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Human Rights

Papers with 'hate' stamped below them
An increased number of websites are devoted to monitoring and exposing hate groups, leaders and activities to help curb violence.

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.

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.”

Portrait of Bigotry “The Timothy McVeigh Scenario”

Henson and Lerma are part of a small, loosely knit hate network which revolves around a Boston man named Robert Minton, whose anti-religious fanaticism has led to a series of violent episodes and arrests.

Like Rick Ross, Minton has a history of unstable behavior and psychiatric treatment including a stint in a psychiatric institution at the age of 17 after a violent episode, and psychiatric treatment at least well into the 1990s.

Minton, who had never had so much as a single contact with a Church of Scientology, bankrolled the copyright terrorism and other hate-inspired activity of Keith Henson, Arnaldo Lerma and several others against the Church — even after courts adjudged the individuals concerned liable for their unlawful acts.

How Minton could afford to subsidize the lawbreakers was only recently revealed. The London Sunday Times and African news sources reported in spring 2000 that he is under investigation as a central figure in a reputed money laundering scheme involving a $6 billion “debt buy-back” deal with a former dictatorship of Nigeria, from which he made tens of millions in profit. The Nigerian government filed a criminal complaint against Minton in June 2000 in Switzerland for fraud, forgery and money laundering.

Other evidence suggests a callousness not isolated to the impoverished inhabitatants of a Third World country. Minton’s own mother, on social security, recounted in an interview obtained by Freedom that when she needed financial assistance to make repairs on her home, her son loaned her the money on the condition she pay him 10% interest and that he could put a lien on her house.

A less than charitable attitude also led Minton to threaten churchgoers, which escalated to actual violence — including firing a shotgun at individuals protesting his bigotry. He subsequently attacked religious workers in Massachusetts and Florida in 1998 and 1999, respectively. In both locations, courts took action to prevent further violence by issuing restraining orders against him. In both locations, he was also accompanied by Jesse Prince, a man with a history of arrests and at least one conviction on his record, and who was most recently arrested in Florida in August 2000 on a drug-related felony charge.

With Minton, as with others, religious hate and threats were preluded on the Internet, and were reported to authorities, before his outward violence.

During a December 1999 NBC Dateline segment in which Minton’s increasingly violent behavior was chronicled, interviewer John Hockenberry asked him, “What can you say to me to assure me that you’re not a hothead on the edge here, who, the next story I’m going to be doing about you is the Timothy McVeigh scenario... [That] you’re going to walk into some room somewhere and blow a bunch of these people away?”

Minton replied, “Well, it’s absurd.”

“It seems less absurd now,” concluded Hockenberry.

History of Errors

Other examples abound of such 60 Minutes arrogance.

In November 1986, the program produced a story on the Audi 5000 luxury sedan which described how the accelerator pedals of new sedans would inexplicably stick, causing the cars to lurch forward, crash into walls, swimming pools, other vehicles and even innocent bystanders.

The story was later debunked by a 1989 report by the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA). Automotive consultant William Rosenbluth later admitted that he had drilled a hole in an Audi transmission and piped fluid into it to provide the lurching effect. In the resulting film sequence of the tampered-with vehicle, the accelerator pedal appeared to move down on its own and provided 60 Minutes with damning visual evidence.

A pattern of hate against individuals of any religion, race, creed or lifestyle can be detected, as can its sources.
Recognizing Warning Signs

The Jewish Anti-Defamation League urges that warning signs on the Internet, including threatening, hateful and violent material, be reported to responsible authorities. They also stress that the computer industry, educators, parents, civil rights groups, and government agencies “work together to develop new and creative approaches to the unprecedented challenges posed by online extremism.”

Circumstances have led some to look for legal solutions and the application of such case law as the Minnesota Supreme Court decision (in R.A.V. v City of St. Paul) which criminalized so-called “fighting words” which “one knows or has reasonable grounds to know arouse anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender.” Fighting words are those which will provoke violence from the person at whom they are directed. More than 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Chaplinsky v New Hampshire that such words were not protected by the First Amendment.

Still, solutions in the civil courts are uncertain, due in part to narrow interpretion of such case law and the prevailing necessity to protect freedom of expression.

Thus authorities also recommend that attention be given to disrelated or incidental criminal activity of hate perpetrators. Since disrespect for others’ rights goes hand in hand with disrespect for the law, it follows almost inevitably that other unlawful activity exists. Reporting and seeking prosecution or judicial curbs on such individuals for any law violations can deter crimes and possibly even save lives.

Law and Prevention

A pattern of hate against individuals of any religion, race, creed or lifestyle can be detected, as can its sources.

Concerned citizens can support and encourage the passage of legislation to broaden definitions of hate crimes, increase the power of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute offenders, and strengthen penalties.

Illinois is in the forefront of state legislation efforts in 2000, with the House passing a bill in February that increases the scope of and penalty for hate crimes. House Bill 3430 also creates a new crime called “conspiracy against civil rights,” which would be applied to hate group leaders who advocate violence in general against minorities. Current law allows prosecution only if the leader directs someone to commit a specific crime.

In California, a 44-member Civil Rights Commission on Hate Crimes focuses on means of increasing reporting of hate crimes. “Consciousness needs to be raised throughout the state,” said Joseph McNamara, former San Jose police chief and commission co-chairman in a Los Angeles Times report. “One of our objectives is to impress on people that hate crimes do occur, and they need to be reported.”

The Jewish Anti-Defamation League and other organizations track hate crimes legislation and initiatives across the country and provide information on laws already on the books in different states.

A myriad of individual groups combating hate crime and violence are also strengthening alliances and increasing their presence on the Internet.

Whenever and wherever bigotry threatens to create violence, citizens must be willing to speak out and demand an end to the hate. When this is done, and perpetrators are thwarted by an attentive and vigilant citizenry who know their rights, the result is a legacy of safety for generations to come.

* The Cult Awareness Network, after collapsing under a $4.85 million judgment against the group, its executive director and several affiliated individuals, was taken over by an inter-religious board in 1997 and its mandates changed to conform with constitutional principles of religious freedom and tolerance. CAN today provides a hotline, educational services and referral to accredited scholars and authorities throughout the world on minority and new religions.

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