Registered users of the Internet’s largest white supremacist forum – dubbed “a magnet for the deadly and deranged” -- have carried out nearly 100 murders in the past five years, a group that tracks “hate groups” reported Thursday.
The report by the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center found users of Stormfront.org, which advocates “white power,” have been disproportionately responsible for some of the most deadly hate crimes and mass killings since the site’s founding in 1995.
“Stormfront is the murder capital of the racist Internet,” said Heidi Beirich, report author and Intelligence Project director. “It has been a magnet for the deadly and deranged."
About 1,800 registered members log on to the site daily -- more than half from outside the U.S., the report said. But this relatively small active group has been responsible for some of the deadliest hate crimes here and abroad, including the murder of 77 people, mostly teenagers, in Norway in 2011, accounting for the majority of the murders listed in the report. The count also includes the 2012 mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that left six dead.
The suspect in Sunday’s shooting outside two Jewish community centers in Kansas -- the most recent rampage based on the victims’ race, religion, sexual preference or membership in a particular group – had been blacklisted from Stormfront due to old disagreements with the site’s founder. He instead actively proselytized on a rival white power website.
In an interview with NBC News, Stormfront.org’s founder, Stephen Donald “Don” Black, called the SPLC report ludicrous.
“Anybody who comes on Stormfront and even suggests illegal violence ,they get shown the door,” he said. “I’m sure we’re stricter on that than Facebook or Twitter or Craigslist.”
“We have 286,000 registrations,” Black added. “The law of averages you’re going to have some people that lose it.”
The SPLC research, done over two years, bolsters the argument of some experts that the wide accessibility and anonymity of the Internet galvanizes those prone toward bias-related violence, particularly “lone wolves” who can seek out people who share radical ideas.
“The big difference between 1984 when I started and today is the Internet and the ability to reach a huge audience with very little effort,” David Gomez, a former FBI agent specializing in counterterrorism, told NBC News this week. “You can write one tweet and have it go viral within a matter of minutes."
“For a person who is merely looking for validation of his own beliefs, it’s a tremendous tool,” he added.
That validation is the given reason for the creation of Stormfront by Black, a former Alabama Ku Klux Klan leader, in 1995. The Florida man has said he envisioned the forum as place for those who believe they are part of the “embattled white minority” to come together.
“The potential of the Net for organizations and movements such as ours is enormous,” Black told a reporter in 1996. “We’re reaching tens of thousands of people who never before had access to our point of view.”
Black told NBC News that the website does the opposite of promoting violence.
“It’s the loner, the isolated person that feels he has to go out and do something,” said Black. “People that feel they are part of the community, which is what we provide, even if it’s just an online community, are more stable.”
The SPLC report argues just the opposite.
Not all of the homicides detailed in the report were hate crimes against particular racial, religious or other groups. In some cases, users of the site turned on family members or cops. But the SPLC argues that the perpetrators’ hate-filled postings on Stormfront presaged their murderous capabilities.
Traffic to Stormfront.org surged after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, according to an introduction on the site, which now has about 250,000 registered users and 9 million posts. Murders committed by Stormfront posters also accelerated after Obama’s 2009 inauguration, according to the SPLC.
Among the Stormfront users who have carried out violent attacks, according to the report:
• Anders Behring Breivik, who detonated a truck bomb in Oslo in July 2011 and then carried out a shooting spree at an island summer camp that left 69 people dead, most of them teenagers. He later told authorities he was retaliating against a government that allowed Norway to be “invaded” by Muslims. Breivik had posted to Stormfront for nearly three years before the killings, the SPLC found. A few hours before he exploded the truck in Oslo, he also mailed a racist manifesto to two other Stormfront users.
• Wade Michael Page, a white supremacist and Army veteran, shot six people and wounded four others in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August 2012 before taking his own life. The SPLC said he had been a registered Stormfront user for a decade.
• Richard Andrew Poplawski, 22, gunned down four Pittsburgh police officers in April 2009, killing three of them. The shooting spree came just hours he posted on Stormfront his concerns about changes in the logo of the Keystone State Skinheads. Poplawski had been active for nearly two years, the SPLC said, including posting pictures of his “Iron Eagle” Nazi tattoo in 2007.
Black, the site’s founder, has repeatedly denounced violence by the site’s users. In a 2012, for example, interview with a CBS affiliate, he said Page’s actions did not reflect the views of active users and were “counterproductive and hurts our cause.” The cause, as he routinely describes it, is to educate people “as to the threats we’re facing which we consider to be, literally, white genocide.”
Recent U.S. statistics show a slow decline in hate crime, with an overall decline of nearly a quarter from 1995 to 2012. An FBI tally counted 5,796 hate crime incidents resulting in 7,164 victims in 2012, down from 6,222 incidents the year prior.
But the shooting deaths of three people at two Jewish community centers in Kansas last weekend served as a reminder that the line between protected speech and speech that foretells violence is sometimes obvious only in retrospect.
The suspect in those killings, Frazier Glenn Cross, has been charged with murder and hate crimes. The 73-year-old former leader of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party did not post on Stormfront, but he was an active member of the Vanguard News Network, another major white supremacist site.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in the years prior to his alleged rampage Cross had posted more than 12,000 times on the site whose slogan reads: "No Jews. Just Right."