Testimony of

Joseph T. Roy, Sr.

Southern Poverty Law Center

Good morning. My name is Joseph T. Roy, Sr. and I am the Director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is located in Montgomery, Alabama. At the Center, we have been tracking and studying hate groups for the last two decades. Over the years, we have built the largest data base on these groups and their activities in the world. In order to educate the public and law enforcement as to the nature of white supremacist and other hate groups, we publish the Intelligence Report, which is sent out free four times a year to almost 50,000 law enforcement officers, among others.

We are here today to discuss the role of the Internet in disseminating racial and religious intolerance and promoting violence. In the past few years, the Center has been intensively monitoring the Internet and the increasingly important role it plays in recruitment and propagandizing for hate groups. We have seen how this technology has been adopted wholesale by such groups, and the remarkable and unprecedented access this has afforded these groups to teenagers and other potential recruits. This access is all the more frightening because of changes in how America parents its children.

Today, when parents send an errant child to his bedroom, little Johnny is not alone. With a few clicks of his computer mouse, he can join a large crowd of people who want to be his friends. He meets them in Internet chat rooms, on Web pages where their propaganda is posted, on E-mail lists where messages are forwarded to large groups of people. Too often, what these “friends” are offering up to Johnny -- whose parents today are often working, or too busy to monitor his activities closely -- is a smorgasbord of violent hate propaganda. The people who want to talk to your children are Tom Metzger, the head of the racist White Aryan Resistance in California, Matt Hale, leader of the neo-Nazi World Church of the Creator, and a host of other professional white supremacists and revolutionaries.

The outcome can be disastrous. In South Carolina, what was once a tiny neo-Nazi band known as the Knights of Freedom put up a World Wide Web page last fall, and as a result it has managed to grow into a real group of more than 100 dues-paying members, a large number of them high school and college students. In Littleton, Colorado, the two youths who opened fire on their classmates at Columbine High School may well have been inspired, in some part, by neo-Nazi propaganda they encountered on the Net. It seems clear that they found plans for building pipe bombs and other weapons there.

Although hate on the Internet has received a great deal of attention lately, it’s wise to remember that the very first hate site on the net, known as Stormfront and run by a former Klansman who served time in federal prison, went up just over four years ago. Since then, there has been a veritable explosion in the number of such sites. Just last year, the number of “hate sites” -- sites based on hatred of such groups as blacks, Jews and homosexuals -- jumped by almost 60%, from 163 at the end of 1997 to 254 in late 1998. The leading reason for this growth is obvious. A few years ago, a Klansman, for instance, needed to put out substantial effort and money to produce and distribute a shoddy pamphlet that might reach 100 people. Today, with a $500 computer and negligible other costs, that same Klansman can put up a slickly produced Web site with a potential audience in the millions.

The propaganda power of such sites is, in other ways too, unprecedented. When a teenager visits one of the many Holocaust denial sites, for instance, he or she is not typically confronted with crude expressions of anti-Semitism. Instead, the visitor finds well-written essays by allegedly renowned historians, analyses by a so-called gas chamber expert concluding that there were no Nazi death camps, and so on. There is nothing to suggest that all serious historians find such theories to be pure malarkey. In the same way, organized white supremacist groups often put up Web material that portrays the groups not as haters, but as simple white pride civic groups concerned with social ills. Add to that some of the high-tech bells and whistles these sites often include -- arcade-style games, chat rooms, bulletin boards, music, real-time videos and so on -- and it becomes understandable how these sites can be genuinely attractive, especially for rebellious teens.

Consider, for example, the “Creativity for Children” Web site put up by Matt Hale’s World Church of the Creator. The title page, which says its purpose is to awaken white youth to “our fight,” is written in childlike handwriting, a kind of Sesame Street for haters. On another site, you’ve invited to play “Sieg Heil,” a computer game where you become an Aryan hero battling to thwart scientists creating a “cross-bred” race. On a third, you can watch a real video of Skinheads taunting an apparently retarded black man.

A growing number of hate sites are carrying clips or even entire songs from white power bands. You can’t find this kind of music, which features extremely racist and violent lyrics, in your local record store. But you can hear tracks from many of these CDs by visiting certain Web sites, and you can order them over the Net. Along with the propaganda found on hate sites, this racist music -- some 50,000 CDs of which are sold in the United States annually -- can be very effective at reaching young people. There are reports that the two students who attacked Columbine High School were fans of “extreme music” genres known as Gothic/Black Metal/Death Metal, music that was always violent and rebellious, but which today is increasingly influenced by white power themes.

The Net is proving useful to the organized white supremacist movement in other important ways, as well. In the 1980s, groups like the White Aryan Resistance made efforts to recruit racist Skinheads as the “shock troops” of the movement. The result was a number of deaths and a larger number of people hurt -- but no real advancement of white supremacy as a political movement. Today, the aging cadre of white supremacist leaders recognize this lack of progress and are concentrating instead on a different kind of youthful recruit: the bright, college-bound teenager who is seen as a potential leader and movement-builder of tomorrow. The Net gives white supremacists unprecedented access to precisely these teens, who live in their parents’ homes and have computers in their bedrooms.

These children are largely middle- and upper-middle-class youths who wouldn’t be caught dead at a Klan rally -- or whose parents would make sure they weren’t. The Net, with its promise of privacy, lowers any social inhibitions they might have had about consorting openly with racists and other haters. Where these teens would likely have met social disapproval if they expressed anti-Semitic or racist ideas at home or in school, they are able to propound such ideas over the Internet in a welcoming environment. Unlike older forms of debating ideas -- in public forums or classrooms or even over the family dinner table -- talk on the Internet is often limited to those who already agree with one another. There is no real exchange of ideas on www.whitepower.com.

What can be done about hate on the Net, which the Supreme Court has clearly ruled is protected speech under the First Amendment? One approach is that taken by the Anti-Defamation League and others, who have developed software packages capable of filtering out many hate sites. This is a useful tool, but the fact is that many computer-savvy teens are probably going to be capable of finding technical ways around the filters. There also are other difficulties in trying to limit these sites by technological means. Hate sites today are frequently booted off private servers with “no-hate” policies like America On-Line, and so their Web addresses tend to change very frequently as they move around to new servers. Almost half of the 254 hate sites that were monitored by the Intelligence Project in 1998 have gone off line or changed their internet address. Over 100 new sites have been discovered as well. This means that constant changes are required to update the filtering software, which in turn requires a large force of programmers and monitors. Finally, one can ask parents to monitor every moment their kids are on the Net, but this is, I think, unrealistic. With large numbers of single-parent families, with almost 50% of American women in the work force, and with people in general working longer hours to make ends meet, it is difficult to picture the parent who has time to keep track of all his or her child’s Net explorations.

The only real inoculation is communication. Parents need to talk to their children about these sites and what they represent. Hate sites that claim there was no Holocaust can serve as a catalyst for a discussion of what Nazi Germany was all about. The racism found on white supremacist sites can spark a family exchange about the nature of racism and the need to celebrate, not fear, racial and other differences in America. Extreme homophobia like that displayed on www.godhatesfags.com can be used to talk about sexual differences between people. The alternative is to try to ignore these sites and to hope your child does not come across them -- a hope that is increasingly unrealistic. History shows us that ignoring ugly social problems like racism does not make them go away. On the contrary, burying one’s head in the sand is a sure way to guarantee the spread of hate.

* * *

Joseph T. Roy, Sr.
Southern Poverty Law Center
List of Attachments to his written Testimony
for U.S. Senate Committee on The Judiciary
September 14, 1999

1) Editorial, Intelligence Report, No. 94, Spring 1999
2) Internet Hate Site List, Intelligence Report, No. 93, Winter 1999
3) Story on Hate Sites and Related Litigation, Intelligence Report, No. 93, Winter 1999
4) Story on Hate Sites, Intelligence Report, No. 89, Winter 1998

* * *