The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.
Editors’ Note: This essay was published in the Spring 2015 issue of the Intelligence Report.
The traditional, organized American radical right, which was swollen enormously by Barack Obama’s 2008 election and the near-simultaneous collapse of the economy, shrank significantly in 2014 for the second year in a row. The rapidly falling numbers of both hate and antigovernment “Patriot” groups seem to have been driven by a strengthening economy, continuing crackdowns by law enforcement, and an accelerated movement of radicals out of groups and into the anonymity, safety and far-reaching communicative power of the Internet.
The decline of the organized radical right came against a background of increasing losses for extremists. On the one hand, the advance of same-sex marriage, racial and religious diversity, and intolerance toward those with openly racist views has made life more difficult for those on the extreme right. On the other, the highly successful infiltration into the political mainstream of many radical-right ideas about Muslims, immigrants, black people and others have stolen much of the fire of the extremists, as more prominent figures co-opt these parts of their program.
There is also evidence that large numbers of extremists have left organized groups because of the high social cost of being known to affiliate with them. Many of those people apparently now belong to no group, but operate instead mainly on the Internet, where they can offer their opinions anonymously and easily find others who agree with them — and where they can be heard by huge numbers of people without the hassles, dues and poor leadership associated with membership in most groups. At the same time, those with violent criminal inclinations are increasingly opting to act as lone wolves or in very small cells, not connected to organized larger groups, which is another, smaller factor in the decline of these groups.
Specifically, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual count found that hate groups declined by 17% between 2013 and 2014, from 939 to 784 groups, bringing that number to its lowest level since 2005. Patriot groups, which are animated by a series of conspiracy theories about the alleged evils of the federal government, fell even faster, to 874 groups from a 2012 peak of 1,360 groups. In just the last year, the number of Patriot groups declined by 20%, from 1,096 groups to 874.
But those numbers may be somewhat deceiving. More than half of the decline in hate groups was of Ku Klux Klan chapters, and many of those have apparently gone underground, ending public communications, rather than disbanding.
In any event, as the movement to the Internet suggests, the importance of organized radical groups is declining for a number of reasons. In an age where ever more people are congregating on the Web and in social media, the radical right is doing the same. With almost no charismatic leaders on the scene, there is little to attract radicals to join groups when they can broadcast their opinions across the world via the Internet and at the same time remain anonymous if they wish. And an enormous sector of the extreme right — the “sovereign citizens” movement, made up of as many as 300,000 people who do not believe the federal government has any authority over them — is not organized into groups at all.
One section of the Web forum is dedicated to watching black men die, while another is called “CoonTown” and features users wondering if there are any states left that are “nigger free.” One conversation focuses on the state of being “Negro Free,” while another is about how best to bring attention to the assertion that black people are more prone to commit sexual assaults than whites.
But these discussions aren’t happening on Stormfront, which since its founding in 1995 by a former Alabama Klan leader has been the largest hate forum on the Web. They’re taking place on Reddit, a huge online bulletin board owned by mass media giant Condé Nast, which also owns Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and 20 other print and online publications that reach an estimated 95 million consumers. Reddit has been hailed as the last bastion of free speech on the Internet, an unregulated and vibrant community of users who post whatever they want and rely on the community around them to police their content.
The world of online hate, long dominated by website forums like Stormfront and its smaller neo-Nazi rival Vanguard News Network (VNN), has found a new — and wildly popular — home on the Internet. Reddit boasts the 9th highest Alexa Internet traffic ranking in the United States and the 36th worldwide. Many of Reddit’s racist subreddits are among its most popular.
Reddit is a news site that hosts user-submitted links and discussion, organized into specific communities of interest comprised of “subreddits,” which are ranked by votes from users. If a reader believes content is a constructive contribution, he or she can “upvote” it, pushing the content further up the page. Conversely, if a user thinks that content is either off-topic or is not constructive, it can be “downvoted,” causing it to sink further down the page.
Content on Reddit is “moderated based on quality, not opinion,” according to the working document that dictates community guidelines, called “Reddiquette.” This idea of user-policed communities that contain high-quality, diverse content is part of the ethos Reddit has worked hard to project. “We power awesome communities,” reads the graphic atop its “about” page.
But awesome communities for whom?
Along with countless others with entirely different interests, Reddit increasingly is providing a home for anti-black racists — and some of the most virulent and violent propaganda around. In November 2013, a hyper-racist subreddit called “GreatApes” was formed. Users posted epithet-strewn links to “news” stories of dubious origin that riffed on long established stereotypes about the black community. GreatApes was wildly popular and grew quickly, expanding into a much larger Reddit network called “the Chimpire,” which was organized by a user known only by his or her posting name of “Jewish_NeoCon2.”
“We feel it’s time to expand our sphere of influence and lebensraum [the Nazi term for “living space”] on reddit. Thus we have decided to create ‘the Chimpire,’ a network of nigger related subreddits,” Jewish_NeoCon2 wrote at the time. “Want to read people’s experiences with niggers? There now is an affiliated subreddit for it. Want to watch chimp nature documentaries? We got it. Nigger hate facts? IT’S THERE. … Oh yes you bet we got videos of ghetto niggers fighting each other. Nigger drama on reddit? There’s a sub. Sheboons? Gibsmedat.”
Within a year, the Chimpire network had grown to include 46 active subreddits spanning an alarming range of racist topics, including “Teenapers,” “ApeWrangling,” “Detoilet,” and “Chicongo,” along with subreddits for both “TrayvonMartin” and “ferguson,” each of them dealing with the controversial and highly publicized shooting deaths of unarmed black teenagers.
Then, last November, Reddit’s most racist community evolved once again, adding the subreddit called CoonTown in the aftermath of a dispute between several top moderators at GreatApes. In just four days, CoonTown had reached 1,000 subscribers. And its popularity continues to grow.
According to Reddit Metrics, as of Jan. 6, there were 552,829 subreddits. CoonTown, with its 3,287 subscribers, ranked 6,279th, placing it in the top 2% of subreddits. It is the 680th fastest-growing subreddit on the site despite — or because of — violently racist material including a large number of threads dedicated to videos of black-on-black violence.
These gruesome videos show black men being hit in the head repeatedly with a hammer, burned alive, and killed in a variety of other ways. The subreddit’s banner features a cartoon of a black man hanging, complete with a Klansman in the background. One fairly typical user, “Bustatruggalo” applauded the graphic violence as “[v]ery educational and entertaining.” He or she continued on a separate thread: “I almost feel bad for letting an image like this fill me with an overwhelming amount of joy. Almost….”
Others, like user “natchil,” were looking for still more. “Where is watchjewsdie?” this user wondered.
‘Remember the Human’
There are some limits.
“No calls for violence,” the CoonTown subreddit’s description reads. “It’s prohibited by Reddit’s site-wide rules.”
Everything up to violence, however, is very much there, including the horrific content found on other Chimpire subreddits like “WatchNiggersDie” — content which is rarely, if ever, matched on forums like Stormfront and VNN, which worry about being shut down or driving off potential allies.
That’s despite the Reddiquette section’s first rule, which implores Reddit users to “Remember the human.” “When you communicate online, all you see is a computer screen,” it says. “When talking to someone you might want to ask yourself ‘Would I say it to the person’s face?’ or ‘Would I get jumped if I said this to a buddy?’”
If Reddit’s rules seem relaxed, that’s because they are meant to be. Still, although users are asked to “remember the human,” there is little humanity in the way the subjects of subreddits like CoonTown are treated.
In June 2013, however, after an extended, public controversy, Reddit did ban the subreddit “Niggers” when large numbers of its denizens began overrunning another subreddit, “BlackGirls,” with racist posts that were apparently not being policed by its moderators. “Brigading” — when large groups of people from one subreddit gang up to downvote comments on another subreddit that they don’t normally visit — is prohibited by Reddit. Users of the Niggers subreddit also engaged in “vote manipulation,” which falsely raises the popularity of a post by soliciting like-minded users to blindly upvote it. After repeated warnings and “shadow-banning,” or making a user’s posts invisible to everyone but the author, the subreddit was finally banned. According to Jewish_NeoCon2, more than a few former members of the Niggers subreddit have now taken up residence at CoonTown.
A Reluctance to Intervene
Condé Nast, one of the largest mass media companies in the United States, acquired Reddit in 2006, although the Internet company still operates independently. The stability of such a well-established and respected media firm, as well as the funding of many high-profile investors, including a $50 million investment from the rapper Snoop Lion this October, appears to guarantee Reddit’s future.
A request for comment on the Chimpire was directed to Patricia Rockenwagner, a member of Condé Nast’s public relations department, but she referred it to Victoria Taylor, Reddit’s head of communications. Taylor did not respond to requests for comment.
Last year, however, Yishan Wong, Reddit’s CEO, took to the subreddit “TheoryofReddit,” to explain that Reddit was in the red. He revealed that in exchange for its relative operational independence from Condé Nast, the site was responsible for its own bills. The site’s goal, according to Wong, is to pay its own way and its primary engine for accomplishing that is through ads, a premium subscription option, and the Reddit gift exchange.
Racist websites and organizations do sometimes benefit from racist subreddits like the Chimpire. That’s because subreddit users often post links to other racist sites, and those links drive traffic to those other sites, which in turn typically sell merchandise in addition to pushing racist ideology and recruiting.
It’s hard to dispute that Reddit does offer a venue for remarkably lively and unbridled conversation, and that dissident commentary that might not be tolerated elsewhere finds a welcome home there. Richard Spencer, a racist ideologue who heads the National Policy Institute, held an “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) session on Reddit last November, and although his views are widely regarded as loathsome, he was calm and understated in his discussion of far-right European politics. Unlike in WatchNiggersDie, there were no links to videos of brutal killings or other visual images meant to degrade the humanity of minorities.
Reddit is often hailed as one of the last bastions of truly free speech, and its owners’ hesitance to jeopardize that status is understandable given the loyal following it has inspired. Reddit has removed content that has been illegally appropriated from commercial interests, such as the revelations that emerged from the November hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
The Internet is awash in racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic and other hateful content, but much of it is relatively tame. Subreddits such the Chimpire offer a window on to just how awful some of the darkest corners of the Web really are.
This story also was published in the Spring 2015 issue of the Intelligence Report.
As Fury Mounts Over Obama Actions on Immigration, SPLC Releases Major Report on Nativist Movement Rebirth
Just a day after President Obama announced a series of executive actions meant to allow millions of undocumented residents to remain in the United States, the Southern Poverty Law Center is releasing a major report on the apparent rebirth of the nativist extremist movement that swept the country between 2005 and 2011.
Today’s release of “Back to the Border,” the cover story of the new issue of the SPLC’s Intelligence Report, comes amid a rising din of anti-immigrant fury from both the mainstream and the radical right about Obama’s moves, unilateral actions that an array of enraged nativists claim could set political violence. The new report traces the resurgence of the movement to early July, when a furious mob turned back buses carrying undocumented and unaccompanied minor immigrants to a Border Patrol facility in Murrieta, Calif. The new edition of the quarterly investigative journal carrying the story can be read at www.splcenter.org.
The confrontation in Murrieta led to a series of similar nativist outbursts around the country and the massing of antigovernment militias and other radical groups on the U.S.-Mexican border in the months that followed. The movement grew large enough that it sparked worries about the return the Minuteman and other nativist groups that harassed undocumented immigrants in recent years. Now, with Obama’s Thursday night speech on immigration already setting off a renewed round of enraged attacks on the president, the threat of a major nativist resurgence seems strong.
“The success of a howling mob in turning back buses filled with undocumented immigrant children bound for a shelter was the first spark to reignite the nativist extremist movement,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the SPLC and author of the new report. “Now, with the new executive action initiative announced last night by President Obama, that spark may turn into a conflagration.’
This issue of the Intelligence Report also examines another radical movement experiencing a revival — the racist music industry. Racist bands are using iTunes, the world’s largest music vendor, to distribute their music following the collapse of several racist music labels and distributors. Although its terms of service appear to make iTunes off limits to these groups, the Report found that the music of at least 54 well-known racist bands was being sold by the music service this fall.
“The racist music industry, long a major source of money and new recruits for the white power movement, had been in decline in recent years,” Potok said. “But the discovery of iTunes by racist bands, and the fact that iTunes seems unwilling to move against them, has helped this industry find new hope and profits.”
Also in this issue of the Intelligence Report:
- “Warrior for God” profiles retired three-star general William “Jerry” Boykin, a longtime anti-Muslim activist now serving as executive vice president of the Family Research Council.
- “War Dreams” investigates how the neo-Confederate League of the South is forming a secret paramilitary unit called “The Indomitables,” another step in its continuing radicalization. The group now appears to include white supremacists, former Klan members and neo-Nazis.
- “East of Eden” examines how a small group of racists are promoting the Orthodox Church as a home for fascism. Although the church has its share of extreme-right officials, it vigorously rejects any association with such groups.
- “Redeemed” is an interview with Yvette Cantu Schneider, a woman who worked in religious-right “ex-gay” ministries for years, but recently joined other former activists in renouncing the movement.
The new issue of the Intelligence Report released today contains an in-depth look at the racist skinhead group Volksfront, whose worldwide network is collapsing as it approaches its 20-year anniversary. Revelations of its activities in the United Kingdom and other countries by the Southern Poverty Law Center appear to have brought its international operations to a screeching halt. This follows the official dissolution of its 17 U.S.-based chapters last year, meaning the Volksfront era may now finally be over.
The Winter 2012 issue also includes:
• Conspiracy Act exposes the conspiracy-mongering activities of actor Richard Belzer, who is known to millions of Americans as television’s John Munch, the acerbic detective in “Law & Order: SVU.” The popular actor is an increasingly florid conspiracy theorist and author who recently has come to describe the United States as a “fascist” country ruled by “sociopaths.”
• ‘Village of the Damned’ looks at white supremacist Craig Cobb’s efforts to take over the near-ghost town of Leith, N.D. Cobb plans to create a “Pioneer Little Europe” — an all-white community he’d like to rename Cobbsville.
• End Game examines the state of the National Alliance, which once dominated the U.S. neo-Nazi scene. The group has fallen on increasingly hard times and has recently announced that it is no longer a membership organization.
• Terror’s Measure details studies of domestic terrorism compiled since 9/11.
• First Blood explores the extremely violent racist skinhead group known as Die Auserwählten, or Crew 41, that has left a wake of bloody violence in two states.
• The Velvet Glove examines the growing radicalization of the League of the South.
The new issue of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, released today, contains an in-depth look at the decades-long war between white supremacists and “anti-fascists” – highlighted by the bloody battle that erupted last year at suburban Chicago restaurant.
The May 19, 2012, incident in Tinley Park, Ill., involved as many as 18 anti-racists in a fast and furious attack that resulted in five men pleading guilty to armed violence and receiving prison sentences as long as six years. The long history of violence between white supremacists and self-described “anti-fascists” also includes the 1998 murder of two anti-racist skinheads in a neo-Nazi plot. The latest incident has some anti-racists asking how things could have been different. It also underscores the challenge law enforcement faces in preventing such violence.
The number of antigovernment “Patriot” groups on the American radical right hit an all-time high in 2012, the fourth straight year of explosive growth, according to a report released today by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). As the new year began, serious talk of gun control, prompted by a Connecticut school massacre in December, fueled even more rage on the right, and the threat of violence loomed .
The new report, contained in the latest issue of the quarterly investigative journal Intelligence Report, found that the conspiracy-minded Patriot groups, which numbered only 149 in 2008, soared over the first four years of Barack Obama’s presidency to 1,360 in 2012 — an astounding 813% increase. At the same time, it found that hate groups remained at near-record levels of over 1,000 (see interactive map and state-by-state lists of 2012 hate groups here).
The resurgence of militias and other Patriot groups and an uptick over recent years in non-Islamic domestic terrorism caused SPLC President Richard Cohen today to write (letter pdf) U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to request the creation of a new interagency task force to assess the adequacy of federal resources devoted to the threat. “As in the period before the  Oklahoma City bombing,” Cohen wrote, “we are now seeing ominous threats from those who believe that the government is poised to take their guns.” ( continue to full post… )
When Wade Michael Page strode into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and began to kill, it was the culmination of more than a decade in the neo-Nazi movement. The best evidence suggests that Page came to his racist beliefs while serving at a North Carolina Army base that was then a hotbed of white supremacist activity — beliefs that were further honed by years on the white power music scene.
The Southern Poverty Law Center today released the latest issue of its investigative magazine Intelligence Report, and its cover story analyzes the background and ideological development of Page, who murdered six people and wounded four others last August before putting a bullet in his own head. An accompanying sidebar details the modern history of right-wing extremism in the American military, and a related editorial traces the growth of political violence aimed at Muslims.
“Wade saw the military as a transformational time in his life,” one expert who was also a personal acquaintance of Wade told the Intelligence Report. “He always said, ‘If you don’t go in the military a racist, you’re sure to leave as one.’”
Other stories in the newly released Report: ( continue to full post… )
Steve Klein, the leader of a California hate group, says that Islam is a “penis-driven religion” whose followers have “no choice but to hunt Jews and Christians down, torture us and murder us.”
Klein of Hemet, Calif., who has a long history of ties to militant Christian organizations, has been identified as one of the brains behind the anti-Muslim film that triggered violence in northern Africa, including a rocket attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the murder of Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya. ( continue to full post… )
Steve Klein, who served as a consultant for the Islam-bashing film that sparked the deadly assault on a U.S. Consulate in Libya, is a longtime religious-right activist who has helped train paramilitary militias at a secretive church in California.
Four American citizens, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed by mobs enraged by the depiction of the prophet Muhammad in the film “Innocence of Muslims” produced by Sam Bacile, a California real estate developer.
Klein is a Marine veteran who served in the Vietnam War and is based in Hemet, Calif. He believes that his state is riddled with Muslim Brotherhood sleeper cells “who are awaiting the trigger date and will begin randomly killing as many of us as they can,” according to an article in the Spring 2012 issue of the SPLC Intelligence Report. ( continue to full post… )
Are U.S.-born vigilantes murdering Latino immigrants near the U.S.-Arizona border?
The Southern Poverty Law Center today released its latest issue of the Intelligence Report, and the magazine’s cover story sifts through some of the evidence suggesting that undocumented immigrants may have been killed by nativist extremists in Arizona.
While the story is not conclusive, it cites internal law enforcement documents focusing on the murders of four people in two 2007 incidents near Eloy, Ariz., that say that “[i]t appears that the same group of individuals is working in concert to intentionally kill IAs [illegal aliens].” The story also examines the remarkably similar murders of two people this April in the same remote area of the state. ( continue to full post… )