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Web of Hate

Local forum reveals how the Internet helps spread racism

By Yosha Bourgea

FINDING RACISM on the Internet is easier than you might think. On a recent visit to yahoo.com, one of the most widely used search engines, all it took was inputting the word white, which when entered immediately brought up an extensive list of white-supremacist websites. At the top of the list was the site for the American Nazi Party, an organization based in Eastpointe, Mich., and that caters to angry Caucasians.

"Bold action is the only way to shock White people awake," according to the website's manifesto--that and apparently the caps-lock button. "Too many others would rather try to TALK the problem away," the ANP homepage reads, "while we realize that the time has come to FIGHT!"

From the ANP site, interested parties can access a list of literally hundreds of white-supremacist websites, from Stormfront (which provides German and Spanish translations of its propaganda, and claims to have accumulated more than 2 million "hits" since 1995) to various distributors of Nazi art and swastika jewelry, and from "pro-White country music" to the Aryan Dating Page, where lovelorn racists can place personal ads without fear of accidental miscegenation.

One website consists solely of a photograph of Adolf Hitler, with the caption: "This time, no more Mr. Nice Guy."

The increasing presence of such material on the Internet, as well as its easy accessibility--significantly easier, for example, than finding pictures of naked women--has not gone unnoticed by more inclusive citizens' groups, who worry about its impact on impressionable children and teenagers. Is there a difference between hate speech and free speech? How, if at all, should racist rhetoric on the Net be controlled?

Those questions and others will be addressed Nov. 5 at "Hate on the Internet," a forum sponsored by the Hate-Crime Prevention Network of the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights. The seminar--featuring speakers from such watchdog groups as the Anti-Defamation League as well as the FBI and the Department of Justice--will touch on how the Internet is being used by extremist groups to disseminate information and widen their support base.

"We know the Internet is one area where there is a rapid increase in information that is preaching hate," says Lorene Irizary, director of the county Commission on Human Rights. "We need to be aware of what's being said and suggested."

Hate Web Site

THE FIRST RACIST website went up in 1995. Four years later, Jonathan Bernstein of the Anti-Defamation League estimates there are close to 400 full-time sites--including websites targeting preteens--although the actual number is probably higher. From traditional groups to newer organizations, the racist right has quickly discovered the power of the Internet.

"What is happening is that parents are extremely naive about what their kids can find on the computer," says Bernstein, one of the speakers at the seminar. "It makes TV look innocent."

Taking a cue from crusaders against Internet pornography, the ADL has developed a "hate filter" program that parents can use to block sites with key words or images of hate.

Bernstein, a regional director of the ADL, knows how serious the threat of racism can be. A man whose job regularly takes him close to hatred, Bernstein once found himself between the crosshairs when the leader of an Oklahoma militia group targeted him for issuing a report about the group's threats against the federal government. The leader was arrested with bomb-making equipment and videotapes of Bernstein, whom he had been planning to kill the next day.

"The FBI was on top of things, but I got a better appreciation of what it means to be a hate-crime victim," Bernstein says.

The essential message of racism, which begins by establishing the notion that there are different races of Homo sapiens in the first place, doesn't change. But the way it's packaged does. "The Klansman who once had trouble reaching a hundred people with a poorly printed pamphlet can now do it much easier," says Mark Potoc, director of publications and Information for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Potoc, who edits Intelligence Report, an investigative news magazine that covers the radical right, also will speak at the seminar. "These formerly isolated supremacists turn on the computer in the morning and now feel that they are part of a 'happening' movement," he adds.

The tactics that online bigots use to appeal to kids include racist crossword puzzles, coloring pages, and even video games. For more literate users, there are sites that offer "evidence" that the Holocaust never happened, presented in dispassionate language and bolstered by sources and statistics that look impressive at first glance. Rebellious teenagers, says Potoc, are attracted to the idea that these official-looking websites have information that more conventional society ignores.

"This is a group--college-bound youth--that [until now] hadn't been reached by the racists," Potoc says. "White-supremacist groups are looking to develop their leadership cadre for tomorrow, and they have more interest in reaching the brighter kids."

While Potoc has nothing against the ADL's hate filter, he argues that it is a weak preventative measure and no substitute for parental involvement. Kids, he says, will find the information whether it's forbidden or not--just as they do with pornography.

"Are you gonna spend your years as a parent searching your kid's room for Playboy in the closet, or are you going to sit down and talk to your kid about respect for women?" Potoc asks rhetorically.

"The only inoculation [against hate] is parents talking to their kids."

The "Hate on the Internet" seminar will be held on Friday, Nov. 5, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Courtyard by Marriott in Railroad Square, Santa Rosa. To register, contact the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights at 565-2693. The registration fee is $25 and includes lunch and materials

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From the November 4-10, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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