American loony-right novel in which white supremacists set off the ultimate racial war by blowing up a U.S. government building with nitrate-based explosives. The book could have served as the script for the April 1995 bombing that killed 168 people in Oklahoma City. McVay did what he always does. Within 24 hours, he had posted responses to every message. Some of his responses countered the original messages with factual arguments. Others pointed to pages on the Nizkor site that deal in exhaustive detail with the topics in question. Still others attacked the credibility of Lemire and other posters, with links to Nizkor pages detailing their far-right foibles. "My whole agenda is to try and remove their market, as it were," McVay said. "They have an agenda to sell. If, by demonstrating that they are lying about a specific issue, I can remove a few hundred people from their potential market place, then I've done them some harm." There's no way to measure how effective his approach is. But, he said, "I can tell you that in six years of this kind of activity on the Net, I have yet to see an example of a single person saying, 'Gee, I've read this propaganda and now I'm convinced and I'm a white supremacist.' "I suspect if someone did convert because of this stuff, we would certainly hear about it. They'd parade him around like an Aryan superhero." Like their Web sites, Usenet and e-mail access used by extremists are virtually impossible to restrict. After last month's flurry of racist postings, some of them by Usenet regular Jason Black, several people posted follow-up messages threatening to ask Black's ISP to cancel his account. Black replied with a smirking message. "Go ahead and send off all the complaint letters you want," it said. "I have several freenet accounts under various names all over North America, I also have several Unix shell accounts in Europe and Australia, over 60 back-up e-mails for posting through Dejanews, and god knows how many open NNTP servers that allow posting to Canadian news groups. "So, get all the accounts cut that you want, all you accomplish is delaying me for maybe, mmm, five minutes." McVay said it has been estimated there are about 600 hate sites on the Internet and 25,000 to 30,000 "wacko extremists" in North America. Like the rest of the population, they are increasingly buying computers and using the Internet. While McVay disagrees with attempts to cut the Net access of white supremacists, he said he's not getting too excited about this instance because it's being approached as a contract issue between BC Tel and Fairview president Bernard Klatt, as opposed to a freedom of speech issue. Even so, he doesn't think Fairview's content is in violation of section 3.19 of the Criminal Code, Canada's anti-hate law. "There is nothing illegal about saying, 'I believe in being proud of the white race, blah, blah, blah,'" McVay said. "It may be silly, but it isn't illegal." To the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which opposes restrictions on free speech, McVay's approach makes sense. The association holds that "the best recipe for bad speech is more speech," said BCCLA executive member Sam Black. "We think someone like McVay is doing an invaluable service to the community. It's just the sort of activity that the association favours because one of the rationales for freedom of expression is precisely that someone like McVay will come along and force people to grapple with the best arguments available. This way, people are actually forced to reflect on their convictions." B'nai Brith, incidentally, covers both ends of the anti-Net- Nazi spectrum. It is asking BC Tel to sever Fairview from the Net, and it collects donations for the Nizkor Project. The Nizkor archives can be found on the Internet at www2.ca.nizkor.org/. Fairview's Web site is at www.ftcnet.com. Look for the "friends of freedom" newsletter.
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