ATbar The Use of the Internet by Far Right Extremists

The Use of the Internet by Far Right Extremists

30/08/1999 | by Whine, Michael  
This article appears as a chapter in a book by Brian Loader and Douglas Thomas called Cypbercrime: Law, Security And Privacy in the Information Age, published in January 2000 by Routledge in January 2000.


Among the most dynamic of all the political extremes now is the Far Right. In the US, the growth of white supremacist groups, militias and so-called Christian fundamentalists has lead to a belated recognition that domestic extremism poses great dangers. In Germany, neo-Nazi groups incite violence against foreign workers and asylum seekers, and official assessments suggest that they continue to pose a danger to the safety of citizens and the security of the state. As in the US, the trend in Germany since the 1980’s has been for small groups to act out their campaigns on single issues, often coordinating their activities, but seldom seeking to come together to form larger groups with a political agenda.

British Far Right groups have achieved far less impact than elsewhere in Europe and America. Their support base, as expressed in votes at elections, is narrower and the size of the groups is very much smaller. However they too incite violence, and have even been responsible for acts of terrorism.

Common to many Far Right groups is a developing bond of ideological opposition to central government and its policies, to non-white residency and to the development of transnational contacts. In these respects the new Right differs from older, particularly wartime, models of fascism and neo-Nazism. New contacts and evolving ideologies are being facilitated and enhanced by information and communication technologies (ict’s).

Noted commentators have remarked on this employment of new cultural mechanisms and technologies to disseminate neo-Nazi ideas. They suggest that what is being produced is a globalized racist and neo-fascist movement and culture that draws on international electronic networks, whilst simultaneously reinforcing old xenophobic ideas embodied in traditional racism and anti-Semitism. They further suggest that a new virtual racism has evolved through the medium of the Internet, that the interpenetration of various nationalist movements is amplified within cyberspace, and that it is possible for Far Right groups of markedly different types to establish common networks and ideological alliances, particularly around a shared common enemy. (Back, Keith and Solomos 1996, 1998; Eatwell 1996).

It is this tendency to use cyberspace as a means to communicate, and to a lesser extent to effect command and control, the dangers that arise therefrom and the legal sanctions used to combat these developments that are the subject of this chapter.

Current Internet Usage

The militia movement in the USA is now deemed a potent threat to the authority of central government. According to Ken Stern, the use of ict’s was one of the major reasons the militia movement expanded faster than any hate group in history. Its lack of an organized center and its geographical spread across the whole country was more than made up for by the communication and rumor-mongering potential of the new medium. It meant that a militia member in a remote state such as Idaho or Montana could be part of an entire nationwide network.

The most important of the new technologies was the Internet, followed by fax networks and talk radio. Stern cites the short-wave radio stations WWCR in Nashville, WRNO in New Orleans, WHRI in South Bend Indiana and others that regularly broadcast racist and anti-government conspiracy theory programs. It was on WWCR (World Wide Christian Radio) that a broadcaster gave instructions on how to build bombs with materials from local stores from 1994 onwards and which the Federal Communications Commission was subsequently reported to be investigating for a possible link with Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing. (Stern 1998: p224)

Fax machines are useful for disseminating messages, but they are not interactive. Therefore it is the Internet which has been the main means of communication for the American Far Right. Stern noted that there were up to 300 such systems serving the Far Right in America in 1997, but since then other estimates have run much higher, including that of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, which now cites, 600 ‘hate’ sites. Among these it has identified 35, mostly US-based sites, run by militia groups advocating armed struggle, 94 sites that sought to establish a racial hierarchy, 87 neo-Nazi sites, 35 White Supremacist sites, and 51 sites openly advocating terrorism. However it also found that some of the most extreme groups have placed their sites outside of the United States, in order to escape legal jurisdiction.[1]

Initially it was bulletin board services, including PatriotNet, LibertyNet, PaulRevereNet, which allowed the interconnectivity across great distances. Linda Thompson, a militia leader, stated that her bulletin board reaches 36,000 people.

We are a news service. We use the computer as the end of the line, not the beginning. We get information in by Federal Express, faxes and phone, then we put it on the bulletin boards for the widest distribution.

Thompson also stated that some of their messages were encrypted using Pretty Good Privacy.

To confuse people who may be listening in ... We send copies of the Constitution out encrypted, just to keep ‘em (the CIA) busy.[2]

Dan Gannon established the first Far Right hate site in Portand, Oregon, in December 1991, but from the mid-1990’s onwards computers and computer services became cheaper, quicker and more readily available and these developments coincided with the birth of the militia movement. While bulletin boards had provided communication and a degree of control and security, the Internet news groups allow greater speed and audience. Newsgroups such as alt.conspiracy and talk.politics.guns allowed members of the militias to share information, advice, and paranoia.

The militias owe much of their doctrine to the white supremacists and neo-Nazis. During the mid-1980’s Louis Beam, a leader of the white supremacist group Aryan Nations, operated a computer network. He used it to issue a hit list which proposed the assassination of politicians, judges, FBI agents, federal marshals and even the President himself. In 1992 he published Leaderless Resistance, which defined the modern Far Right in America, and increasingly elsewhere. His particular doctrine downplays hierarchy in favor of a network of ‘phantom cells’. Such cells communicate covertly in a networked format allowing offensive flexibility while protecting the security of the organization as a whole.

Utilizing the leaderless resistance concept, all individuals in groups operate independently of each other, and never report to a central headquarters or single leader for directional instruction … Participants in a program of leaderless resistance through phantom cell or individual action must know exactly what they are doing and exactly how to do it … All members of phantom cells or individuals would tend to react to objective events in the same way through usual tactics of resistance. Organs of information distribution such as newsletters, leaflets, computers etc which are widely available to all, keep each person informed of events allowing for a planned response that will take on many variations. No one need issue an order to anyone.[3]

German neo-Nazis were the first to use the Internet in this way. They have been communicating with one another, and organizing their activities, via the ThuleNetz (Network) since the 1980’s.

Provided with passwords such as ‘Germania’ or ‘Endsieg’ (Final Victory) from a post office box, personal computer screens will display a calendar of forthcoming neo-Nazi events and list contact numbers of leading right-wingers … On Remembrance Sunday, police saw in action for the first time, computer planned coordinated neo-Nazi action, involving the widespread use of secret codes and radio communication … “The advantof electronic mailboxes is that they are free of censorship and bugproof” said Karl-Heinz Sendbuhler of the National Democratic Party.[4]

The German authorities express increasing concern over the Internet. They have noted the growth of Far Right home pages, from 30 in 1996 to 90 in 1997 and the manner in which football hooligans were mobilized during the 1998 football World Cup series by German Nazis via their websites.[5]

British neo-Nazis adopted the use of ict’s later than their counterparts in other countries. Although smaller in size, less sophisticated and certainly less violent, they are nevertheless now willing to take on new ideas and technologies. The writer of the National Front journal, The Nationalist, recently discussed the benefits that information and communication technologies were bringing to the group:

All over the world anyone with access to the Internet can find a full range of information regarding the National Front at the touch of a button ... New friends from around the world have been made and important contacts have been established, particularly in the United States, where we regularly liaise via E-mail with a major nationalist organisation, with a possible view to future long-term co-operation. The Internet will be the main political campaigning tool of the next decade and beyond.[6]

The British National Party has also caught up with cyberspace and aims to use it extensively in the future. Its Internet Conference Weekend, held at the end of March 1999, was designed to help a small number of activists make their plans for a dedicated Euro-Campaign Website, and to discuss electronic political outreach work. Also on the agenda were plans for the exchange of expertise, research and development for a Virtual Headquarters idea, and merchandising plans.[7]

Even the much smaller National Revolutionary Faction, a descendant of the National Front, announced recently:

The new home page has put us in touch with an increasing number of National Revolutionary activists worldwide. If you have access to a computer, then why not check it out for yourself at: http//[8]

A recent development has been the transnational cyberspace information bulletin, having no real national affiliation. The International Third Position’s Final Conflict E-mail appears to be moving in this direction, with its increasing number of postings from Far Right groups around the world, but the Western Imperative Network (WIN) claims to be truly international. Its Mission Statement states that:

The Western Imperative Network is a cyberspace organization consisting of concerned White Men and Women who are dedicated to the essential urgent missions of educating our fellow Whites on racial issues and fighting anti-White attitudes, ideas and propaganda on the Internet …WIN activists use the Internet to educate as to the problems and dangers we face as a people ... The second main directive of the Western Imperative Network is to actively oppose anti-White propagandists of whatever race operating on the Internet (typically on the usernet) … if you are a White man or woman, have a computer and Internet account, a few hours per week, are ready to do your part in the White separatist struggle, have read the WINFAQ and agree with the goals and guidelines described therein, then contact us. WIN is always active fighting anti-White activities and attitudes on the net.[9]

How Threatening is the Far Right’s Internet Usage?

What particular dangers arise from the Far Right’s use of ict’s, and are these dangers new or additional ones. It would seem that they are. First, they allow interconnectivity, that is the power to communicate and network that previously were not available to them in such an easy manner and with such speed.

An example of this were the warnings given on the Internet to supporters after the simultaneous raids in America and Canada on the offices of Resistance Records, the leading producers of white supremacist and skinhead music and tapes, and the home of George Burdy, its founder.[10] A second example was when the killing, in Essex in February 1997, of Combat 18 member Christopher Castle by two of the group’s leaders, was posted on the Internet site of the American National Socialist White People’s Party within 12 hours.[11]

In early 1999, Final Conflict E-mail, the website of the International Third Position, a small British national revolutionary group, advertised an anti-European Union demonstration that was to have taken place in Rome in April. Few other adverts were seen for this in hard copy format, and it may therefore be assumed that the bulk of the advertising was carried out over the Net. (However they also subsequently published news of the demonstration’s ban by the Italian police.)[12]

Second, the Internet allows covert communication and anonymity. Milton John Kleim Jnr, the former self-styled ‘Net Nazi Number One’ wrote of these powers, before he renounced his Nazi views:

All my comrades and I, none of whom I have ever met face to face, share a unique camaraderie, feeling as though we have been friends for a long time. Self-less co-operation occurs regularly amongst my comrades for a variety of endeavors. This feeling of comradeship is irrespective of national identity or state borders.[13]

A third reason for using the Internet is that it is cheap. For the price of a computer and a modem an extremist can become a player in national and world events. Ict’s lower the threshold for participating in illegal acts, and without state or other backing extremists will look for cost effective instruments. A consequence of this is that presentation and quality may vary widely. At one end of the spectrum there are professional-quality sites such as Stormfront and RadioIslam, with coloured graphics, photographs and links to other similar sites, which are the equal of the best available produced by large organisations. At the other end of the spectrum are the poorly presented, often barely literate, hate sheets such as the Norwegian Julius Streiker’s site or some of the messages on the bulletin boards and the news groups. The British National Party’s Internet television site commenced transmission in early 1999, and represents the next generation and future direction for groups which seek to hide their hate messages in sophisticated packaging. What is common to all is the fact that they are produced with few resources, often by single persons, or very small teams, yet present a facade of authenticity to the innocent reader, despite their origins.

Four, ict’s act as a force-multiplier, enhancing power and enabling extremists to punch above their weight. They can now have a reach and influence that was previously denied them. Communication technology represents, in many respects, the ‘death of distance’ and the national borders that once separated the extremists from the objects of their hatred have ceased to exist. The British National Front summarised these opportunities in a recent issue of their journal The Nationalist:

GREAT OPPORUNITY … The Internet will be the main political campaigning tool of the next decade and beyond. We have tested the technology with our audio broadcasts and it is entirely suitable for substantial investment, both in terms of time and money. Some people might think that the National Front Internet presence is not at all important and that funds should only be channelled into it after everything else has been paid for. Such a few represents a dangerous underestimation of the significance of the Internet and the great opportunities that it presents us with admittedly, many people do not own a computer with which to view our site at present, but all that will change with the advent of the digital revolution which will begin to sweep this country at the end of the year … we have the opportunity to reach millions of people with our message over the next few months, but we must invest now and have the infrastructure in place in order to take full advantage of the opportunities that will present themselves in the near futur.[14]

The Australian symposium on Holocaust denial organized by Frederick Toben’s AInstitute in the summer of 1998 was attended by a number of Nazi sympathisers and deniers. Some would-be participants however were precluded from attending by the distance and expense involved; others were banned from entering Australia by the authorities. However, those unable to attend were still able to participate by posting their presentations over the Internet or by the use of video links.

Fifth, ict’s enable extremists to reach their target audience when other outlets and media are denied them, and to reach new audiences, particularly the young and educated. In several European countries, their hate-filled postings would almost certainly be prosecuted if published in hardcopy; the absence of specific sanctions, or protocols on the Internet has allowed the postings, so far. It has enabled the Far Right to reach across national boundaries and by-pass laws banning hate material, as in Britain, France, Germany and Scandinavia and has therefore become a priority from the point of view of their doctrine. Again it was Louis Beam who first pointed out these possibilities, as well as the barriers that law enforcement was likely to place in their way:

The Internet, perhaps the last truly free means of information exchange in the Western world, may soon be choked by censorship and governmental controls. The circumscribing of the Net may cause the death of what has become the first people-to-people exchange of ideas and information on a worldwide basis … at stake is nothing less than the regaining of information control which the Internet has shattered. Up for grabs is nothing more than the thinking and decision-making abilities of informed men. Information has flowed from the top down for most of this century. Filtering of information by middlemen from government, newspapers, radio and then television has led most Americans depending upon Paul Harvey “for the rest of the story”. Suddenly, almost without warning, the Internet mushroomed into popularity, connecting people all over the world together electronically and thereby threatening the power of those who can disseminate information.[15]

Some activists have sought to avoid legal prescription by moving their sites abroad to put them beyond their own countries’ laws. Thus the British National Party now has a site registered in Tonga, the French Charlemagne Hammerskins moved their site to Canada following the termination of their service by America Online in September 1997 and Ernst Zundel, a German national residing in Canada, has his site registered in California.

The Net strategy of Milton Kleim defined the Far Right’s approach:

The State cannot yet stop us from ‘advertising’ our ideas and organizations on USERNET, but I can assure you this will not always be the case. NOW is the time to grasp the WEAPON which is the NET, and wield it skilfully and wisely while you may still do so freely … Crucial to our USERNET campaign is that our message is disseminated beyond “our” groups: we MUST move out beyond our present domain and take up positions on “mainstream groups” … Remember our overall USERNET strategy must be to repeat powerful themes OVER AND OVER AND OVER. We cannot compete with the Jews’ media, of course, as our propaganda dissemination is but a very small fraction of the everywhere pervasive leftist propaganda. However, our ideas possess an energy that truth alone contains.[16]

Effective Policing

Growing international concern is prompting governments to police the Net and take to legal action against those who post offensive and illegal hate material on the Internet. Two major issues arise however in their approach to these problems. They must balance the right of free expression with the protection of human dignity; and they must determine under whose jurisdiction any offence has been committed.

However any national response will necessarily be based, in part, upon the main international legal instruments signed by governments.

In 1965 the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. It is the oldest and most widely ratified UN human rights convention and defines racial discrimination as ‘any distinction, exclusion, or restriction or preference based on race, color, dissent or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life’.

States ratifying the Convention are obliged to adopt legal measures for eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and manifestations and preventing and combating racist doctrines and practices. They are expected to make all dissemination of such ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, and incitement to racial discrimination, an offence punishable by law, and are required to take effective measures to review policies in order to amend laws and regulations which might have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists. It is generally agreed that these requirements are applicable to hate-oriented groups using the Internet to disseminate their propaganda.

In August 1996 the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which was created to ensure that governments fulfil their obligations under the Convention, noted the growing trend among racist organizations to use electronic mail or the Internet to spread racist or xenophobic propaganda, and that no national legislation had power over this world-wide network. A seminar on the Internet and Racial Discrimination held by the Committee in November 1997 noted with great concern that the Internet plays an increasing role in disseminating hate speech and racial discrimination world-wide. Although it failed to reach a consensus on a number of contentious issues it did recommend that member states continue in their efforts to establish international legal measures in compliance with their obligations under international law. More effective action has foundered however on the resistance of some countries, particularly the USA, to impose any barriers to free speech.[18]

In Europe more concrete goals are possible through the European Union institutions, and there has been considerable effort to develop a regulatory framework, and the enactment of legal instruments, in recent years. In October 1996 the European Commission adopted the Communication on Harmful and Illegal Content on the Internet which set out proposals for immediate action against such material. The Communication concluded that it was the responsibility of the member states to ensure that existing laws apply to the Internet and that co-operation and co-ordination at a European and international level should assist the enforcement of the laws. It recommended a regulatory framework combining self-control by the service providers, the adoption of technical solutions such as rating and filtering software and the provision of monitoring intelligence by Internet users themselves. At the same time the Commission adopted a Green Paper on the Protection of Minors and Human Dignity in Audio-Visual and Information Services designed to engender debate on regulatory and legislative controls for particular types of illegal material, including antisemitic and racist material. The Green Paper invited comment on three themes – strengthening legal protection, encouraging parental control systems, and improving international co-operation, and it is the consideration of these by the European Parliament and interested parties in member states, that has led to a broad consensus on the problem of illegal racist material on the Internet. During 1997 the European Commission adopted a Proposal for a Recommendation of the Protection of Minors and Human Dignity, and an Action Plan promoting safe use of the Internet. The two documents are designed to be complementary. The Recommendation is legal in nature and aito promote common guidelines for the implementation, at national level, of a frafor self-regulation and the Action Plan provides financial support for specific action on creating a safe environment, developing filtering and rating systems, education among users, and support action in the legal and economic spheres. In essence, the initiatives implemented thus far place responsibility for combating illegal content, at source, with law enforcement agencies whose activities would be governed by national laws and international agreement on judicial co-operation. It is expected that this will lead to the pooling of experience and information and the training of police officers and the judiciary, although the Internet industry is expected to play its part in reducing illegal content, particularly anti-Semitic and racist material, through self-regulation, codes of conduct and the establishment of hotlines.

On another tack, the Working Party on Illegal and Harmful Content on the Internet was established following the 1996 Communication, and its area of research was extended when, in September 1996, the Telecommunications Council agreed to the addition of representatives of the Ministers of Telecommunications, service providers and others. The Working Party reported twice, in November 1996 and in June 1997. Their reports led to the adoption, in February 1997 of the Council Resolution on Illegal and Harmful Content on the Internet which invited EU states to adopt self-regulatory systems including representative bodies for service providers and users, effective codes of conduct, hotline reporting mechanisms for the public and the provision of filtering mechanisms and rating systems. The Resolution also requested the European Commission to follow-up on previously suggested measures, which included faster co-ordination and exchange of information on best practice and research at a community level, and further consider the question of legal liability of Internet content.

In April 1997 the European Parliament adopted a resolution based on the Council Resolution, and a report by Pierre Pradier, Chairman of the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs. The Resolution inter-alia called on member states to define common rules in their criminal laws, strengthen administrative co-operation on the basis of joint guidelines, and after consultation with the Parliament, the establishment of a common framework for self-regulation which would include objectives to be achieved in terms of the protection of minors and human dignity; principles governing representation of the industries concerned and the decision making procedures; measures to encourage the information and communications industry to develop message protection and filtering software, which should be made available to subscribers; appropriate arrangements to ensure that all instances child pornography be reported to the police and shared with Europol and Interpol. With respect to illegal and harmful content on the Internet the Resolution called on the Commission, and the member states, to encourage the development of a common international rating system compatible with the Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) protocol which would be sufficiently flexible to accommodate cultural differences.

An international ministerial conference (‘Global Information Networks: Realising the Potential’), was held in Bonn in July 1997 as a consequence of the Council Resolution (of February 1997) and brought together all the players in the ict industries, as well as representatives of users and other international organizations. A number of declarations followed the Conference which inter-alia stressed the role which the private sector can play in protecting the interest of consumers and in protecting and respecting ethical standards through properly functioning systems of self-regulation.

At the police level the Justice and Home Affairs Council is sponsoring practical co-operation among law enforcement agencies and specific working groups have been established to look at the question of the lawful interception of Internet telecommunications. Work is also being carried out with a view to investigating police and judicial co-operation and the P8 Senior Level group on transnational organized crime is investigating mechanisms to locate, identify and prosecute computer-related crime. In April 1997 a European Commission and Europol communication to European police forces requested that they monitor illegal content on the Internet, seek out ‘reporting’ points, investigate cross border links, exchange information, reconcile national laws and co-operate on investigations.[17]

In Britain the government’s views have been put forcefully in recent years. In responding to a Parliamentary question in October 1996, on behalf of the President of the Board of Trade, Ian Taylor MP, stated that “the basis for the government’s approach is that the Internet is not a legal vacuum: the law applies on-line as it does off it.”[18]

Later, the Junior Home Office Minister, Timothy Kirkhope MP, stated that the Internet was being monitored for incidents of minority groups being threatened. He stated that “the activities of neo-Nazi groups are an increasing worry … the use of the Internet is a particular concern, because it means that links can be made between these groups and information can be exchanged.”[19]

The police view was given by Sir Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in an address to the Inter-Parliamentary Council Against anti-Semitism in February 1997, when he stated that the Telecommunications Act 1984 was among a battery of laws which would provide a basis for prosecuting anti-Semitic which incited race hatred on the Internet.

Government spokesmen have continued to make authoritative statements on the UK approach. In January 1998, Home Office Minister, Mike O’Brien stated, in response to a Parliamentary question, that “the Government deplore the distribution—via the Internet or any other medium—of anti-Semitism or racially inflammatory material ... Material passing over the Internet is subject to the same laws, provided that it falls within our jurisdiction, as material being distributed by other means. The Public Order Act 1986 makes provision to deal with material which is threatening, abusive or insulting and intended or likely to stir up racial hatred.”[20]

In March 1998, he stated, again in response to a Parliamentary question about the use of the Internet to spread racist and anti-Semitism propaganda, that the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) had been in close liaison with other countries to combat Internet abuse, and that the G7 Action Plan on High-Tech Crime committed the UK to developing closer links to combat Internet crime more effectively. He added, in response to a further question, that the Home Secretary had recently discussed these matters with G8 colleagues and that it was their belief that the way forward was for the issue to be tackled via international co-operation.[21]

A few months later, in September 1998, the Home Secretary himself stated that the UK was cracking down on racist material published on the Internet and that the Government had asked governments across the world to work together to remove illegal websites and prosecute those responsible. He added that NCIS would be acting against threatening abusive and racist material.[22] A few days later an NCIS spokesman said that NCIS would be combating racism on the Internet, and that it could identify the jurisdiction that illegal material originated from, and would pass such information on to the relevant national authorities.[23]

Police action so far has tended to reflect national judicial attitudes towards hate crime. In Germany and Austria, where Holocaust denial and public manifestations of Nazism are illegal the governments have acted with a severity that other countries might find unacceptable. In December 1995, the Munich Public Prosecutor’s Office closed down CompuServe as a result of its alleged dissemination of illegal (neo-Nazi) material, and in 1997 forced ito cut worldwide access to offensive sites, although it now appears that no criminal prosaction will be taken. In January 1996, Deutsche Telekom the largest provider of Internet services in Germany, cut off access to Web Communications, which rents space to the neo-Nazi propagandist Ernst Zundel. However this also resulted in subscribers losing access to another 1500 websites. In March 1997 the Viennese police raided the offices of the service provider Burgerform, and at least 20 private homes, seizing computers for evidence that they had been used to download and distribute Nazi material originating in America.

In Canada a different approach has been adopted. Canadian law prescribes so-called hate or bias crimes but the courts have yet to adjudicate on such crimes committed on the Internet. However the view generally held is that the medium by which such messages are transmitted is immaterial. In May 1997, the Human Rights Commission began proceedings to indict Ernst Zundel and his web page, the Zundelsite, under the Canadian Human Rights Act. Zundel has argued that his site does not come under Canadian jurisdiction as it is uploaded from California by his colleague Ingrid Rimland, but it has been the contention of those who brought the complaint that Rimland merely acts as his agent and that she receives regular instructions from him as to what is posted. The trial hearing is now into its second year as a consequence of varying objections brought by Zundel and his lawyers.

In British Columbia, Fairview Technology Centre Ltd, run by Bernard Klatt had been hosting American and European neo-Nazi sites, but was forced to close down following complaints to BC Tel, his service provider, that the site hosted customers who promoted race hatred, and that it was in breach of its service contract. Among the sites it hosted were the US Nazi Party, the (British) National Socialist Movement, the European Nationalist Party, the Euro-Christian Defence League and the (French) Charlemagne Hammerskins. BC Tel refused to renew Klatt’s contract and his case is now the subject of a police and judicial investigation, but Klatt himself has moved his operation across the border into the US and continues to post material that would be illegal according to Canadian, and European norms.

Any police action that is considered must now inevitably focus on the fact that the much offensive and illegal material originates in America, where the First Amendment to the Constitution protects all free expression of opinion except that which directly incites violence. The draft Communications Decency Act, with potentially stringent penalties for improper use of cyberspace, has been challenged by free speech activists, and has been struck down by the Supreme Court but individual states have begun to take legal action bypassing the First Amendment issue. In California legislation was passed that treats electronic words in the same way as written or spoken ones, and speech that ‘seriously threatens’ as a crime, and Maryland has been considering draft legislation to make it illegal to send annoying or embarrassing e-mail. In Pennsylvania, state attorneys brought a successful civil action, requesting injunctive and other equitable relief, against Stormfront and Alpha HQ, its service provider. To lessen the possibility that Stormfront might argue that they were being made martyrs of, the action was bought against everybody along the chain, back to the service provider. On their site Stormfront had identified, by name and photographs, a local human relations council (the Reading-Berks Human Relations Council) and one of its staff members, stating that she was race traitor and should beware.

The French authorities met less success in November 1998 when a criminal prosecution was brought against Robert Faurisson, a former academic who has been convicted by the French courts on several occasions for promoting Holocaust denial. In this action, which was joined by a number of civil parties representing former members of the French Resistance, deportees and the French League for the Defence of Human Rights, the courts found that it was unable to prove a link between the defendant and the offending texts on the Internet, despite the fact that his name was on the document. The absence of any initiative on the part of the defendant to remove his name from the heading of the offending document was immaterial, and the case was dismissed.[24]

In Britain, the Crown Prosecution Service has also encountered some difficulties, at the time of writing, in a possible case against David Myatt of the National Socialist Movement, who had published a neo-Nazi terrorism manual but had sought to evade British legal jurisdiction by having it uploaded from Bernard Klatt’s Fairview Technology site in British Columbia, Canada. This would have been the first UK prosecution.

It is now generally acknowledged by the police and Prosecution Service that a successful prosecution could now be brought provided the jurisdictional and evidential hurdles have been overcome. The purveyors of hate material however are also quick to spot legal developments and are now registering their sites abroad. This parallels the trend of the early 1990s to print and publish offensive literature and leaflets from the US.

The Future for Policing the Net

The two problems mentioned above, that of balancing free speech with the protection of human rights, and the necessity to establish jurisdiction, exist but states do now appear to be moving towards policing the most offensive postings, albeit at different paces and in slightly different ways.

It is clear however that there is now a realization that cyberspace provides a new and dangerous arena in which Far Right extremists can operate and that they are using it to spread their messages of hate, which are designed to offend and to incite violence. Law enforcement agencies appear to be keen to prosecute in most countries, but recognize the dangers and therefore have so far adopted a cautious approach. Pressure on educationalists, service providers, and others who are involved in examining the use of technical options and voluntary codes of conduct to regulate the Internet, will also prove effective in due course. What is important however is to bar access to the promoters of hate without stifling free comment and the expression of ideas and speech. Many extremist groups see the Internet as the last forum free from government interference. Some see the introduction of regulation as part of an external campaign by central governments to destroy ‘free’ thought. They are likely therefore to resist regulation vigorously and imaginatively. Some of the counter measures being suggested such as PICS and the use of filters may bar pornographic sites effectively but they are ineffective against hate sites. Greater success is more likely to be achieved through a combination of a complaint-driven regime, by which service providers react to referrals from the public, criminal prosecution of those who post such messages, and a educational process which outlaws race hate through whichever medium it is disseminated.

Michael Whine is Director of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Defence and Group Relations Division.


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2. Stern, K (1998), A Force Upon The Plain - The American Militia Movement And The Politics Of Hate, Norman and London, University of Oklahoma Press, p.226
3. Beam, L (1992), Leaderless Resistance, The Seditionist, Issue 12
4. Neo-Nazis Go Hi-Tech with Electronic Mailboxes (1993), The Guardian, 19 November
5. Fuhrer, A, Rechtsextreme enobern das Internet, (1998), Die Welt, 23 July Blohm, D, Mobilmachung via Internet (1998), DPA, August
6. Ashcroft, A, (1998), NF: Marching along the Information Super-Highway, The Nationalist, London, No 2, October, p4
7. Griffin, N, (1999), BNP internal communication, March
8. The Revolution enters Cyberspace, (1998) Catalyst - The Official Bulletin Of The NR Faction, London, October
9. WIN Mission Statem, Western Imperative Network, http//, (24 February 1999)
10. Resistance Records Raided, [email protected], (9 April 1999)
11. [email protected], (10 March 1997)
12. Final Conflict News E-mail 1999, Issue 759, 9 March
13. Kleim, M. J. Jnr, On Tactics and Strategy for USENET ,(1995), [email protected] Carlton. CA
14. Ashcroft, p.5
15. Beam, L.R., The Conspiracy to Erect an Electronic Curtain, [email protected], 6 December 1996
16. Kleim
17. European Commission (Europol Communication on Criminal Use of the Internet), 9 April 1997
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