HBO Program Tracks Hate Groups
Monday, October 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
News On 6
NEW YORK (AP) â€” Check your stereotypes at the door. The best place to find purveyors of racial hate isn't in the back room of some service station in Alabama or Mississippi.
It's on the Internet, a fact outlined with chilling dispassion on the new HBO documentary, ``Hate.com: Extremists on the Internet.'' It premieres Monday at 10 p.m. EDT.
The documentary explores an online racist subculture, tracing its members to many of the notorious acts of domestic terrorism during the past decade.
``The film is depressing in the sense that it really paints a gloomy picture of what's out there on the Web,'' said Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. ``But I think that's necessary to do something about it.''
Dees, whose organization has gone to court in an effort to bankrupt white supremacist organizations, was contacted by filmmakers to help provide information on hate groups. He grew so involved he became the film's narrator.
Starting from scratch five years ago, there are now between 300 and 500 racial hate Web sites operating now, Dees said.
The first one was stormfront.com, and its operator, Don Black, is described at the ``Godfather of hate on the Internet.'' Black almost gleefully describes in the film how inexpensive and easy the medium is, while providing the anonymity many users require.
Black's 11-year-old son, Derek, has started his own Web site for children. The site lets people click onto versions of the popular video game ``Doom,'' where players kill black characters.
These Web sites help leaders of the movement recruit young, educated members, Dees said.
``These are not tobacco-chewing, pot-bellied Klansmen from the Deep South,'' he said. ``You're talking about college-educated, clever people.''
Just as Rotary Clubs are finding that people are less willing to meet in groups these days, so is the Klan, Dees said. But with the Web, ``they're able to create a virtual organization,'' he said.
``Hate.com'' introduces viewers to the leaders of these movements, including the glib World Church of the Creator founder Matt Hale and William L. Pierce, leader of the National Alliance.
Pierce's 1978 book, ``The Turner Diaries,'' a fictional account of an American race war, was a favorite of both Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Bill King, one of three white men convicted of dragging James Byrd to his death behind a pickup truck.
In one of the film's most effective moments, Pierce reads a passage from his book describing the dazed faces of bombing victims, while the screen shows footage of shocked people injured in Oklahoma City.
Filmmakers Vince DiPersio and William Guttentag include interviews with movement leaders and figures like Joseph Paul Franklin, a convicted mass murderer who talks candidly from jail about killing two women because they said they were interested in dating black men.
A woman, Brandi Houston, proudly displays her white supremacist tattoo and talks crudely of sending blacks to Africa â€” a first step toward an effort to conquer the world ``and make the whole world white.''
The interviews are conveyed without a tone of moral judgment.
``If it's too strident and condemning, then it comes across as being polemic,'' Dees said. ``In cases we've used in the past, we usually let these people hang themselves by letting them tell their own stories.''
So why do they participate in the first place, knowing that 99 percent of viewers are going to be repulsed by what they see?
Dees said these leaders don't care what those viewers think. But if they can reach someone who responds to their words, just one loner like McVeigh, then they consider it a success.
Despite the earlier nonjudgmental tone, Dees is blunt at the end of the film in describing how the ultimate goals of these organizations ``are to plunge the country into a bloody race war, and to rip our country apart from within.''
Dees is planning to launch a Web site, www.tolerance.org, that will shine a light on their activies. HBO is also developing a cyberspace campaign, ``Hate Hurts,'' that will present personal experiences about the impact of hate on people's lives.
``I think it's important that parents know so they can take some steps to make sure their kids don't get sucked up in this stuff,'' he said.
But he doesn't side with people who want to find a way to censor the Internet activity. It's impossible, he said. And in deciding whether or not to give attention to the people spreading these messages, he's reminded of the debates that used to go on in newsrooms about whether or not to cover Ku Klux Klan rallies.
``Not publicizing it is not going to make it go away,'' he said. ``It got there for a reason.''
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EDITOR'S NOTE â€” David Bauder can be reached at dbauder``at``ap.org