After Knife Attack, British Seek U.S. Help to Shutter Website
British authorities are reportedly in talks with the Department of Justice in an effort to shut down a U.S.-based website called Redwatch that compiles photographs and personal information about anti-racist activists, trade unionists and even members of Parliament. Politicians have blamed the site for providing information used to launch several attacks on so-called "traitors," including the near blinding of one man.
The site is registered to the violent British neo-Nazi group, Combat 18, and is said by British authorities to be run by two British men and one American. While it does not explicitly call for attacks on its targets, its motto makes its ultimate intent clear: "Remember places, traitor's faces, they'll all pay for their crimes."
The site, which was the target of an anti-racist campaign in 2004, came under renewed scrutiny this spring, when union official Alec McFadden was assaulted shortly after his photo and home address were featured on Redwatch. An unknown man came to McFadden's doorstep in May and used a knife to slash his head, face and arms in front of his two young daughters.
Under British law, the site could be shut down easily if it were based on servers there. But because it is housed on U.S. servers, the First Amendment makes it difficult to censor unless it crosses the line into explicit criminal incitement.
Still, opponents of Redwatch, including some members of Parliament, were heartened this June, when they learned that U.S. law enforcement had helped block a Polish version of the site, also based on U.S. servers, from reaching Poland. Polish officials asked for American help after the May stabbing of a man in Warsaw who had been featured on the site.
It's unclear whether Redwatch could be shut down by legal action in the United States. Case law suggests that it is extremely difficult to close down websites or other types of publications that contain information such as that carried on Redwatch. But there are some favorable precedents. In a civil case filed in 1998 by Planned Parenthood against anti-abortion extremists, a federal appeals panel upheld a decision in the so-called "Nuremberg Files" case, where a Georgia-based site featured photographs and personal information about doctors and others involved in abortion. The site was judged to amount to a "true threat" and ordered closed.