U.S. Group Reports Sharp Rise In Web Hate Sites

Reuters/February 24, 1999
By June Preston

ATLANTA (Reuters) - The Ku Klux Klan and other racist groups are increasingly spreading hate messages via the Internet and shifting their target audience from street thugs to college-bound teens, the Southern Poverty Law Center said Tuesday.

The Montgomery, Alabama-based center, a human rights organization that tracks hate groups and their activities, said hate sites on the Internet had grown by nearly 60 percent, from 163 in 1997 to 254 at the end of 1998.

Nearly half of the more than 500 racist groups operating across the United States are using Internet sites to spread their messages, it said in a report.

"It has become the propaganda venue of choice," law center spokesman Mark Potok told Reuters. "It allows Klansmen who a few years ago could reach only 100 people with a poorly produced pamphlet to reach an audience in the millions."

Potok said the Southern Poverty Law Center had also noted a shift in the demographics of the target audience for the white supremacist message.

"The movement is interested not so much in developing street thugs who beat up people in bars but college-bound teens who live in middle-class and upper-class homes," Potok said.

"It is also cheap and you don't need to be literate," Potok said of the Internet. "You can steal your text from other sites."

The law center's report identified 537 U.S. hate groups, up from 474 the year before. The number of neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups grew by nearly 40 percent, increasing from 227 to 314, the report said. Of the 537 active U.S. hate groups in 1998, 163 were Klan organizations, up from 127 the year before; 151 were neo-Nazi groups, up from 100; 48 were Skinhead groups, up from 42 in 1997 and 29 were black separatist groups, compared to 12 a year earlier.

"The growth of racial hatred is not merely hatred by whites of blacks. There are other inter-ethnic hatreds, blacks resenting Hispanics and black supremacists who hate a number of other groups," Potok said. The vast majority of hate groups, however, are made up of whites, he said.

"Virtually all of the white supremacist movement feels America is being overwhelmed by dark hordes from across our borders," Potok said.

"They play much on fears of whites becoming a minority. They are looking to blame others for their troubles, for everything from losing a union job to losing children in a divorce settlement," he said. "There's a lot of scapegoating going on."

Potok said a few hate movements actually declined in numbers in 1998, including Christian Identity, which saw a drop in congregations from 81 to 62 in a year marked by an extensive search for one of its practitioners, Eric Rudolph.

Rudolph is believed to have planted a bomb that killed a police officer and maimed a nurse at an Alabama abortion clinic.

The Christian Identity movement opposes abortion. It holds that whites are God's chosen people and must prepare for a race war.

The law center report said Aryan Nations lost four chapters as followers of leader Richard Butler, 81, drifted away.

Aryan Nations has been one of the most notorious U.S. hate groups for the past two decades, with adherents accused of committing crimes ranging from armored car robberies to murder, including more than 20 bank robberies staged to finance a white supremacist revolution.

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