The Littleton incident was the sixth and worst
such school-based "massacre" in less than two years. As the facts
began to emerge, much of the analysis, discussion and criticism focused
on guns and their easy availability; the responsibilities of parents and
teachers in watching for trouble signs amongst an increasingly alienated
youth; and the supposedly desensitising effects of video games, violent
films and rock lyrics.
Yet soon the media was talking about the killers links to the Internet;
how their teachers described them as Net experts; and their numerous visits
to white supremacist and neo-Nazi web sites, helping them build an arsenal
of weapons and military knowledge.
A short time later, 21-year-old student Benjamin Smith went on a three-day
shooting spree across Indiana and Illinois, killing two people and wounding
half a dozen more. Smith, who turned the gun on himself, belonged to an
infamous white power organisation called the World Church of the Creator.
The Church is one of the most proactive white supremacist groups on the
Net today, with a sophisticated web site which particularly targets the
If you believe the scare stories, the Net is a hive of hate, from anti-abortionists
promoting hit lists, to an international trade in white power music CDs and even a British far right with an increasingly active web presence.
Such concerns about online extremism are not new. In January 1985, Americas
best-known anti-hate pressure group, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), released
a report entitled Computerized Networks of Hate. Years before the Internet
became a household word, the report exposed a computerised bulletin board
created by and for white supremacists and accessible to anyone with a modem
and a home computer.
Aryan Nations, a paramilitary group affiliated with the "Identity Church"
pseudo-theological hate movement, sponsored the bulletin board and named
it "Aryan Nation Liberty Net." The project was the work of two
individuals: Louis Beam, then a Knight of the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations
leader, and George Dietz, the man behind the largest neo-Nazi publishing
mill in the United States. Beam went on to join a neo-Nazi group called
The Order, which robbed banks and murdered a prominent Jewish radio host,
before dissolving in a hail of FBI bullets. His ideas of leaderless
resistance the formation of autonomous cells of Aryan
fighters have seeped into neo-Nazi ideology around world, partly
thanks to the Internet.
Beams bulletin board was a forerunner of extremism on the Net. Computerized
Networks of Hate detailed five ways the "Aryan Nation Liberty Net"
served the white supremacist movement, all of which remain important to
extremism on the Internet today. First, the bulletin board was designed
to draw young people to the hate movement with appealing propaganda. Second,
the network helped stir up hatred against the "enemies" of white
supremacy. Third, the bulletin board was a means to make money. Fourth,
the system offered the potential for circulating secret, coded messages
among extremists, and finally, it bypassed embargoes that nations outside
the United States placed on hate literature.
The same month that ADL released Computerized Networks of Hate, white supremacist
Stephen Donald (Don) Black was released from prison. While serving just
over two years, Black had learned to use computers.
It was Black who would launch Stormfront, the first extremist hate site
on the web. "There is the potential here to reach millions," Black
said at the time. "I think it's a major breakthrough, he added.
He likened it to having his own TV show, saying: I don't know if it's
the ultimate solution to developing a white rights movement in this country,
but it's certainly a significant advance."
Initially, Black could find only a handful of other sites that reflected
his anti-Semitic, racist message. Today, hundreds of bigotry-laden sites
promoting a variety of philosophies have joined Stormfront on the web.
The growth of hate on the Net since then has been dramatic,
says Jordan Kessler of the ADL. Hundreds of hate sites are now available
at the click of a finger...these groups use it to spread propaganda, recruit
new members, communicate with each other, sell their wares, and threaten
Hate groups approach the web in different ways, depending on the type of
group, says Kessler. For instance, racist skinhead sites tend to focus
on brief, graphic information related to music: album reviews, band photos,
and downloadable (often MP3) songs. In contrast, Holocaust Deniers [including
Britains David Irving, a revisionist historian] post thousands of
pages of detailed text filled with lies and distortions.
Though it is not always easy to draw a connection between online speech
and violence, extremist groups with histories of violence have extensive
web sites. Words can lead to action, according to Kessler. The
Williams brothers in California, who are charged with killing a gay couple
and are primary suspects in three synagogue arsons, reportedly learned about
Christian Identity on the web.
Additionally, extremists have used the Internet to comment favourably on
violent acts. One web site calls John William King, convicted murderer of
James Byrd, an "American Hero" and asks readers to "give
thanks to God" for King's act. Another site's "Memorial"
to a gay murder victim Matthew Shepard claims he "got himself killed"
because of his "satanic lifestyle" and "will be in hell for
And its not just the web that the far right and others target. USENET
is popular for posting thousands of off-topic messages, and has been used
for years by a wide variety of neo-Nazi and far right sympathisers. Chat
rooms on mainstream web sites are often used to proselytise unsuspecting
Internet users. Mass, unsolicited email is another popular tool of white
supremacists in effect, spamming for hate. Haters are using
the technology as it develops, just like mainstream web users, according
to Kessler. The web, USENET, listservs, email, ICQ, IRC and encryption
though how much is difficult to ascertain.
But such extremism is not simply linked to the US. Stern magazine in Germany
recently revealed that young neo-Nazis were pretending to be left-wing or
anti-fascist activists on various chat rooms. Using pseudonyms and denouncing
their far right colleagues, they managed to trick other young activists
into parting with their telephone numbers, and from there managed to track
down their addresses. One 20-year-old, nicknamed DavidLane after an infamous
US member of The Order, is suspected of posting at least two death threats
on the Net, offering substantial rewards for the murder of named individuals.
Another German neo-Nazi posts his target names and addresses on a US web
site to circumvent local laws. Meck88 says: This is a page where I
publish the names, addresses, telephone numbers etc of people who have earned
a proper beating. If an activist who is prepared for violence sees this,
then he doesnt need to hesitate in finishing off these people in any
way he can.
German Oi! even offers a page called The Small Explosives Master,
an extensive programme giving tips on how to fabricate and use explosives.
Theres a search facility for different types of explosive and an illustrated
guide to making various devices. The homepage was placed on the Net via
US provider Geocities.
Although such extremism is illegal on UK sites, UK hate and far right groups
are already learning much from their foreign counterparts. The National
Socialist Movement (NSM), a hive-off from our most notorious neo-Nazi gang,
Combat 18 (C18) already advertises via a US web site. It is linked to some
of Americas most notorious neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Several
UK members have already been recruited via this site, including those since
connected to extreme acts of violence. Others are known to have accessed
military information via US web sites, such as Death 2 ZOG (Zionist Occupation
Government), which posts bomb-making instructions. The Shropshire-based
Order of Nine Angles, one of the worlds most extreme Satanic cults
(which advocates assassinations and a culling of opponents)
has links to the NSM and advertises on the US Satanic Syndicate site. It
ran links and posted email addresses to many other groups around the world,
until it was exposed by investigative journalists. Another group, calling
itself White Action88, said well done to the Brixton nailbomber
on its front page.
Americas largest neo-Nazi organisation, the National Alliance, has
an extensive web site which links to the British National Party (BNP) over
here. The BNPs deputy leader, Cambridge graduate Nick Griffin, has
close links to the Alliances Professor William Pierce, the man who
wrote the infamous Turner Diaries (about a mythical white power uprising
around the world) which is alleged to have inspired Oklahoma bomber Timothy
McVeigh. Griffin is known to be a keen fan of the Internet, and the party
already has three sites offering sales of merchandise, streaming video and
numerous press releases and essays.
According to Nick Lowles, of the anti-fascist Searchlight pressure group: The BNP are politically marginalised in society they cant
stock their material in libraries and bookshops, for example, nor do they
hold many public meetings or rallies any more. So the Net is a perfect way
for them to get their message out, in whatever form they want. It makes
it more difficult to expose the lies and scaremongering. But if you want
to know what theyre really about, just take a look at some of the
links they have youll find some of the most extreme neo-Nazi
groups in the world up there.
Extremist sites the world over also specifically target younger individuals.
The BNP already has a Young BNP site. This latter area is aimed
at secondary school pupils, urging young people to stand up for the
rights of your fellow Britons. It encouraged pupils to put pressure
on their teachers to insist the BNP was included in mock European elections
which took place at schools across the country. Other hate groups such as
the World Church of the Creator, with about 3,000 members, have posted sites
filled with simple propaganda devoted specifically to wooing children. Its
leader, the self-styled Reverend Matt Hale a 27-year-old
who has degrees in music, political science and law advertises the
site as one of the finest White Power pages on the web. On the
home page is an advert for a White Mans Bible. As well as links to
the childrens site, it also includes the Womens Frontier, a
site devoted to the White Sisters in the Church worldwide.
There are other Aryan web sites devoted specifically to women, including
a number of white-only dating services. In the UK, too, Sharron Edwards
writes on the BNP site, encouraging "less faint-hearted women to stand
as candidates" for public office.
The sprawling Oi! and skinhead music scene is another way to target the
young and their pockets. British gangs such as Combat 18 made hundreds
of thousands of pounds selling illegal CDs by hand and via PO boxes; now
a young British nazi can simply visit an infamous US site such as Resistance
Records and pay via a credit card, or download MP3 files from sites such
as Skrewdriver and Blood And Honour, named after infamous white power bands
and music organisations. Many are devoted to Ian Stewart Donaldson, a near
mythical figure in the far right; Donaldson was the British lead singer
of Oi! band Skrewdriver and created Blood and Honour (taken over by C18)
before dying in a car crash in 1993. The violent US music organisation,
the Hammerskins, already has a British chapter proudly boasting its existence
from a colourful web page.
Practically and legally, combating this online extremism is enormously difficult.
In the US, the First Amendment's protection of free speech shields most
extremist propaganda, and ISPs are free to choose whether to house these
sites or not. Often the sites simply migrate easily to other ISPs if banned.
Organisations such as Hatewatch try and expose such groups for what they
are, linking to their sites and interviewing their leaders online. The ADL
has even introduced HateFilter, a filter for parents worried about their
kids accessing hate groups on the Net. And in February, the Nuremberg Files,
a US anti-abortion site which included a hit list of doctors
who performed abortions, was fined over $100 million by a federal court.
Yet such actions are, according to Jordan Kessler, a drop in the ocean. The problem looks only likely to get worse before better.
This story first appeared in The
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