The high-tech propaganda machine of the Radical Right, the electronic bulletin board is being effectively utilized by fascists. For years, extremist groups across the political specturm have used bulletin board systems to recruit and organize followers. And BBSs operated by skinheads are actively promoting neo-Nazi ideology.
Skinheads emerged in the seventies with their steel-toed Doc Martens boots, swastika tattoos and their BBSs that spew the fascist line. They meet one another online, share information, plan events and these BBSs help skinheads turn ideology into action.
The American Front, another skinhead BBS located in San Francisco, home of the Bay Area Skinheads (BASH), carries several accounts under a file called "Hall of Fame Heroics":
--November 1988. The beating to death an Ethiopian immigrant with baseball bats, in Portland, Oregon.
--August 1987. Sacramento, California. The crucifixion of former White Student Union organizer Greg Withrow. "Palms up, pierced with no. 8 spiker nails," reads the police report. [The White Student Union is a white- supremacist group. Withrow, a former member who has openly denounced the white-supremacy movement, had his hands nailed to a plank and was slashed with a razor.]
--Summer 1987. Chicago, Illinois. The beating of a "turncoat" skinhead by Clark Martell, leader of Romantic Violence. [Romantic Violence is a skinhead faction. Martell sprayed the woman with mace, beat her until she bled, and then painted a swastika on her wall with her own blood.]
Besides the standard fare of racist rhetoric and violent fantasies, skinhead boards typically post phone numbers and addresses of "enemies" to harass, including Jewish business leaders and gay rights activists. Many boards offer practical advice for random violence, suggesting, for example, that beating homeless person with a baseball bat is more effective than setting his clothes on fire.
"We have debates, shares opinions, and network about what' s going on with the cause," says Mike Miller, the systems operator (SYCOP) of a popular neo-Nazi board located in Washington State. "It's just like any other BBS." Sure it is!
Miller's board recently hosted an online discussion about American hostages being held in the Middle East. Comments included a typical mix of racist violence: "If we'd destroy the Jews, there wouldn't be any need for sand niggers to take hostages. We should just wipe out the entire region with tactical nukes and show them what America can really do."
The same BBS regularly features online dialogue about strategies for ousting the current U.S. government (called ZOG, or Zionist Occupation Government) through armed rebellion, along with discussion of which "Jew- loving lawmakers" should be executed when the new order is installed.
Though skinhead BBSs spew more violence than other boards, their brand of racism isn't unique. The Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party, the Order (a neo-Nazi organization), and dozens of splinter groups and sympathizers have operated or currently operate bulletin boards. Knowledge of the Radical Right's use of microcomputer telecommunications first came to the forefront a few years ago, during the FBI's investigation of the Berg murder.
Berg hosted a late-night talk show on Denver's KOA radio. He had received several death threats from the group. On the evening of June 18, 1984, Berg was shot in the driveway of his Denver townhouse. Soon after the assassination, the FBI moved in to arrest several known members of the Order. When investigators learned that Robert Miles, one of the eventual defendants in the Berg murder case, was a "computer wizard," the FBI tracked his communications with other neo-Nazi groups. Later, by tapping Mile's modem line, they discovered an intricate network of Neo-Nazi BBSs.
The W.A.R. Board Neo-Nazi boards began springing up in the United States as early as 1984, when a loose coalition of BBSs went online in California, North Carolina, and Illinois. One of the earliest, the W.A.R. Board (an acronym for White Aryan Resistance), began in the semi-rural town of Fallbrook, California, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego.
Tom Metzger, a blue-collar entrepreneur who owns and operates television repair shop in Fallbrook, started the W.A.R. Board from his home in 1984 using a Commodore 64 and a 300 bps modem. Its single phone line was constantly busy, indicating the high demand for online white- supremacist material and the number of neo-Nazis with the technology to access such information.
Racist groups quickly hailed the W.A.R. Board as a technological breakthrough, which helped spawn Metzger's reputation as the technology godfather of the white-supremacy movement. Today, W.A.R. has more than 2,000 members, many of them are skinheads. He has become a figurehead, helping provide leadeship to the loosely strung movement.
Short and balding, Metzger is physically unimpressive, yet his prowess as a master of white-supremacist rhetoric is legendary. he hosts his own public-access TV interview show, "Race and Reason," a cable program currently broadcast in Atlanta, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Raleigh and other U.S. cities.
Metzger operates the latest W.A.R. Board on a multiuser 286-based AT clone with a 40MB hard disk running fidoNet software. (The developer of FidoNet, Bay-area resident Tom Jennings, regrets the group's use of his software. "I don't like them using FidoNet," Jennings recently complained, "but I suppose it's inevitable.") The W.A.R. Board claims links with several other skinhead and neo-Nazi boards across the country and hawks bumper stickers ("The Holocaust Is a Lie"), Aryan jewelry, and videotapes of Metzger's TV show. It maintains several layers of password security, making whole parts of the board accessible only to those who know Metzger personally. Most skinhead BBSs are networked via customized versions of FidoNet software. They use electronic mail systems and other sophisticated software.
Police linked a skinhead BBS operating in Gaithersburg, Maryland, to the December 1988 deaths of four teenagers in nearby Bethesda. The youths died from the explosion of a homemade bomb. According to police reports, a 17-year-old SYSOP was arrested in connection with a separate pipe-bomb blast. The investigation led police officials to the youth's home, whee they found a BBS that contained several files for making bombs. "We also found an array of bomb-making chemicals, files containing the formulas for making the bombs, and a printout with the names of about 1,100 other users." Among the materials seized, investigators found several references to skinheads in other states, though many of the names were aliases.
Chicago Area Skinheads (CASH) have ties to Detroit Area Skinheads (DASH) and the Confederate Hammer Skins of Dallas. The Dallas faction is networked with groups in Wisconsin and Oklahoma City. "This is a Klan without robes," declares Leonard Zeskind, the research director for the Center for Democratic Renewal, an Atlanta, Georgia-based nonprofit outfit dedicated to opposing racist organizations. He notes that electronic networks represent a high-tech twist on the early white-sheet days of the Ku Klux Klan.
Computer communications may be a more effective propaganda tool than printed materials. Unlike traditional extremist groups that rely on newsletters, skinheads are discovering that BBSs political organizations helping them reach nonskinhead neo-Nazis who might balk at openly associating with them.
A BBS lets whole groups of people share in a dialogue, a capability missing from newsletters and voice-recording systems. BBSs also offer the affinity that comes from belonging to a community, as any user group does.
The Center for Democratic Renewal estimates that 3,500 skinheads in the United States identify themselves as racist today, compared with only 300 three years ago. The W.A.R. Board's Tom Metzger scoffs at complaints that the movement is steeped in violence. "It's so overrated, I can't believe anyone buys into it," he says. "If the Jew-run newspapers would dig a little into the Baptist church, they'd find a higher percentage of crime among those church members than they would among skinheads." Metzger places tremendous faith in technology to further his cause. "Electronic media is the only way to get to the white working class," he suggested recently."
The right wing, and especially the utlra, racist, right wing utilizes technology and the First Amendment very effectively. We must begin to harness the information age to counter their hateful and dangerous fascist message. We must explain through various progressive echo conferences and networks that ours is a humane, anti-racist, pro-justice, multi-racial position. The information age is upon us; it has been for some time, and we are just now catching up. But networks like peacenet, nytransfer news, NYOL and others are not enough by themselves to provide an opposition to imperialism and class oppression. It takes all of us. We have at our disposal the ability to communicate, to present ideas that for some may appear subversive because they have been spoon fed ideas about dissent, which is in itself anti- American. Dissent is the mortar which binds a democracy together. It is essential to have a plurality in a democracy. We haven't had that in a long time. And that is what we're about; that is what the left is saying today, that we are a valid pro- democratic opposition. The mainstream press will not present a balance because they are responsive to their commercial advertisers and their bosses. We have no such restraints. If we point out what is wrong with America is it not because we hate America, it is because we love America and want a better world for our children and for us. It is because we care about truth and when the truth has been injured we will attempt to cure it. When fascists push their brand of intolerance, racism, and law and order without also curing the causes of crime, and they claim that is a working man's position they are the ones subverting social justice and the truth. There is class struggle going on and the rich keep getting richer, while everyone else loses. And it is counter productive and unjust to scapegoat, to blame the Jews, the Blacks, the gangs, the communists, the anarchists, the gays or anyone else for this mess we're in. We have been in this mess for longer than anyone has been alive because we allow people to exploit other people for gain. The Left, if it has one universal message, it is humane and it is, PEOPLE BEFORE PROFITS.
Hank Roth, moderator P_NEWS echomail conference