White Supremacists Take to the Web

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Hate groups were early to recognize the Internet's potential for organizing. Mark Potok runs the Intelligence Project at the Center for Poverty Law in Montgomery, Ala., which tracks and investigates hate groups. He and Farai Chideya discuss how such groups are using the media in the wake of the Jena 6 rally.

Farai Chideya, host:

You first heard Richard Barrett, general counsel for the Nationalist Movement and editor of its Web site. Then, we read parts of the written response from mayor Murphy McMillan in Jena, Louisiana. Now, we turn to the big picture.

Mark Potok keeps track of threats and attacks through the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. It investigates and monitors hate groups.

Welcome, Mark.

Mr. MARK POTOK (Director of Intelligence Project, Southern Poverty Law Center): Well, thank you so much for having me.

CHIDEYA: So you heard this exchange that we just got between the mayor of Jena and us about this, what is now this incredibly popular - it's the first thing that comes up, basically, when you put the mayor's name and Jena into surf sites. Is it common for white supremacist groups or nationalist groups to try to cozy up to people in power when there are tensions in a town like this?

Mr. POTOK: Well, I haven't seen anything quite like this, trying to essentially snooker the mayor into saying, yeah, we, you know, we whites are being oppressed and we're with you.

But it is very common for these kinds of individuals and groups to essentially try and exploit a situation like this. I mean, these guys really study the newspapers. They follow the news very closely around the country and look for opportunities to interject themselves. You know, if there is, say, some terrible black-on-white crime, for instance, as there has been recently Knoxville, Tennessee, in particular, you know, the groups will swarm around, you know, and use the event to denounce - basically to denounce black people but under the guise of saying, you know, they're fighting crime and so on.

So I mean, this is really classic stuff. And, you know, Barrett, of course, was extremely disingenuous both with the Barker family and with the mayor. You know, he was asked even by his own account several times by Justin Barker's father, David Barker, you know, was he a white supremacist? And he simply evaded the question again and again. You know, this is a guy who, not so long ago, held a weekend for racist skinheads at his home in Mississippi, you know, using a picture of Martin Luther King as the target, you know, and it goes on and on from there.

The book that he, in fact, gave Justin Barker, his so-called autobiography, you know, advocates the resettlement of blacks, Jews, Latinos and so on to the countries they, quote, unquote "came from."

CHIDEYA: We should point out that Justin Barker is the white youth who was attacked in Jena and there was this interaction between Barrett, who we spoke with, and with Barker's family.

Let's pull back to this other inciting incident, though, of the names and addresses of five of the Jena Six posted online. There recently had been cases where journalist names and addresses were posted online if what they said seemed to be disturbing to someone who came from a racist background, a self-avowed racist background. What's specifically about that kind of targeting, that kind of exposure is pernicious?

Mr. POTOK: Well, I mean, it's pernicious because it's terrifying to its targets, you know? This posting we're talking about was put up by a guy named Bill White in Roanoke, Virginia. He is the leader of the so-called American National Socialist Workers Party, in other words, an explicitly Nazi group. And, you know, his headline was, lynched the Jena Six, and then in the secondary posting, he listed the five of the six addresses and home phone numbers he was able to get and suggested that should the Jena Six be set free by the courts, that perhaps individual white people might want to go to Jena and deliver justice themselves. You know, I think it's obvious what effect that might have on the person who's a target of such thing.

This is very common. Whites did the same thing to Leonard Pitts, a well-known columnist at the Miami Herald for Knight Ridders, actually a friend of mine. You know, he's done it to me many times because I'm often quoted criticizing him. You know, the point of all of this is that these groups are very adept to kind of getting in your face.

I mean, Bill White posts that, you know, lynched the Jena Six, and he understands perfectly that somebody like me is going to notice that immediately and that it helps to propel his name and his group's name essentially into the headlines and, you know, he doesn't give a hoot that, you know, virtually all the press he gets is going to be bad, it's going to somehow describe him as a white supremacist or a neo-Nazi. You know, his point is that he's trying to get his name out there because presumably, he will get a few new members out of it and, of course, that means dues for him.

CHIDEYA: When you think about something like that and your name also being exposed, is that in and of itself a crime? He was taken down by his Web host but if his Web host had chosen to keep his Web site up, would that have just been fine and dandy?

Mr. POTOK: Probably yes is the answer. Those were almost certainly protected statements under the First Amendment. And, I mean, it's shocking in a way, in another way - here's the bottom line. I mean, under the First Amendment, you - one can make all kinds of general advocacy statements. For instance, you know, you could say I think all police officers should be killed. I think all the Jews should be killed or even somewhat more forward statements. White statements were essentially conditional, you know? These people should be killed if they are, or justice should be delivered to them if they are acquitted.

In another, you know, clever little posting from Bill White, he said a certain lawyer, a man I know, a human rights lawyer in Canada, of him, he said, it would be patriotic to kill this person, and then gave his home address and phone number. You know, these things are actually do not rise to criminal incitements or probably to what's known in case law as a true threats and that's simply because, as I say, they're essentially conditional in the way they are phrased.

CHIDEYA: Mark, before we let you go, what should people do to figure out what's true and false among all of these Internet postings and how they should react?

Mr. POTOK: Well, I think, you know, there are few things to learn from this. One, there - this country has some people in it who are really quite awful. I think that regardless of what the details of what's happened in Jena are, you know, lynch the Jena Six is not the answer.

The other thing is, I think, that people should be aware as a general matter that these groups and individuals routinely distort reality in order to make their propaganda points.

I mentioned earlier a crime in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was a white couple murdered by three black men and a black woman. And you know, what was said about that crime by white supremacist groups was that it was a hate crime, it was done on the basis of race and that…

CHIDEYA: Mark…

Mr. POTOK: …they were both be mutilated. These are the couple (unintelligible) false things.

CHIDEYA: Well, Mark, I want to thank you. Mark runs the Intelligence Project of the Center for Poverty Law in Montgomery, Alabama.

Mr. POTOK: Thank you so much.

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