Hate Groups' Newest Target
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Sen. Barack Obama's historic victory in the Democratic primaries, celebrated in America and across much of the world as a symbol of racial progress and cultural unity, has also sparked an increase in racist and white supremacist activity, mainly on the Internet, according to leaders of hate groups and the organizations that track them.
Neo-Nazi, skinhead and segregationist groups have reported gains in numbers of visitors to their Web sites and in membership since the senator from Illinois secured the Democratic nomination June 3. His success has aroused a community of racists, experts said, concerned by the possibility of the country's first black president.
"I haven't seen this much anger in a long, long time," said Billy Roper, a 36-year-old who runs a group called White Revolution in Russellville, Ark. "Nothing has awakened normally complacent white Americans more than the prospect of America having an overtly nonwhite president."
Such groups have historically inflated their influence for self-promotion and as an intimidation technique, and they refused to provide exact membership numbers or open their meetings to a reporter. Leaders acknowledged that their numbers remain very small -- "the flat-globe society still has more people than us," Roper said. But experts said their claims reveal more than hyperbole this time.
"The truth is, we're finding an explosion in these kinds of hateful sentiments on the Net, and it's a growing problem," said Deborah Lauter, civil rights director for the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors hate group activity. "There are probably thousands of Web sites that do this now. I couldn't even tell you how many are out there because it's growing so fast."
Neo-Nazi and white power groups acknowledge that they have little ability to derail Obama's candidacy, so instead some have decided to take advantage of its potential. White-power leaders who once feared Obama's campaign have come to regard it as a recruiting tool. The groups now portray his candidacy as a vehicle to disenfranchise whites and polarize America.
Obama has worked hard to minimize the issue of race in his presidential campaign. When asked about divisiveness and hate, he talks instead about ways in which unity between blacks and whites has inspired him. He chose to "reject and denounce" an endorsement from Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan. Obama quit his church after his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., spoke of racism and oppression in the "United States of white America."
Earlier this month, Obama's campaign launched a Web site to defuse the false rumors that hate-mongers spread on the Internet. The site lists a series of untruths about Obama -- that he is Muslim; that his books contain racist passages; that his wife, Michelle, used the word "whitey" -- and discredits them.
"The Obama campaign isn't going to let dishonest smears spread across the Internet unanswered," Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement. "We have to be proactive and fight back."
But on a Web site run out of a house in West Palm Beach, Fla., the other side is also fighting.
Don Black spends 16 hours each day on his laptop computer reading hundreds of derogatory Obama comments posted on Stormfront.org, a Web site with the motto "white pride world wide." Black, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, launched the site in 1995 to create a central meeting place for the white power movement. In the wake of Obama's securing enough delegates for the nomination, Stormfront, he says, has begun to fulfill his vision.
A site that drew a few thousand visitors per day in 2002 has expanded into Black's full-time job, attracting more than 40,000 unique users each day who can post on 54 different message boards, he said. Black has enlisted 40 moderators and his 19-year-old son to help run Stormfront.