x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Hate sites overloaded with vitriol after vote

There has been an avalanche of vitriolic postings on racist websites since Barack Obama became the first African-American to be elected president on Nov 4.

Daniel Cowart's car, which was being held by police in Alamo, Tenn, is covered with Nazi symbols and references to Hitler.
Daniel Cowart's car, which was being held by police in Alamo, Tenn, is covered with Nazi symbols and references to Hitler.

NEW YORK // In an ominous sign that not everyone in the US is happy about Barack Obama's election to the presidency, Stormfront, the most popular white supremacist website, was temporarily shut down because of an overloaded server. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which monitors extremist activity, said there was an avalanche of vitriolic postings on racist websites after Mr Obama became the first African-American to be elected president on Nov 4. "The amount of invective, anger and rage being vented on white supremacist sites in the aftermath of the election is startling," said Abraham Foxman, ADL's national director. "Many racists are convinced that President-elect Obama's achievement means that whites have lost their place in America and they are predicting the beginning of a race war." Mr Obama and his family are surrounded by tight security but some analysts believe violence by white supremacists could extend to targets including anyone seen to be supporting the next president, such as civil rights leaders or academics. While US law enforcement agencies try to keep tracks of hate groups and monitor the internet, a lone individual or small cell might pose the most danger, said Brian Levin, director of the Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University. "Anyone in the arena of civil rights, interfaith dialogue and progressive politics is on the radar screen of these groups," Mr Levin said. "Much of the leadership of the established white supremacist groups are either dead, seen as corrupt and inept, or in jail. The authorities are much more concerned about people on the fringes of these groups but you can't write off the actual members either." He estimated there were about 150 white supremacist, neo-Nazi or hate groups, with some 200,000-300,000 members. The best known group is the Ku Klux Klan, which was founded in 1865 to restore white supremacy after the US civil war. The KKK's membership is estimated at about 6,000, down from four million to five million in the 1940s. David Duke, a leading white supremacist and former Republican representative for Louisiana, convened the American-European Unity and Rights Conference in Memphis, Tennessee, last weekend. In a speech, he blamed Jewish control of the media and Hollywood for brainwashing whites and said Mr Obama only achieved his position because of affirmative action. The ADL said attendees included Don Black, who runs the Stormfront website, and his son Derek, who was elected a Republican party committee member in Florida this year. "The intellectual movement started today, here, that will save the white people," Derek Black said at the conference. During the election campaign, John McCain, the defeated Republican presidential candidate, was also attacked by racists who said he had betrayed whites and his support for Israel made him a "pawn of the Jews". But the election of Mr Obama could be the most potent catalyst to recruit more members to the white supremacist cause. "Maybe it's good in one sense in that it's making white people clear of the fact that the government in Washington DC is not our government," Mr Duke said in an online radio interview. Some racist bloggers said they would quit the United States in disgust while others predicted a race war and advocated stockpiling arms and supplies for the coming conflict. But bloggers were careful not to make direct threats against Mr Obama that would draw the attention of law enforcement. Rather they expressed the hope he would just die or be killed by others. Last month, two white supremacists, Paul Schlesselman and Daniel Cowart, were arrested and charged with plotting to kill Mr Obama at the end of a planned national killing spree in which they would murder and decapitate black people. The two men were scorned by some bloggers for being badly prepared and getting caught. "These people hate blacks, whites, Jews, Muslims, gays, white progressives, you name it. The amount of chatter is quite significant and has to be taken seriously," Mr Levin said. "A lot of the rhetoric now is particularly anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli. If there were to be another terrorist attack, Islamophobia could rise again to the levels seen soon after the September 11 attacks." Economic turmoil coupled with the greater visibility of multiculturalism could increasingly make people angry and want to find targets to blame, said Marilyn Mayo, co-director of the ADL's extremism centre. "These people yearn for a white, middle-class America that's dying but they haven't been able to make significant inroads and they remain a small group," she said. "These websites do act as a gauge for how people are thinking. This is not a time to be fearful but to be vigilant." sdevi@thenational.ae