Hate group Web sites on the rise
February 23, 1999
ATLANTA (CNN) -- In the old days, bigots like the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses in the dark of night and some people never saw the fiery messages of hatred.
But now many of those spreading a gospel of hate are using the Internet to reach millions. As the man who founded the White Aryan Resistance group said, "Our reach is much, much further."
Not only the reach of white supremacist groups is changing, but also their targets, according to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"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," said Law Center spokesman Mark Potok.
The Montgomery, Alabama-based human rights organization tracks hate groups and their activities. It discovered there are now 537 hate groups in the United States, up from 474 the previous year.
Hate group sites on the Internet have also grown by nearly 60 percent, from 163 in 1997 to 254 at the end of 1998.
"It has become the propaganda venue of choice," said Potok. "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."
One group is pleased at what the new technology offers its followers.
"We have a pretty large Web site and it is easy for people to access our information, they can do it from a library, they can do it at home," said Aryan Nations spokesman Michael Teague.
Potok said it was cheap to set up a Web site and bigots do not have to be literate. "You can steal your text from other sites," he pointed out.
One group not happy about being on the Law Center's hate group list is the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that recently made news when mainstream politicians like Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) spoke at meetings.
A spokesman for the group said they do speak up for whites on some issues, but they are not a hate group.
"We have non-white members that are members of the organization. Anybody can join that wants to join," said Gordon Baum of the Council of Conservative Citizens.
The increasing number of hate groups does not necessarily mean more Americans are hating. Some new groups may be breakaway organizations.
And Potok said that while the majority of hate groups are made up of whites, "there are other inter-ethnic hatreds such as blacks resenting Hispanics and black supremacists who hate a number of groups."
And when hatred leads to sites that promote home bomb-making, one anti-hate advocate said they must be watched.
"Frankly from our perspective, we're as concerned with the next Timothy McVeigh coming along -- some loner who's always out there always surfing the Internet -- as we are about a mass movement coming along," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Acts of violence can cause some members to leave a hate group. Potok said Christian Identity saw a drop in congregations from 81 to 62 in a year marked by an extensive manhunt 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 also teaches that whites are God's chosen people and must prepare for a race war.
Correspondent Anne McDermott and Reuters contributed to this report.
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