A Move to the Internet

With the explosion of the Internet in the 1990s, the face of hate activity changed.

Brian Levin, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and the director of the Center on Hate & Extremism of the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, testified in congressional hearings on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act that today’s “hatemongers follow a different script than their civil rights era predecessors. They use computers and bombs.”

While the use of bombs leaves little question as to criminal culpability, what constitutes a criminal use of computers in spreading hatred has been anything but clear. Debates persist over whether “hate speech” on the Internet is an unlawful act or a matter of free speech.

image An increased number of websites are devoted to monitoring and exposing hate groups, leaders and activities to help curb violence.

However, one black and white area of criminal activity that emerged in recent years is violation of copyright law – accomplished by illegally copying and distributing religious scriptures on the Internet as a sort of “virtual invasion” of religious territory, and which courts have repeatedly determined falls outside the boundaries of free speech.

California resident Keith Henson, one of a loosely organized anti-religious hate faction that congregates in Internet chat rooms and bulletin boards, was assessed $75,000 in damages in 1998 by a federal court for willful copyright infringement – perhaps the highest individual damage award ever handed down for a single copyright infringement in history. Henson, who is linked to the anti-religious Skeptics Society like some who were involved in the former CAN, had already gained some notoriety for his passion for detonating bombs before he took up copyright terrorism of religion on the Internet. His violent behavior led to a “stay away” order from a Los Angeles court to protect a religious worker. In September 2000 he was charged with violation of an anti-terrorism statute for threats to use weapons of mass destruction on a religious facility.

Another copyright case of the 1990s which resulted in a federal ruling protecting religion involved Arnaldo P. Lerma, who has been linked to the Utopian Anarchist Party (UAP) – a group which praised the two young gunmen who left 15 dead at Columbine High School in Colorado as “young revolutionaires” and published a “salute” to the two killers, positively recognizing them for their act of violence and murder. Lerma has also served on the Board of Policy of Liberty Lobby, founded and controlled by Willis Carto – a man described by Yaron Svoray of the Simon Weisenthal Center as “the most notorious Nazi in the world.”