Hate Groups Effectively Use Web as a Recruiting Tool

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

ByABC News
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.