Hate Website Stormfront Sees Rapid Growth of Neo-Nazi Community
At age 10, the oldest hate site on the Internet has used tact and political savvy to grow a thriving neo-Nazi community.
On most days, the man once labeled a "near genius" in a Time magazine article spends the bulk of his time in an office of the Mandeville, La., home of infamous white supremacist David Duke.
There, Jamie Kelso whips across Duke's hardwood floors on a wheeled office chair as he attends to his work: monitoring the burgeoning community of the racist Stormfront Web site on one of six different computers.
To the thousands of white supremacists who regularly visit Stormfront and its forum, Kelso is best known by his e-moniker, "Charles A Lindbergh." He signs off all his posts with a quote from Lindbergh, a well-known racist and anti-Semite: "We can have peace and security only as long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood."
"I admire the aviator so much, " Kelso says.
The aviator, were he still alive, might well admire Kelso. As Stormfront celebrates its 10th birthday — the first major hate site on the Internet, it was created by former Alabama Klan leader Don Black in 1995 — Kelso has much to be proud of. In the three years he's been a senior moderator of the site, it has grown from fewer than 10,000 registered users to, as of mid-June, an astounding 52,566. And while many thousands of that ever-growing total probably haven't visited in years, independent Web monitors recently ranked Stormfront the 338th largest electronic forum on the Internet, putting it easily into the top 1% of all sites on the World Wide Web.
Black and Kelso have created something more than just another hate site that draws people for a few months, then fades for lack of interest. Using everything from good manners to "white scholarships" to such catchy gimmicks as highlighting its members' birthdays, these two men have built something that very few people on the entire Internet have — a genuine and very large cyber-community. That they did it at a time when major neo-Nazi groups are on the decline is merely icing.
"Without a doubt," Bob DeMarais, a former staff member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance (see related story), wrote recently, "Stormfront is the most powerful active influence in the White Nationalist movement."
Want to find the latest headlines on black-on-white crime? Go to Stormfront. New developments in the National Alliance's leadership woes? Go to Stormfront. Details of yet another nefarious Jewish conspiracy? Go to Stormfront.
Stormfront's recent growth spurt is only the beginning, Kelso says. He and Black share a larger goal, one that their friend Duke also tried with a fair measure of success — establishing real legitimacy in the realm of public opinion.
Fade to Black
It began with Don Black.
Going back to high school, Black had always been one of the more enthusiastic proponents of white power. One of his first forays into the organized movement was in the 1970s, when he volunteered for the late white supremacist J.B. Stoner's unsuccessful run for governor of Georgia.
That was until Stoner's campaign manager, Jerry Ray, the brother of Martin Luther King Jr. assassin James Earl Ray, shot him in the chest. The shooting apparently stemmed from accusations that Black had broken into Stoner's office to steal a mailing list for the National Socialist White People's Party.
After recovering, Black went on to join the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the group headed by Duke in the 1970s. Working on Duke's unsuccessful campaign for Louisiana state senate, Black won Duke's trust, moving up to become his mentor's right-hand man. When Duke left the group amid allegations that he'd tried to sell its membership list to another Klan group for $35,000, Black took over.
But Black quickly got into trouble himself. In 1981, he and nine other white supremacists were arrested as they prepared to board a yacht with which they intended to invade the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica, oust its black-run government, and transform it into a "white state."
Black's resulting three-year prison sentence was time well spent. He took classes in computer programming that would provide the basis for his future.
Not long after his release, Black launched an abysmally unsuccessful campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Alabama. He wound up marrying Duke's ex-wife, Chloe, and moving to West Palm Beach, Fla. Once there, he began dabbling with his computer, eventually setting up a dial-up bulletin board service for the radical right. By March 1995, that service evolved into Stormfront, the Net's best-known hate site.
Black saw clearly that with this new technology, white supremacists might finally bypass the mainstream media and political apparatus, getting their message out to people who otherwise would never hear it — people who now could listen in the privacy of their own homes without fear of embarrassment or reproach. "The potential of the Net for organizations and movements such as ours is enormous," Black told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1996. "We're reaching tens of thousands of people who never before had access to our point of view."
Being the first of its kind helped Stormfront win enormous publicity. Black and his site were written up in newspapers around the country and the world, and he frequently appeared on major network news shows like abc's "Nightline," where, clad in suit and tie, he talked politely about allowing people access to information not filtered by the "media monopoly." Though he undoubtedly turned off many viewers, each major TV appearance led to a spike in visitors to Stormfront.
This Just In
Like a morning roll call, the posts pour in each day. Below the Stormfront motto, "White Pride World Wide," links to news stories with a racial angle light up the page, complete with headlines home-crafted by the members.
"Mestizo Rapes White Woman in Elevator," shouts one.
"Negro Man Stabs Elderly Woman, Shoots Detective, Negroes Screaming 'Police Brutality,'" another breathlessly reports.
And the list goes on.
But one thing you won't normally find on Stormfront are racial slurs. In fact, new members are explicitly warned not to use such language, and also not to post violent threats or anything describing illegal activity. Black clearly has modeled his site on some of the tactics used by Duke, who famously urged his Klan followers to "get out of the cow pasture and into hotel meeting rooms." As Black once told a reporter, "We don't use the 'n-----, n-----' type of approaches."
When New Jersey neo-Nazi Hal Turner began posting incendiary comments this March about a federal judge whose family was murdered, he was rapidly excommunicated. "[T]hey are so afraid of rocking the ZOG [Zionist Occupation Government] boat that they scurry around behind the scenes censoring posts of folks who are strong enough to speak the plain truth," Turner fumed later.
It's not that Stormfront is about moderation — hardly. The talk is all about the evils of African Americans, gay men and lesbians, non-white immigrants, and, above all, Jews, who are blamed for most of what's wrong in the world.
As pointed out by Cass Sunstein, the University of Chicago law professor who wrote the 2001 book republic.com, "Extremists and hate-filled sites tend to attract likeminded people who, if isolated, could come to their senses." Likeminded people talking to one another, Sunstein says, "tend to become more extremist."
But it's all done with a tone of simmering civility. "One of the things that Don Black does very well is he doesn't fit the stereotype of an angry man," Kelso proudly told the Intelligence Report in a lengthy interview recently. "Don is the most under-recognized giant in the whole white nationalist movement."
Kelso, who was featured in a 1960s Time article about teenagers in the Los Angeles suburbs, personifies the approach. Animated and cordial, he happily offers to set up a Stormfront account for an Intelligence Report writer. He exudes a kind of grandfatherly charm — the same charm that he exhibits in some of his postings, and in his tireless welcoming of new members to the Stormfront community.
It is, Kelso says, "a positive spiritual approach."
Stormfront — along with the many lesser radical forums on the Internet (see The Forums sidebar) — has always done better than the much more numerous hate Web pages.
Whereas typical hate sites function as one-way transfers of information — rather like a brochure posted in a grocery store that can be read but cannot be responded to — Stormfront has always been organized as a message board. Members can post opinions, listen to others respond, then post more feedback for all to read. The potential for dialogues to develop was built in — and, therefore, so was the potential to develop a genuine white supremacist cyber-community.
"The great power of the Internet is it allows people who don't know each other ... to connect with people with shared interests," says Howard Rheingold, an Internet theorist and author. "The shared interests might be that 'I have a kid with leukemia.' Or, 'I'm a Nazi.' It gives marginalized people more power."
Black and Kelso, both men who could put up a relatively clean-cut and civilized front, saw eye to eye on the possibilities.
So when Jamie Kelso joined Stormfront about three years ago, he successfully began pushing for leading movement writers — men like Sam Dickson, a leader of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, and Willis Carto, publisher of the Holocaust-denying journal The Barnes Review — to start posting.
That was just part of an effort to make the site more inclusive.
Although the forum has recently censored some posts critical of the National Alliance — a major neo-Nazi group undergoing an internal civil war — it generally has tried to maintain a relatively non-sectarian stance, making people from different sectors of the radical right feel welcome to join in. As Black once told a reporter for Newhouse News Service, "Anyone can work to promote our ideas without being a member of any organization. I used to be annoyed by people who didn't join my organization, but I see the advantage now."
Black and Kelso take care to avoid appearing dictatorial. One result is that the forum, within the bounds of the radical right, feels very democratic — a gathering of people with similar interests in what increasingly looks like a community.
Every member gets to choose a graphic to accompany their postings.
Little smiley faces and other signs abound. It's not unusual to spot two members using an animation where the faces toast with mugs of beer.
There is a list of birthdays of members on the main page. Birthday greetings are frequently exchanged, along with notes of consolation or encouragement.
There are essay contests and $2,000 scholarships for white kids.
And, to encourage the shy, Kelso frequently starts innocuous threads to get people to start joining in the conversation. "Where is Your Home?" Kelso asks at the head of one. Or, atop another, "What inspired your screen name?"
The results have been fairly spectacular. In January 2002, Stormfront had a mere 5,000 members. A year later, membership reached 11,000; and a year after that, in early 2004, it had 23,000. By January 2005, membership hit about 42,000, and it finally topped 52,000 this June. In the last year, a Kelso analysis showed, the site has been gaining an average of almost 500 new members every week.
That doesn't include the large numbers of those who simply read Stormfront postings without joining up (becoming a member allows one to post messages and also to view personal information posted by other members). All together, total traffic to the site gave it an Alexa Web monitor ranking this June of the 8,682nd most visited site on the Internet — a rank well above that of most civil rights sites.
Bob DeMarais, for one, sees Kelso as integral to Stormfront's success. "Jamie Kelso did much of the marketing and promotion responsible for Stormfront's recent growth spurt," DeMarais wrote recently. "Kelso has a knack for making new people feel welcome and getting them to start posting."
But Does It Matter?
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."