Illegal abroad, hate Web sites thrive in US
The Associated Press
Nov. 18, 2007

CHICAGO - It might come as a surprise to the soldiers who defeated fascism in World War II, but the United States has become a refuge for Nazism and other brands of extremism over the last decade.

On the Internet, that is.

Hundreds of foreign-language Web sites are using U.S. servers to dodge laws abroad that prohibit Holocaust denial or racist and anti-Semitic speech. Incorporated by businesses in the United States, they thrive out of reach of prosecutors in Europe, Canada and elsewhere.

In the Chicago area, the connections range from Radio Islam, a hate site inspired by a Moroccan exile in Sweden, to a site created by a former Illinois man who was extradited to Germany for Holocaust denial. One Chicago server company is home to 17 hate sites, eight of them European.

The noxious sites, often filled with anti-Semitism or crude ranting about blacks and immigrants, spotlight a trans-Atlantic divide over hate speech. Many European countries have criminalized Holocaust denial or racist speech, while the First Amendment grants even Nazis and other fringe groups the freedom to spread their message in the U.S.

"Essentially, our view is it's better to be able to confront their ideas and see what they're up to," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization. "But most Europeans regard the Americans as insane on this point. They really do."

Radio Islam, which lists a Chicago post office box as its contact address, has frustrated the Swedish government for years, prosecutors said in phone interviews. Hosted on a server in Washington state, its contents include paranoiac writings and the complete text of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" in at least 17 languages.

Much of the site is devoted to extolling Ahmed Rami, a Moroccan exile in Sweden who claims he fled to Europe after attempting to assassinate his country's king. In his adopted home, he made vitriolic radio broadcasts until Swedish authorities shut down his program and even jailed him in the 1990s.

But suddenly the U.S.-based Radio Islam Web site popped up promoting Rami's paranoid views that the United States is occupied by Jewish forces, Adolf Hitler was a misunderstood hero, and Judaism is not a religion but a "dangerous Mafia."

In an interview from Stockholm, Rami claimed to have nothing to do with the site.

"It's a group of men or teenagers who put it up," Rami said. "Sometimes I write something, and it ends up on their Web site."

(The Rami-oriented site has nothing to do with another Chicago-based Radio Islam, which disavows racism and reports it has interviewed Holocaust survivors on the air.)

Little study has been done on the extent to which the Web inspires real-world crime, but Brian Marcus, director of Internet monitoring with the Anti-Defamation League in New York, said cyber hate motivated Benjamin Smith, a gunman from Wilmette, Ill., who shot his way across Illinois and Indiana in 1999. He targeted blacks, Jews and Asians, killing two people and wounding nine before committing suicide.

"He (Smith) even said in an interview that it was through the Internet that he discovered the World Church of the Creator," Marcus said, referring to an Illinois group now called the Creativity Movement. "And then in July 1999 he goes on a real-world, multi-state killing spree."

The violence is not limited to the United States.

British and Polish journalists and human-rights activists have demanded their governments shut down two allied hate sites called Redwatch. The sites publish "enemies lists" with home addresses, and they have been blamed for egging on violence by the far right.

British journalist Peter Lazenby, a reporter for the Yorkshire Evening Post, found his photographs and former address featured in online enemies lists posted on the British version of Redwatch, which maintains three Web addresses on U.S. servers.

After Redwatch posted its blacklist, a thug stabbed a trade union leader in the face outside his home last year, and two schoolteachers had their home and car firebombed in 2003.

"The government says because these sites are based in the United States and (because of) your First Amendment, nothing can be done," Lazenby said from Leeds, England. "Well, they certainly manage to shut down pedophile sites and arrest the people behind them."

For its part, Redwatch says it doesn't encourage violence and was created in response to leftists' attacks on white nationalists.

"We consider Marxists and Capitalists as traitors and they will face the people's courts someday to pay for their crimes," Redwatch said in an online statement.

In Warsaw, authorities have struggled to shut down the U.S.-hosted, Polish-language Redwatch. The site promotes the message of the Creativity Movement, which formed in Illinois and has long included Chicago Polish neo-Nazis.

Last year, Polish media reported that a Jewish human-rights activist whose home address was listed on Redwatch was stabbed in the back. A suspect later charged in the case reportedly claimed he was seeking revenge for a previous attack at a soccer game, but human-rights groups are convinced it was a hate crime.

"They stabbed him in the back," said Rafal Pankowski, a researcher studying hate groups. "He was almost killed on the steps of his house in the center of Warsaw."

Asked whether Redwatch readers had a role in the stabbing, a Redwatch correspondent who would not provide his identity e-mailed, "No comment."

Redwatch said it doesn't condone criminal activity but merely collects details about "persons engaged in anti-fascist, anti-racist, and left-wing activities as well as the degenerate sympathizers and activists of the pedophile lobby," adding that leftists have kept similar lists about fascists.

Even high school students have drawn Redwatch's wrath. The site posted a photo of a class that cleaned up a Jewish cemetery. If the intent was intimidation, it succeeded. The principal forbade the school from doing such service projects in the future, Pankowski said.

Last year, the Polish government announced it had worked with the FBI to shut down Redwatch. But it remains online today, and a spokesman for the site says it only was offline briefly because of bandwidth problems. The FBI has no record of working to shut down the site, a spokeswoman in Washington said.

Redwatch is registered and hosted by companies in Arizona.

Polonica, a Polish-language far-right Web site registered to a Chicago Post Office box, has a list of scores of people it claims are secret Jews, calling them "little jews (sic) in Poland, which is under occupation, and people of Jewish origin who have changed their name." The site's targets include Magdalena Abakanowicz, who designed an installation of 106 cast-iron figure sculptures at the south end of Grant Park. (Through a spokeswoman, Abakanowicz declined to comment.)

Anti-Semitism hasn't vanished among the Polish far right even though the country has had few Jews since they were exterminated during the Holocaust.

"Polonica shows the kind of obsessive anti-Semitism which is not infrequent in Poland," Pankowski said. "It's difficult to be anti-Semitic in a country where you don't have Jews. So they have to invent it."

The site originally listed its administrative contact as "Smierc zydokomunie" or "Death to judeocommunism," but for several years it has been registered to Zdzislaw Jesse Brzezinski. Efforts to contact Brzezinski were unsuccessful.

A multilingual Web site established by a Cicero, Ill., man continues to sell literature and raise money for the man's defense even though he was deported to Germany in 2005 to serve a prison term for Holocaust denial.

In 1995, the man, a German citizen named Germar Rudolf, registered a site for the Belgian Foundation Vrij Historisch Onderzoek (Free Historical Research). Pressured by authorities there, he moved his publishing operation to England and then New York. The site is now hosted on a Texas server.

A former chemist, Rudolf had written a 1993 report in Germany that disputed the Nazi gassing of Jews at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. He was convicted of inciting racial hatred and fled, eventually entering the U.S. illegally from Mexico, federal officials said.

"The idea of thought crimes in the 21st century is just outrageous," said Michael Santomauro, VHO's president.

But historians, Holocaust survivors and watchdog groups say such sites ally themselves with hate groups.

VHO, for example, also posts the Web site of l'Association des Anciens Amateurs de Recits de Guerres et d'Holocaustes, a vitriolic Holocaust denial group that uses the same Chicago Post Office box as Radio Islam. The association's essays alternately deny the Holocaust, blame Zionists for somehow causing it and regurgitate medieval blood libels - the false accusation that Jews ritually slaughter Christian children.

One of the most prolific hosts of foreign racist sites is Gary Lauck of Lincoln, Neb., a former Chicago resident who claims to head the American branch of the National Socialist German Workers Party. Lauck, who spent time in a German prison after he was convicted of racial hatred, hosts about 80 German, Swedish and other foreign Web sites.

In interviews, Lauck speaks in great torrents in what reporters often describe as an ersatz German accent; in fact, Lauck says, he has had a speech impediment since childhood. Born in Wisconsin, Lauck says he has been a Nazi since he first read "Mein Kampf" as a teen.

In 1978, he was the chief propagandist of the National Socialist Party of America when the city of Skokie tried to block it from holding a rally. The battle was fought all the way to the Supreme Court, but when the group prevailed, they shifted their location to Chicago. Lauck and about 25 others appeared dressed in a Stormtrooper uniforms.

They were outnumbered by thousands of others, both sympathizers and counter-protesters. He says he still has a uniform stained with egg thrown by one of the throngs of "enemies," as he calls them.

For years, Lauck reportedly smuggled illegal Nazi flags, swastikas, propaganda and bomb-making manuals to Germany. In 1995, Lauck was arrested in Denmark and extradited to Germany for distributing the materials. A Hamburg court convicted him of inciting racial hatred and other counts, and he served a four-year term.

Nowadays, clients often approach Lauck through anonymous e-mails, so that even he doesn't know their identity.

"We'll say, OK, in the future, all you do is send an envelope with some Euro bank notes in it and say this is for Web site XYZ,' " Lauck said.

One client is the Danish National Socialist Movement. While the Nazi party is legal there, it asked Lauck to host its backup Web site.

"We had an attack by left-wings a short while ago," said party leader Jonni Hansen, "and our Web hosting by Lauck rescued us, because we were thrown out of the Danish Web server."

A Nazi organization called Deutsches Kolleg - which maintains a Web site through CWI Global Hosting of El Paso, Texas - calls the Berlin government a U.S. puppet and claims to be a legitimate representative of the German people.

The group was founded by Horst Mahler, a former leader of the far-left Baader-Meinhof gang, whose acts of political terror forced West Germany into a state of emergency in the 1970s. Mahler himself was imprisoned for 12 years for bank robbery and springing a fellow gang member from jail. After his release, however, he converted to Nazism.

The Web site Deutsches Kolleg extols the virtues of Hitler and promises to exterminate the Jews. Mahler has again landed in prison, this time for "racial incitement."

CWI registered the site of a Nazi organization called Deutsches Kolleg, but the clients' views don't reflect the company's, Jason A. Taylor, chief technical officer, wrote in an e-mail response to a reporter.

Speaking for many Web hosts, Taylor wrote, "As freedom of speech' in content is a very thin line, we believe that the necessary law-making bodies and court systems shall determine what is legal and what is not and CWI will abide by that."

Servers who do business anonymously or who say it is not their job to censor their clients frustrate groups seeking to shut down hate sites, among them the Anti-Defamation League, which combats racism. The First Amendment prohibits the government from stepping in to close Web sites, but there is nothing to stop private businesses from refusing to host Internet extremism, the league says.

In Wheeling, Ill., a site run by a group calling itself the Hungarian National Foundation offers a hodgepodge of criticism of the government, links to extreme right parties, and literature accusing Jews of fomenting revolution.

The foundation was incorporated in Illinois by Gabor Meszaros. In a phone interview, Meszaros said he established the site to promote democracy as street protests broke out in his former homeland.

"I would not label my Web site extremist," Meszaros said, adding, "My intention behind the site is just to promote democracy or the freedom of speech - what we all stand for."

But the site also gushes about a book tour by ex-Ku Klux Klansman David Duke under the headline, "Dr. Duke's Book Sweeps Across Hungary!" A visit by an Israeli military delegation this year drew headlines: "Budapest under Israeli Occupation? ... The murderers and child killers in blue arrived on the 9th of March."

Stormfront White Nationalist Community, based in West Palm Beach, Fla., is the giant of international Web hate sites. It hosts discussion groups in 20 languages, including "Stormfront en Francais" and "Stormfront Downunder," and boasts more than 111,000 members.

Spokesman Jamie Kelso portrays Stormfront as simply a white interests organization, not unlike those that lobby for blacks or Latinos. But Stormfront members exchange racial slurs and cheer on violent video that includes images of Russian skinheads beating up minorities.

"I say bash anything that isn't white," one member writes. "Bash em and bash em and bash em until there is nothing left."

Kelso says it's clear why the site draws foreigners.

"No other country has a First Amendment," he said. "In Canada, where we're very big, you can be jailed for what's called hate speech. You can be jailed and fined and sanctioned. Same thing in Germany."

European authorities have tried to disrupt Stormfront by arresting moderators there.

"You see everything from anti-Semitism to anti-Muslim, anti-Moroccans and (anti)-Turkish," said Niels Vandelen, director of the Dutch Complaints Bureau for Discrimination. "Everything is on there in just the most brutal and unacceptable manner."

In Chicago, Radio Islam frustrates the producers of a WCEV program with the same name (the local broadcast has a similar Web address at Abdul Malik Mujahid, a Chicago Imam who heads a company that produces the program, said guests have included Holocaust survivors and Jewish rabbis.

A 2003 report by the EU Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia called the Swedish-Moroccan "one of the most radical right-wing anti-Semitic home pages on the net with close links to radical Islam(ist) groups."

It's not hard to find evidence of this. A poem attributed to Rami eulogizes Lt. Khalid al-Islambuli, the man executed for murdering Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat in 1981.

"Peace be upon thee the day the first bullet hit the chest of the despot and overthrew the throne," Rami states. "He was soaking in his blood, and you took revenge for Egypt and all the (M)uslims."

In interviews, Rami boasted of his own attempt to assassinate a head of state. Rami was a former Moroccan army officer who fled after participating in a 1972 coup attempt, he said. He was granted asylum in Sweden.

Whether or not he is behind Radio Islam, Rami is delighted with the site - and the potential of the Web.

"The Internet is more free," he said. "It's difficult to control. The Internet is a fantastic revolution in the modern times."