Hate Website Stormfront Sees Rapid Growth of Neo-Nazi Community
Stormfront grows a thriving neo-Nazi community
By T.K. Kim
With Stormfront growing every day, a larger question has developed: What does it mean for the movement?
The site is very unlike a traditional hate group. There is no formal hierarchy, even though Black and Kelso run the site, and no charismatic leader issues orders. That's one reason that Devin Burghart, who analyzes hate groups for the Center for New Community in Chicago, doesn't think that Stormfront has the potential to be much more than a sounding board for angry racists. He also points out that for every white supremacist kept busy posting messages on his or her computer screen, there is one less person available to be out in the neighborhoods organizing.
Other experts see some organizing possibilities.
"While you can certainly build a community online, it [only] thrives with face-to-face interaction," said John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. "Starting with the Internet, however, might not be a terrible idea."
That's what Joe Trippi did. As the first manager of the presidential campaign of Howard Dean, he raised immense sums and also got people out of their homes and into the campaign — all via the Internet. "What you've got to do, is you have to have two-way communication," Trippi explained in an interview. "It's the bond, to be able to talk to each other about you, that is important."
David Weinberger, who served as senior Internet advisor under Trippi and is now a fellow at the Berkman Center, agreed. "The left and the right can do the same thing," he told the Intelligence Report. "The Net can do the same thing for racists as it did for the Dean campaign. Treating your readers not as readers but as participants is a really good way of creating community and getting supporters."
There are already some signs that Stormfront's cyber-community may be developing, at least in some places, into physical community. Earlier this year, a group of members got together in San Diego for the first time.
"We just talked about whatever came to mind for three and a half hours or so," one wrote afterward. "We all want to start doing this on a regular basis in order to foster camaraderie and group cohesion. ... We wish to have larger and larger numbers of people coming out with each successive get-together."
The event, another wrote back, "is only the beginning for bigger and better things to come. Eventually, there will be political organization and activity."
All this is music to Jamie Kelso.
"You always want to paint your opponents in the worst possible light," Kelso said of antiracist activists and other Stormfront detractors. "That becomes hard to do when an organization reaches large numbers. It's not plausible to say hundreds of thousands of people are nuts. We're striving to be seen as our own kind of mainstream, and that we're not kooky."
The recent successes of Stormfront have been, as Trippi would say, "viral." More than 70 people a day are joining the forum, and although some are mere tourists or even antiracist researchers, huge numbers are potential true believers. If Black and Kelso continue to succeed — if Stormfront members increasingly come out from behind their computer monitors and get into the streets — it could turn out that the forum becomes one of the real pillars of American radicalism. Kelso, always the optimist, predicts reaching a membership of 500,000 by 2010.
That is probably unrealistic. But the possibility has veterans of the Internet and the world of real competitive politics worried. "I'd hate to think," Trippi says, "what Hitler could've done with the Internet."