While reading messages on the Internet, Aaron Armendares spotted something he’d never seen before: “Jewish revisionist exposes Holocaust fraud.”
The person posting the message, “Naziboy,” offered a free video proving nowhere near 6 million Jews were killed during World War II.
“It’s not like you find lots of these things on the Internet,” said Armendares, a salesman for a Spokane Valley auto dealership.
“It bothers me. Anyone can say anything, and this is the sort of stuff that helped let maniacs take over Germany.”
Computer networks like the Internet and commercial services like Prodigy or America Online are becoming an active arena for bigots and hate groups that use the technology to reach millions of people at little cost.
“The whole range of hate expression is out there,” said Rick Eaton, a researcher at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. The non-profit center keeps tabs on hate groups around the world.
The strengths of computer networks - speed, widespread reach, modest cost, lack of regulation and anonymity - also help bigots spread their views, Eaton and others have found.
Among the groups going on-line are the Ku Klux Klan, the White Aryan Resistance and organizations affiliated with the North Idaho-based Aryan Nations.
The list also extends to groups on the political fringe, such as the Institute for Historical Review and the American National Socialist Party, the American Nazi party.
Most groups have their own bulletin boards where people with computers and modems can read messages, share their views, or obtain documents.
Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler said his group may start a bulletin board this spring. “We had one up for a couple of months a few years ago. Right now we don’t have the right computer skills to do that,” he said.
In increasing numbers, such groups and their members are posting material in the more public Internet areas.
Armendares found the ad for the Holocaust video in a discussion group stuffed with thousands of comments about survivalism. Similar messages are found in other sites, including one dedicated to skinheads.
Messages also pop up sometimes in the live-chat rooms provided by America Online or Prodigy, said Eric Ward, associate director of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment in Seattle.
“If I see people like that talking about white power or Nazism, I stay there and act like a voice of conscience,” Ward said. He sends quick, short rebuffs to racial insults, or he’ll direct others who have joined the discussion to change the subject.
More dangerous than slurs or insults - which some people call “electronic drive-by shootings” - are racist statements presented as research and scholarship, said Ken McVay, a Vancouver, British Columbia, Internet crusader.
McVay, 53, has launched an aggressive organization that relies on 60 volunteers around the continent to fight hate on the Internet.
When they spot demeaning or vicious attacks on Jews, blacks, gays or other minorities, they post carefully argued replies and counterattacks.
McVay started firing back those messages a few years ago after running across outrageous claims on the Internet by several extremists.
McVay, an assistant manager of a convenience store, now spends six to seven hours a day reading Internet messages and organizing a large computerized list of documents that help challenge fringe-group statements.
He said the growing use of computers by bigots should concern parents, government officials and church leaders.
“It’s a tiny portion of the Internet,” he said. “But their existence emphasizes that they understand the sheer raw power of this new medium in the same way Goebbels understood the power of radio and TV.”
Like others, he has no desire to see government regulate the Internet. But he hopes more people pay attention to the use of computer services by extremist groups.
“Where else can you reach 50 million people for a few bucks a month. In a year, it will be 100 million, for no more money,” he said.
With more education, McVay and Eaton expect most people will know how to quickly avoid or delete the messages hate groups propagate.
But since going on-line is so new, Eaton warns parents that their children could be influenced by the very nature of computer-delivered messages.
When bigoted material shows up on a flier, most people quickly dismiss it as propaganda, he said.
“Now this kind of message shows up in your teenage son’s computer, and it looks just like everything else that comes on the screen. That gives it an air of legitimacy,” Eaton said.
“These groups are always looking to use a new medium. They know that the more people they can reach, the greater the likelihood they’ll win over people to their ideas.”
Readers can send e-mail to Tom Sowa at: Tsowa@comtch.iea.com.
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