Hate on the Internet
Dr. Miryam Z. Wahrman
Using the Internet, it is possible to download recipes and purchase books and music CDS - and these can include recipes for disaster, and books and CDS filled with racism and violence, according to Mark Weitzman, Director of the Task Force Against Hate of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. One recipe which is readily available online teaches how to make bombs from ammonium nitrate and fertilizer, the ingredients used in the Oklahoma City bombing. In addition, among the books and CDS available online are Hitler's Mein Kampf, and "Klassic Klan Kompositions".
"Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com sell worldwide, including making books like Mein Kampf available to German citizens," said Weitzman. In effect, he explained, buying online circumvents the German laws against sale of hate material. "It's an opportunity for German Neo-Nazis to get more propaganda."
Weitzman spoke at a recent William Paterson University symposium in Wayne, New Jersey, entitled "The Threat of Holocaust Denial and the Role Played by New Technologies in Spreading Its Influence." At the symposium, speakers explored the fact that hate sites are proliferating on the web, and Holocaust denial sites appear to be increasing the most rapidly.
The web allows "unprecedented access for the extremist," Weitzman reported. According to a study by the Simon Wiesenthal Center the number of extremist websites has increased from 1400 in February 1999 to approximately 2200 today.
Weitzman explained how, in the past, lone extremists on the fringe of society had few outlets for spreading hate. "Leaflets on cars, in libraries, and men's rooms of public places" were typical ways for spreading their messages. "You didn't have to let it into your house. You could crumple it up and put it into the garbage where it belonged," he continued. "Now [through the Internet] any school or home is open to their messages."
Many students apparently do stumble across hate sites while surfing the net. For instance, if you search for the term "Auschwitz" using the Hotbot search engine, two of the top ten sites listed are Holocaust denial sites. Weitzman noted that "any student going in here has a 20% chance of ending up at a site that's misleading."
"While doing some research on the Holocaust, my graduate assistant came across a website for David Irving, a British historian who is also a spokesperson for Holocaust denial," recalled Peter Stein, Professor of Sociology at William Paterson University and one of the organizers of the symposium. "On the [computer] screen, we watched in horror as Irving argued, 'the gas chambers were constructed after the war', that Auschwitz was merely 'a labor camp with an unfortunately high death rate' and 'there were never any gas chambers at Auschwitz'."
Stein, who is Co-Director of the William Paterson University Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, continued, "As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I find such blatant denial very disturbing, because my father's two sisters and one brother, and their spouses and their children, were all killed at Auschwitz.
In order to put Holocaust denial in perspective, Shelly Shapiro, Director of Holocaust Survivors and Friends Education Center in Latham, NY, reviewed major antisemitic atrocities in European history. She explained that when you search the web for sites on the Holocaust, the search engine Alta Vista automatically recommends that you try "Holocaust Denial" as a related search. "Holocaust denial has to be put within the context of antisemitism, not as a subset of the Holocaust," argued Shapiro.
Weitzman pointed out that listings on the web are not carefully screened or judged for their value or appropriateness. For instance, the Ku Klux Klan is listed under "Yahoo Clubs" on the popular web page www.yahoo.com, alongside dozens of mainstream clubs and organizations.
"There are 150-200 million people online throughout the world," reported Weitzman, "In the U.S. there are 17 million people between the ages of 2 and 18. In five years it is estimated there will be 40 million children online."
Since children make up a large portion of those who regularly use the web, many hate sites target youngsters. There are specially designed sites with "balloon style" letters and primary colors, clearly aimed at preteens. Some of the sites have coloring pages, puzzles and games. For instance the RaHoWa - or Racial Holy War - website has a crossword puzzle with clues such as "Niggers are..."
According to Weitzman, the web is a choice medium for hate groups as it is very inexpensive, it gives instantaneous access, it is worldwide, anonymous, not subject to review and "can reach into any place at any time."
He described a typical scenario: "One person sitting alone in a room in New Jersey, ashamed to admit in person what they believe, can be in contact with people all over the world with similar beliefs, and feel they are a part of the vanguard of a new world movement."
Jews are not the only targets of extremist websites. The World Church of the Creator (WCOTC) targets Jews as well as people of color, and even Christians. "The Pope is a target of WCOTC," Weitzman reported. He explained that their website maintains that "anything related to Judaism is evil. Jesus was a Jew, so Christianity must be evil."
Because of free speech issues, it has not been possible to restrict the access of extremists to the web or to censor their messages. But there are steps people can take to deal with the existence of hate sites online.
"When you see something online, be critical about it," Weitzman urged. "It's your responsibility to judge it..."
"Yahoo is a business. If you don't like what they're doing with the clubs, speak up," recommended Shapiro. "Take action as a consumer."
This symposium was part of the William Paterson University series "Thinking About the Holocaust as the Century Ends" sponsored by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. Other events planned include: "Gendering the Holocaust: Women as Victims and Perpetrators", scheduled for March 23, 2000, and "Contemporary Genocide" scheduled for April 13, 2000. For information on these programs contact Dr. Carol Gruber at (973) 720-3047.
Holocaust Survivors and Friends Education Center, Latham, NY can be reached at (518) 785-0035 or on the web at www.holocausteducation.org
The Simon Wiesenthal Center can be reached at (212) 370-0320 or on the web at www.wiesenthal.com