U.S. hate groups hard to track

Internet helps them grow

CNN News, July 7, 1999
By Jim Morris

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The number of hate groups in the United States is on the rise, and keeping track of them is difficult, at best. It's not even certain how many there are or how many members they have. But there's no doubt that white supremacist Benjamin Smith belonged to one.

Smith, 21, is suspected of killing two people and wounding nine others in a three-day shooting spree targeting blacks, Jews and Asians in Illinois and Indiana. The rampage began Friday night and ended late Sunday when Smith shot himself to death with police in pursuit.

The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center puts the number of U.S. hate groups at 537, an increase of more than 30 percent in just two years.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish rights organization based in Los Angeles, says it has found more than 2,000 hate sites on the Internet. There was just one, it says, at the time of the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing in April 1995. 'They tend to be secretive'

Whatever the true figure, counting groups and Web sites is easy compared to knowing the number of followers a hate group might have.

"While they brag both online and in their publications, they tend to be secretive," says Gail Gans of the Anti-Defamation League.

"They don't give away their actual numbers," she told CNN. "You can make any kind of guess about that, largely because they don't want people to know how small they actually are."

Small, perhaps, but not without influence due, in part, to the Internet.

Hatewatch.org says the World Church of the Creator, to which Smith paid dues to join last year, had the fastest-growing Web presence among racist groups.

Young people recruited on the Web

Hate groups use the Web to recruit young disciples, providing children as young as 9 or 10 years old with a sense of purpose and belonging, says Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center. "Every extremist group has rushed to the World Wide Web to seek an infusion of young people."

The World Church of the Creator, for example, uses an affiliate Web site -- http://www.wcotc.com/ -- to "help younger members of the White Race understand our plight."

The church's main site -- http://www.creator.org/ -- was taken down after the shootings attributed to Smith. Hate group monitors say they believe the church has grown under leader Matt Hale's recruiting efforts and with his use of the Internet.

Mark Potok, a researcher with the Southern Poverty Law Center, says the church is thought to have 46 chapters and several hundred active members.

The World Church of the Creator dates back to 1973, but seemed to disappear until Hale's involvement beginning in 1995. Potok and others believe the church is responsible for encouraging violence like the Midwest drive-by shootings. Thousands of hate crimes

While the church's Web site once posted a note saying it does not condone violence, it also called for a racial holy war and extermination of non-whites. Members have been convicted of murder, beatings and conspiracies to bomb NAACP offices and black churches.

In its most recent report on the subject, the Justice Department reported more than 8,000 hate crimes in 1997.

In more than half the cases (4,710), people were targeted because of their race. Another 1,385 hate crimes were based on religion, and 1,102 were due to sexual orientation. Other hate crimes were directed at people based on national origin or disability.

The figures include incidents of racially motivated vandalism as well as violent attacks. Law enforcement officials caution that the link between bias crimes and hate groups can be difficult to establish.

As in the case of the World Church of the Creator, most of the groups insist they do not advocate violence, even as their message inspires many of those who commit hate crimes.

Correspondent Jonathan Karl , The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report, which was written by Jim Morris.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.