SILICON LOUNGE: Hate Groups Use Web to Build Empire

As odd karma would have it, I ended up in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in August. I was there to see family and a big, shiny lake, but the front page of the daily Coeur d'Alene Press screamed, "United White Supremacists." Turns out, a sure-to-be-fiery civil trial was about to start there; it happens we were mere miles from the Aryan Nations' compound in Hayden Lake. My blood started racing, as my partner's brother sarcastically offered to tune in former L.A. bad-cop Mark Fuhrman's radio spew-show for background. Talk about white noise.

In the trial, the head of the bigot-fighting Southern Poverty Law Center, Morris Dees, was out to financially cripple the white-supremacist group, led by Richard Butler. Dees got his chance because a (white) mother and son were assaulted outside the compound by Aryan security. According to the Press and court records, the mother, Victoria Keenan, was driving her 1977 Datsun on a public road near the compound when her son, Jason, dropped his wallet outside the window. After stopping to pick it up, they were chased for two miles by skinheads firing guns from a pickup truck (now, there's an image). During the car chase, the security officers riddled Keenan's car with bullets from an assault rifle, one of which punctured her tire. At that point, her car rolled into a ditch and the "officers" approached. One grabbed her by the hair and butted her with a rifle; another hit her son in the back and called him a "faggot" for crying. They then let the pair go, saying, "Because you are white, you're not going to die." (The jury later found for the Keenans.)

I immediately wanted to drive our rented white convertible by the compound and ponder a real, live Aryan soldier. Fortunately, my partner told me I was crazy, and we headed back to Washington state. But I kept watching the Aryan saga, learning from The Seattle Times that many Idaho locals want Butler and Co. driven out of town on a rail. In an admirable comprehension of the First Amendment, the local Aryan opponents squeezed their lemons -- they sold pledges for every mile of a recent skinhead march on their streets and then used the booty for human-relations efforts. Apparently, they've managed to focus so much negative attention on the group that its local compound membership is seriously dwindling.

In recent months, Butler begged visitors to contribute to the group's legal defense fund at www.christian-aryannations.com. You should go check out Butler's comments. Really.

Each of us, regardless of race, must understand Butler's goals. Pretending bigotry doesn't exist, or can't touch you, didn't work in Nazi Germany, it didn't work in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964, and it won't work today. But denial has become the preferred tactic of too many white people as they hide inside gated white communities filled with white houses, and load their kids into big white SUVs to drive them to largely white schools. Don't get me wrong: Some of my best friends are white (as am I, my partner and my family). But I just cannot bear the thought of being one of those complacent bystanders who looked away and blamed "outside agitators" when local boys put three civil-rights workers under a dam in my hometown.

Therefore, I must look, and I must ask others to look at the faces of hate. That way, we can understand why we must support religious pluralism. Why it hurts minority friends when whites make light of "Driving While Black" police methods. Why we must recognize that the Confederate flag has become this county's Swastika. Why we should reject outright a politician who speaks to the racist Bob Jones University (might as well put Butler's compound on the stump). Why we must understand the meaning of "Christian Identity," the dangerous crossroads between extreme fundamentalism and bigotry.

Like the Aryan Nation, many white supremacists identify with a Christian Identity-like religion. That is, they believe the good people -- white folk -- are descended from Adam-and-Eve's good son; the evil ones -- Jews -- come from Cain, the son of Satan. God curses all non-whites; America is the white man's promised land, his manifest destiny. Therefore, white "racialists" -- their term -- are waging a battle to reclaim it from Jews, blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and other minorities. It is easy to shrug off little enclaves of bigots here and there, but the Web is indeed functioning as a networking tool to bring together disparate groups with a similar goal.

However heinous, we should not take away that tool, except when it is used for actual threats of violence. We cannot legislate against hate speech, nor should we. We will only promote it by trying to silence it. But we can get to know it intimately, so we can figure out how to outwit it. And in our increasingly gated communities, the Web is often the best route we have to see what bigots are thinking, planning and trying to brainwash into the heads of confused children and angry, fearful adults. It's asinine to consider censoring hate speech off the Internet; it is absolutely the best tool we have to fight racism in our society today.

Visit the Aryan Nation Web site (egging the compound is definitely a bad idea, though). Look at www.Stormfront.org. Link to every hate site monitored by Hatewatch.org. Stop by Godhatesfags.com. Show the kids and hold their hands. Then, like the good people of Coeur d'Alene, stir up a pitcher of nice, cool lemonade and serve it to the bigots among us.

E-mail comments to donna@shutup101.com.

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