The Consequences of Right-Wing Extremism on the Internet
Inspiring Crimes and Guiding Criminals
Before the World Wide Web
In 1988, years before the Internet was widely used, racist
skinheads from the group East Side White Pride in Portland, Oregon
attacked three Ethiopian immigrants with a baseball bat and steel-toed
boots, killing 27-year-old Mulugeta Seraw.
An investigation of the murder, which resulted in three
convictions, revealed intimate ties between the culprits and WAR, a
violent white supremacist group led by Tom Metzger of San Diego,
California. Metzger had written to East Side White Pride that a WAR
official would "teach" them "how we operate" and
"help" them "understand more about WAR."
The "national vice-president" of WAR trained East Side
White Pride members how to attack minorities, and he later explained,
"Tom Metzger said the only way to get respect from skinheads is
to teach them how to commit violence against Blacks, against Jews,
Hispanics, any minority."
When the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and ADL sued
Metzger and WAR for their role in the murder, the jury awarded $12
million in damages to the family of the slain man.
The Internet and Anonymity
The Internet seems tailor made for extremists wishing to avoid
By the early 1990s, Tom Metzger was using E-mail, and he
established a Web site in November 1995. The site features unbearably
crude caricatures of Blacks and Jews while applauding "racial and
cultural separatism worldwide." Calling whites "Nature's
finest handiwork," Metzger declares, "your race and only
your race must be your religion."
On the Web, Metzger makes his aggressive rhetoric available to
millions without knowing anything about the people who are reading it.
Anyone can anonymously visit his site, study his propaganda, and act
on it. In fact, Metzger and others encourage their readers to become
"lone wolves," extremists who commit violent crimes alone,
telling no one of their plans and involving no accomplices who may
later testify against them.
Just as propagandists like Metzger see the Internet as an excellent
tool for encouraging violence without paying the consequences, those
with the greatest potential to become "lone wolves" may also
find the Internet particularly appealing. While paranoid individuals
might refuse to meet in person with others who share their beliefs,
they may very well be comfortable reading incendiary propaganda on the
Internet, remaining isolated until they violently act out what they
The Internet and Tactical Guidance
Beyond finding their inspiration on the Internet, right-wing
extremists have gone online for nuts-and-bolts tactical guidance when
planning crimes. These extremists have posted bomb-making instructions
and hit lists on the Internet. Even advice on street fighting with
minorities, similar to the guidance that WAR provided to East Side
White Pride, has appeared online
Should we blame the Internet?
Some may be tempted to blame the Internet for these developments,
but the Internet does not itself cause extremist crime. The message of
hate, not the medium, gives rise to violence, and the Internet can be
used with equal facility to spread positive messages. Furthermore, the
Internet serves as but one source of information among many that
influence extremists to act - others include printed publications,
shortwave radio broadcasts, personal interaction with other
extremists, and public access cable television.
Nonetheless, due to its ease, speed, and economy of use, the
anonymity it affords, and other factors, the Internet is becoming a
primary factor in the inspiration
and guidance of Right Wing extremist