May 29, 2007

Sharing the hate

Video-sharing websites become extremist venue

Los Angeles blacks are destroying property and attacking white people as a soft, pitiful ballad plays in the background. Then, about two minutes into the video, the words "Whose Freedom?" appear as a still frame of a young, smiling German girl at a Third Reich rally suddenly replaces the footage of the 1992 Rodney King riots. A man wearing a swastika armband stands protectively behind her, his head cropped from the frame, while the words, "A paradise lost," scroll down beneath her chin. Finally, a message, "Save the White Race," fills the screen before dissolving into a Celtic cross encircled by the phrase, "White Pride World Wide."

NSM International, a recruiting arm of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, produced this video, probably at a cost of just a few dollars. But despite its amateurish nature, its makers are getting a big bang for their buck, thanks to YouTube, the red-hot video-sharing website that allows anyone with a camera phone or digital camcorder to upload for free their videos. The NSM video is now available to millions of people.

Welcome to the latest medium for the American radical right — one more electronic venue that seems particularly suited for recruitment of the young. Since it was founded in February 2005, YouTube, along with competitors like Flickr and Google Video, has become hugely popular, especially among the young. YouTube alone streams hundreds of millions of clips daily to a global audience, with its users posting more than 65,000 new videos to its swollen archives every day. And while extremist clips like the NSM recruitment video are only a tiny percentage of those posts, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists are close on the heels of the commercial advertisers now rushing to exploit this still-burgeoning medium.

"Increasingly, the Internet is replacing membership groups as the primary way for white supremacists to obtain information and communicate," asserts a January report on the white supremacist movement by Strategic Forecasting Incorporated, an intelligence analysis think tank. "Adherents regularly establish their presence on popular Web destinations such as MySpace and YouTube."

As of mid-January, roughly 12,000 white supremacist propaganda videos, hate rock concert highlight reels, and Holocaust denial pseudo-documentaries, many of them posted anonymously, were openly available on video-sharing websites. (This estimate was derived through keyword searches of the three leading sites and an analysis of how many were extremist, rather than merely mentioning extremism.) One of the most popular videos, "Branik White Power," is a poor-quality depiction of skinheads gone wild, set to roaring hate rock. The high-speed montage depicts Nazi skins dancing violently in the "mosh pit" near the stage, throwing punches, waving "SS" flags, and showing off white-power tattoos. Since it was posted by YouTube user "bulldog88" in May 2006, it has been downloaded more than 40,000 times.

Some of the most noxious videos are more reserved in their approach, such as "The Real David Duke," which has the former Klan leader pontificating on race relations for nine minutes and which has been viewed more than 10,000 times since it was posted last October. Another example, is "David Irving on the Holocaust," a five-and-a-half-minute excerpt of a speech by the notorious Holocaust denier in Britain that's been downloaded over 4,000 times during the same time period.

The Irving video was posted to YouTube last October by "Hadden88" ("88" is neo-Nazi code for "Heil Hitler"), who has compiled his own YouTube "channel" of 79 videos, most of them anti-Semitic mini-"documentaries" and speeches by hate peddlers like Irving, National Alliance founder William Pierce, and Adolf Hitler.

Other popular YouTube racist videos include a series of six "White Nationalist News" clips, the earliest episode dated last Sept. 8, some of which have been viewed more than 3,000 times; "Ku Klux Klan – A Secret History," posted in September, and its accompaniment "Ku Klux Klan 4-Ever," posted in December, each viewed over 11,000 times; "Nazi KKK," posted in October and viewed 15,000 times; "Russian skinheads. We are here," posted in December and viewed over 45,000 times; and "Skinhead" posted in November and viewed 132,000 times.

Video-sharing may be a particularly effective way for extremist groups, which have long sought ways to find new recruits, to connect with young people. You-Tube and its imitators are immensely popular among children, teenagers and young adults, and sometimes a single video will be downloaded literally millions of times. In addition, compared to direct-mail literature or dead-of-night "literature drops" on people's lawns, posting video footage is vastly less difficult, expensive, risky and time-consuming — and it can be done anonymously with virtually no effort.

Videos can also easily be used to create a false image. While back-country Klan cross-burnings, warehouse hate rock festivals, and neo-Nazi park rallies may draw only a handful of supporters, a crafty amateur filmmaker can edit or exploit camera angles to foster the illusion of a much larger and more dramatic event.

NSM, for example, posted a YouTube video last October depicting their August rally in Madison, Wis. A couple of dozen NSM members, dressed like Nazi storm troopers, seig-heil enthusiastically as the speaker rails: "Pedro go home! White America was founded by white Americans for white Americans! We will not allow our nation to become brown!" The camera lingers lovingly on the snappy accessories and stern gazes of the NSM, creating in the minds of some electronic visitors the impression of a polished, powerful show. But what the footage doesn't show is hundreds of booing, jeering anti-racist protesters right across the street.

Questioned last December by the Intelligence Report about NSM videos on YouTube, NSM Commander Jeff Schoep claimed: "The effectiveness of the NSM and its growth speaks for itself. We use many tools." Schoep also complained that civil rights groups were pressuring YouTube to remove "all so-called racist content."

Actually, YouTube already bans "hate speech," defined as "slurs or the malicious use of stereotypes intended to attack or demean a particular gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or nationality." But the sheer volume of video files posted to the site each day makes it practically impossible to police all content. As a result, particular videos are normally only removed as a result of a user complaint.

"We remove the offending content and send users a warning notice for violating our terms of use," says Jennifer Nielsen, marketing manager for YouTube. "Users who repeatedly violate our terms of use have their accounts terminated, all of their videos removed and they are permanently banned from YouTube."

Racist extremists are hardly likely to be deterred by such mild consequences, particularly because most live in countries with criminal penalties for possession or distribution of such Internet propaganda. By using American video-sharing websites, foreign extremists like Germany's National Democratic Party (NPD) make it vastly more difficult for legal action to be brought against them in their own countries.

The NPD, a neofascist political party, frequently posts newscasts of Hitler memorials and Holocaust-denying speeches on U.S.-based video sharing sites. Last December, for example, after the NPD posted glowing reports on YouTube of a highly publicized conference of Holocaust deniers hosted by Iran, the British paper The Independent described YouTube as "a favorite neo-Nazi website."

While YouTube operators now have scrubbed the site for those NPD videos, more than 350 other NPD clips are still available on YouTube, and the party recently announced plans to launch its own video-sharing website, based in America. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, would be proud.


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