Hate Groups Effectively Use Web as a Recruiting Tool

Hate groups harnessed the Internet's power to spread their agenda and recruit.

June 12, 2009, 8:27 AM

June 12, 2009 — -- He is one of the most researched people in the world. Yet the third result from a simple Google search for the name Martin Luther King Jr. is a hate-group-sponsored Web site called MartinLutherKing.org. The site is testament to how effectively hate groups have harnessed the power of the digital age to recruit new members, many of them young and vulnerable to such overtures, through Facebook, YouTube and other social networking sites, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Because many people use simple Internet keyword searches for instant results, it's easy to see how MartinLutherKing.org, could mislead a user about the nature of its content. Only upon a closer look — at the bottom of the page — would anyone learn that the hate organization Stormfront, which claims King was a plagiarizer and participated in illicit sex acts with three white women the night before his death, runs the Web site.

Stormfront, which encourages children to print out this information and take it to school, is recognized as the first online hate site, said Mark Weitzman, the director of the task force against hate and terrorism at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Hate groups began using the Web from the very beginning, even before most people had access to the Web in their homes, Weitzman said.

"You don't have to go hunting for it. It goes right into your house," said Weitzman.

Stormfront's creator, Don Black — who bills himself not as a racist but as a white nationalist — recognized the power of the World Wide Web to spread his message.

In a Jan. 13, 1998, interview on "Nightline," Black said he recruited people online whom he otherwise would not have been able to reach.

"It really has created just an empowering effect that they never had before," said Weitzman, who hosts a seminar on cyberhate at the United Nations Tuesday.

And hate group members acknowledge the power Web sites have brought them.

"[It is] more powerful than a sword," Weitzman said one Nazi wrote on a hate site. "It's really changed the rules of the game for them."

The digital tool has allowed once segregated and isolated people to form communities centered on the hate of different cultures and people.

"The Internet has created a whole new world for these people," Weitzman said. "Most times they can't say the things they want to say in polite society."

Now the Web gives them voice to do that and gets their info out a lot easier, he said.

Hate Finds Success by Going Digital

The momentum hate groups mustered during the boom days of the Internet has only increased as lives become more digitally intertwined.

Indeed, Weitzman said there are about 10,000 online hate sites globally, and the number is growing quickly.

"The sites have become increasingly sophisticated," he said. "The numbers go up. They don't go down."

James von Brunn, who is accused of murdering a security guard during a Wednesday afternoon shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, used the Internet to express his dislike of Jews and African-Americans, and his support of the white race.

Von Brunn wrote extensively on the hate Web site HolyWesternEmpire.

"We are witnessing ... the calculated destruction of the White Race," he wrote.

But hate organizations aren't using only Web sites to reach new recruits. They have gone totally viral, easily infiltrating popular social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, Second Life and YouTube to spread their message, according to a recent report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Facebook recently garnered controversy for allowing Holocaust denier groups on its site.

"Facebook has been used as a recruiting tool," Weitzman said.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the country had 926 active hate groups in 2008.

Many of those groups use interactive Web tools to try and lure children.

Anti-Semitic and racist games liter the Web. Weitzman said one such game allows children to shoot illegal immigrants trying to cross the Rio Grande. Using stereotypes, the game encourages users to kill and at the end a flag pops up with a Jewish Star of David.

In the beginning, this game only could be found on hate group sites, but now it's migrated to more mainstream Web sites.

The sites also are used to raise funds for the organizations through the sale of music and clothing.

Using Hate as a Research Tool

Aside from the games and the social networks, there is a more hidden way hate groups are reaching the youth.

"Then you have stuff that is a flat out attempt to rewrite reality," Weitzman said.

One Ku Klux Klan site encourages students to send in their study questions so that they can receive the true history, Weitzman said.

"We want educators to know they can't just turn kids loose on a research project," said Weitzman, who said teachers should guide students toward proper Web tools.

He said in times of economic distress, hate groups are more active.

"When the economic climate is rough, then there's usually a spiking in extremism," Weitzman said.

That, combined with the recent election of the nation's first African-American president, has made for a more vocal hate community.

"This is an unprecedented time in American history and a dangerous time because of the combination of factors," Weitzman said.

For that reason, Weitzman said people must be diligent about monitoring cyber hate, just as he has done for 20 years.

"These kinds of thoughts and ideas can be portrayed right into our home. And we have to do something about it," he said.

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