Originally created 03/14/97

Hate groups explode on to Internet



WASHINGTON - K.A. Badynski works nights as a hotel auditor to make a living, and spends his days tinkering with his web site to give meaning to his living.

When the self-taught web jockey describes his home page, he swells with pride - white pride.

Badynski's site, Northwest Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, is one of roughly 200 sites on the Internet dedicated to the Klan, white supremacy, Holocaust denials and garden-variety racial epithets. Civil-rights groups are concerned that, like everything else on the Web, the number of hate pages has exploded in the past six months.

In its just-released annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that while the number of assaults and other hate crimes has dropped, "anti-Semites, racists and bigots are having a field day" online.

"Forget about flyers on windshields and in locker rooms, they've staked a claim right smack in the middle of the most powerful communications device in the world," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

The Wiesenthal Center has been tracking "hate pages" on the Internet for three years, and Cooper claims that there are more than 300 "problematic" links from them to pages that explain how to make bombs or will play hate music.

Badynski laughs at the "hate pages" claim made by "snivel rights groups," saying that he's merely taking advantage of his First Amendment rights and isn't out to "hurt anyone's little feelings."

"Sad as it may seem in this age of intellectual enlightenment, people are against those of us that are not politically correct," Badynski said in a telephone interview from his home in Tacoma, Wash.

And Badynski does avoid using racial slurs in conversation and in cyberspace - because it's not effective, he says, not because it's wrong. But it doesn't take much searching to find cartoons depicting minstrels or mammies, or links to purchase racist books and tapes.

A site called the "White Pages" links to more than 150 hate pages and white-pride sites, including Tom Metzger's "White Aryan Resistance Hate Page" and the "O.J. Simpson" site, which refers to the Simpson case in racist and anti-Semitic terms.

The federal Communications Decency Act of 1996 would outlaw some of the more hateful sites and will be weighed by the Supreme Court March 19. But attempts to legally ban such sites have failed thus far.

"Given the broad interpretation of the First Amendment and the Internet culture, there's not a whole lot that can be done," said Art Jipson, a Miami University assistant sociology professor who studies hate groups. "Short of demonstrating fighting words or a person being violated, there's no legal protection."

"What we're beginning to see are protections of sexist, racist and homophobic speech," said Barry Steingardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Even if the courts did find a platform narrow enough to ban only racist and hate sites without cutting out educational sites, the Internet does not lend itself to control.

Attempts by the Canadian and German governments to block out offensive material online have been thwarted to some degree by cyberbandits using service providers in other countries or setting up identical, seemingly harmless, mirror sites.

"We need to be concerned about free-speech issues, but at the same time differentiate between free speech and hate speech," said Noah Chandler, a researcher for the Center for Democratic Renewal, a liberal civil-rights organization in Atlanta. "There's always been limitations on free speech and hate speech."

Understanding the anything-goes mantra of the Internet, civil-rights groups don't necessarily support a legal defense. Rather, they defer to the age-old adage of fighting hate speech with better speech.

"We only respond by putting up material that counters the message of hate," said Gail Gans, director of fact-finding for the ADL. "We also want to let people know that these sites are on the Web."

Internet service providers such as Prodigy and America Online have rules of conduct and can throw users off their service if they choose.

"We recognize that there are thousands and thousands of viewpoints to express," said Andrew Graziani, spokesman for AOL. "When you have harassing or abusive language, you start to have a problem."

Graziani was not aware of any racist accounts being terminated, but some have claimed on their sites that they had been kicked off AOL or other providers.

Aside from the material that offends them online, civil rights groups are concerned about the use of the Internet as a recruiting and marketing tool. With its eye-catching graphics, slightly toned-down message, T-shirt offers and world wide access, white-pride groups are getting their message out more effectively than ever.

"It's been an extraordinary instrument for propaganda purposes," said Michael Reynolds, a researcher for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, which handles legal cases involving civil rights. "The sense of community is created globally for those in isolation."

And it does make global connections.

"The Internet is the international soapbox," Badynski said after taking a call from man in England who had seen his site and had questions about the Klan.