Racists, neo-Nazis and gay bashers spread their message online.

HATE ONLINE

October 26, 1998|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

An article about online hate groups in yesterday's Plugged In section contained an outdated address for Raymond A. Franklin's Hate Directory Web site. The authorized site is located at http: //www.bcpl.net/(tilde)rfrankli/ hatedir.htm.

The Sun regrets the error.

The conference room in Ocean City is jammed with more than 100 people, all peering at an enlarged computer screen displaying an ominous image: a man in a white hood holding a pump shotgun.

It's one of dozens of Ku Klux Klan sites on the World Wide Web, but the people studying it aren't hatemongers. They're federal agents, state police and detectives from law enforcement agencies throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"Just as hate groups can use these Web sites to their advantage, we can use them to ours," says Raymond A. Franklin, a police training instructor in Maryland who teaches a crash course in high-tech hate. "It's free information. These people are going to tell us what they're doing, and we don't even have to send out an investigator. Just click on it at your desktop."

Franklin, assistant director of Maryland's Police and Correctional Training Commission, tracks racists, anarchists, secessionists, neo-Nazis, gay bashers, religious radicals, and anyone else with a hateful ax to grind.

His "Hate Directory," one of the nation's most comprehensive listings of such organizations, lists more than 300 Web sites, newsgroups, chat rooms and electronic bulletin boards that deliver electronic messages of violence or hatred.

"A lot of times these aren't just rednecks in the basement with a personal computer," Franklin says. "We are talking about very serious technological endeavors here. The Internet has given people a very powerful weapon to use for hate."

Just ask 45-year-old Don Black of West Palm Beach, Fla., a computer consultant who manages Web pages for Stormfront - his own white nationalist movement - plus sites for two dozen other white supremacist causes. His own site, mirrored on a Russian server and available in Spanish as well as English, is regarded by academicians as one of the most popular racist sites - with more than one million visitors and counting.

"The political fashion today is the eradication of all vestiges of white culture, and we believe white people throughout the world must unite and stand up for their rights," Black says. "Our purpose with the Web site is to provide information, and for those who are attracted to our point of view, to offer them an online community."

That community includes an online "Aryan Dating Page" that touts itself as a listing of available singles who must be "heterosexual, white gentiles only."

Concern about hate on the Internet - and its implications for crime and domestic terrorism - has been growing as steadily as the use of computers in American homes. The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles reports that the number of Web pages put up by white supremacists and other racist groups have increased about 300 percent in the last year.

Mainstream computer use and easy access to the World Wide Web have had an energizing effect on the racist activities. In California's San Fernando Valley last month, vandals who defaced a synagogue painted on its walls the Web address of the National Alliance, a nationwide racist group.

Extremists have tried to spread their message through mass media for years. But they have often been blocked because mainstream outlets consider their messages in poor taste and most groups don't have money to buy advertising or air time.

Those problems have disappeared with the arrival of the Internet, Franklin says.

"For a relatively inexpensive price tag, you can have a worldwide audience," he said. "The Internet also provides a way to broadcast audio and even video a lot cheaper and more frequently than a radio or TV station. It really has gotten so you need a score card to keep track of every hate group that's out there using the Internet now."

Among the notables is white supremacist David Duke of Louisiana, who found himself unable to afford his local radio show. After establishing a connection with with the National Alliance Web site, Duke broadcasts a regular, Internet-only radio program.

Franklin's list of Web sites is designed not only to help police, but also to educate Web surfers about potential dangers online. Parents should be aware, he said, that a high school student doing a term paper on the Holocaust is likely to stumble across hate group sites that claim that the mass executions didn't happen or were justified.

Some countries have invoked censorship to combat the sites. Canada has criminalized hate speech online, and German law prohibits Web sites that deny the Holocaust. But in the United States, the sites are protected by the Constitution's free speech provisions.

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