Powerful, U.S.-based shortwave radio stations are broadcasting extremist propaganda around the world.
EL RODEO, Costa Rica -- Emanating from half a dozen shortwave radio stations scattered around the United States, the angry shouts and slurs of radical Americans are being beamed around the world — to Japanese fishermen, Australian businessmen and untold millions of other people.
As people around the globe turn the knobs on their shortwave radios, hate speech — everything from the homophobic savagery of a 17-year-old Georgia boy to the calls for revolution of a neo-Nazi West Virginian — is more and more difficult to avoid. And the vast majority of these broadcasts are coming from America.
Turn the tuning knob once or twice. Coming in clearly from WWCR in Nashville, Tenn., anti-Semitic Colorado preacher Pete Peters is shouting. "The Bible," Peters thunders, "says it's okay to kill homosexuals."
Or tune in to WBCQ, the Maine station that began broadcasting shortwave a few years ago under the motto, "Peace, Love and Understanding." Tonight, Hal Turner is on.
"Some of these lazy-ass Latinos have got a lot of nerve," Turner hisses in a broadcast with a potential audience in the millions. "It's bad enough that a whole bunch of them are slithering across the border with wet backs and then bringing their savage, Third World ways to the streets of civilized America. But then once some of them get acclimated and assimilated, then they turn around and start saying that we should adapt to their view.
"Well, I'm sorry... . America thrives because we rejected the Third World savagery, the Third World muck from which these people slithered, and I see no reason why we should adopt their policy."
A Valentine to the World
Extremists in the last 20 years have increasingly taken to new forms of communication to get their messages out to the widest possible audience.
In the 1980s, they began broadcasting on cable television, using local access laws to get racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic broadcasts aired. Soon, they were convincing large numbers of AM and FM stations to carry similar broadcasts, often for free.
It wasn't long before they went international on the Internet, putting up World Wide Web pages that could be accessed from points around the globe.
And they discovered shortwave.
In 1991, Tom Valentine apparently became the first American to use shortwave for far-right programming, kicking off a show that was broadcast from a studio in Clearwater, Fla., and underwritten by The Spotlight newspaper, a weekly published by the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby.
Although Valentine tended toward the conspiratorial rather than race, he also hosted anti-Semites like Eustace Mullins and Willis Carto, who founded Liberty Lobby in 1955. Valentine's show, which was often featured in The Spotlight and was successful in gaining a sizable audience, soon convinced other far-right luminaries to go to shortwave.
By 1993, a dozen far-right talk show hosts were buying airtime on three high-power shortwave stations. Two years later, in 1995, 28 far-right hosts were buying some 560 hours of airtime a month. Today, an estimated 1,100 hours are sold every month to the radical right.
Half the World is Listening
The potential audience is enormous. In January, Groupe France Telecom, the telecommunications arm of the French government, estimated that 2.5 billion people worldwide listen to shortwave radio on 1 billion receivers, with more than 200 million tuned in at any given moment.
"Shortwave," the agency concluded, "remains the only means of reaching a broad audience anywhere in the world."
Unlike the Internet, which requires an expensive computer, shortwave can be accessed with a $50 receiver almost anywhere — on the high seas, for instance, or in countries and regions where there is no Internet access.
And while some radio-based extremists use the Internet to audio stream their shows (a format similar to radio), only a few hundred listeners generally are able to access Net-based shows at any given moment. With shortwave, there are no limits on listenership.
And the fact is, people do listen. Around the world, English has become the leading language of international culture and commerce, and literally millions of people are studying the language — often by listening to shortwave broadcasts from America.
Also, listeners in countries under authoritarian regimes frequently tune into U.S. broadcasts hoping to hear objective news coverage. But thanks to confusing program titles, many of these listeners may find themselves deceived.
Consider the names of eight broadcasts that have been beamed worldwide: "American Dissident Voices," "American Sovereign," "Radio Free America," "Radio Free Europe," "Radio Liberty," "Sweet Liberty," "The Voice of Liberty" and "Voice of America."
Three of them — "Radio Free Europe," "Radio Liberty" and "Voice of America" — are sponsored by the U.S. government. The others, including Valentine's "Radio Free America," are far-right-wing programming.
Getting Ready to 'Rumble'
Sometimes, that programming can be scary.
"His next job was to put Super Glue gel around the outside of the PVC tubes and press in the stopper," survivalist Kurt Saxon said on WWCR not long before the Oklahoma City bombing, reading from his own fictional story.
"By the next day, the water was evaporated from the match head mixture, and he scraped it off the bow and powdered it with the bottom of a spoon." Saxon continued on with his story, spelling out, in effect, a very detailed recipe for making certain kinds of bombs.
The listeners who called in the following week made it clear this hadn't been merely a shortwave literary exercise — they wanted to know where to buy iodine crystals.
Then there's Steve Anderson, broadcasting on his United Patriot Radio, an illegal station that emanates from somewhere in the hills of Tennessee in defiance of the Federal Communications Commission, the body that regulates radio stations.
"Let's talk about weapons — it's Weapons Wednesday." Anderson, who has been making threats against the federal government from his clandestine location, said on the air one day this June.
"You guys wanna play? Well, I'll tell you what. I urge everybody out there to join the Chinese underground, buy an SKS [a Chinese semi-automatic rifle], 2,000 rounds of ammunition... . You can do a real job at 300 yards with iron sights, no problem. They are in deep doo-doo, brothers and sisters."
"Let's get ready to rumble." Mark, From Michigan State Prison
Overall, there are 21 U.S.-licensed, non-governmental shortwave stations and one illegal pirate — Anderson's United Patriot Radio (UPR). Of these, seven have broadcast far-right programming using high-power transmitters capable of reaching around the globe in the right weather conditions.
They are WWFV in McCaysville, Ga., which has carried William Pierce; WWCR in Nashville, which has featured a wide variety of extremists; WBCQ in Monticello, Maine, carrying Hal Turner; WHRA/WHRI in South Bend, Ind., which has aired radicals like homophobe Pete Peters and militia enthusiast Jack McLamb but now tends to tamer conspiratorial fare; WRMI in Miami, which has had on anti-Semitic pastor Robert Hallstrom; WINB in Red Lion, Penn., which has carried the anti-gay Battle Cry Sounding group; and UPR, which has offered up hard-liner James Wickstrom, the former "director of counterinsurgency" for the violent and anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus.
UPR has also been the venue of one of the more remarkable aspects of radical shortwave radio — broadcasts from inside the walls of America's penal institutions. Mark Koernke, the militia propagandist who became famous as "Mark from Michigan," was sentenced in April to three years in prison for fleeing and assaulting police. But prison hasn't seemed to slow him down.
"There are millions, tens of millions, of us out there, people," Koernke, speaking from a pay phone in his cell block, told militia enthusiasts in a show broadcast by UPR on June 23. "We need to double that number, and it's not that hard to do. Everybody's feeling the cold fist of Big Brother now. Aren't they? ... God bless the republic, death to the New World Order!"
"And that," concluded the studio engineer, "was Mark Koernke from the state prison here in Michigan. We will try to have another tape tomorrow."
'Spreading the Word'
Like other communications media, shortwave radio also has the potential for fund raising. Brother R.G. Stair, the self-proclaimed "prophet" of the radio program "The Overcomer," is carried on five U.S.-based stations and specializes in anti-gay rhetoric from his base in Walterboro, N.C.
Stair, who has urged people to leave the city, sell their possessions and join him, claims to spend $55,000 a month on fees to broadcast shortwave and other radio programs. While it's not clear if he really spends that much, it is likely he raises large amounts via his programming.
Shortwave also attracts very little attention from the FCC, unlike other radio bands — another attraction for extremists. By the same token, outside of the operation of Radio For Peace International in Costa Rica, shortwave broadcasts receive very little attention from watchdog groups that do closely monitor the Internet.
All in all, shortwave radio has proven to be an increasingly important weapon in the arsenal of American extremists. It is inexpensive, global in reach and has a potential audience that dwarfs the Internet. And that has long been clear to one of the most extreme of them all, the neo-Nazi National Alliance's William Pierce.
"[T]he 100,000 of us who now gather each week can grow to a million, and then to 10 million," Pierce said not long after starting his "American Dissident Voices" shortwave radio show. "All we have to do is keep spreading the word."
James Latham is the co-founder of Radio For Peace International (RFPI), a shortwave station based outside El Rodeo, Costa Rica, since 1987. He is also the host of "Far Right Radio Review," a show that seeks to expose extremists and their hateful programming on shortwave radio. Surrounded by mango trees and the squawks of toucans, RFPI is staffed by Latham, four other employees, half a dozen interns and a small security force. An estimated 800,000 people hear the show.