Notorious group uses Ariz. Web-hosting services
By Russell Working
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/212320
CHICAGO — It might come as a surprise to the soldiers who defeated fascism in World War II, but the United States has become a refuge for Nazism and other brands of extremism over the last decade.
On the Internet, that is.
Hundreds of foreign-language Web sites are using U.S. servers, some in Arizona, to dodge laws abroad that prohibit Holocaust denial or racist and anti-Semitic speech. Incorporated by businesses in the United States, they thrive out of reach of prosecutors in Europe, Canada and elsewhere.
In the past, Berlin has estimated that computers in the United States host 800 such sites in the German language alone, although its embassy in Washington says no current count is available.
The noxious sites, often filled with anti-Semitism or crude ranting about blacks and immigrants, spotlight a trans-Atlantic divide over hate speech. Many European countries have criminalized Holocaust denial or racist speech, while the First Amendment grants even Nazis and other fringe groups the freedom to spread their message in the U.S.
"Essentially, our view is it's better to be able to confront their ideas and see what they're up to," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights organization. "But most Europeans regard the Americans as insane on this point. They really do."
Radio Islam, which lists a Chicago post office box as its contact address, has frustrated the Swedish government for years, prosecutors said in phone interviews. Hosted on a server in Washington state, its contents include paranoiac writings and the complete text of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" in at least 17 languages.
Much of the site is devoted to extolling Ahmed Rami, a Moroccan exile in Sweden who claims he fled to Europe after attempting to assassinate his country's king. In his adopted home, he made vitriolic radio broadcasts until Swedish authorities shut down his program and jailed him in the 1990s.
But suddenly the U.S.-based Radio Islam Web site popped up, promoting Rami's paranoid views that the United States is occupied by Jewish forces, Adolf Hitler was a misunderstood hero, and Judaism is not a religion but a "dangerous Mafia."
In an interview from Stockholm, Rami claimed to have nothing to do with the site.
"It's a group of men or teenagers who put it up," Rami said. "Sometimes I write something, and it ends up on their Web site."
British and Polish journalists and human-rights activists have demanded their governments shut down two allied hate sites called Redwatch. The sites publish "enemies lists" with home addresses, and they have been blamed for egging on violence by the far right.
After the British version of Redwatch, which maintains three Web addresses on U.S. servers, posted a hate list, a thug stabbed a trade union leader in the face outside his home last year, and two schoolteachers had their home and car firebombed in 2003.
For its part, Redwatch says it doesn't encourage violence and was created in response to leftists' attacks on white nationalists.
"We consider Marxists and capitalists as traitors and they will face the people's courts someday to pay for their crimes," Redwatch said in an online statement.
Last year, the Polish government announced it had worked with the FBI to shut down Redwatch. But it remains online today, and a spokesman for the site says it only was offline briefly because of bandwidth problems. The FBI has no record of working to shut down the site, a spokeswoman in Washington said. Redwatch is registered and hosted by companies in Arizona.
One of the most prolific hosts of foreign racist sites is Gary Lauck of Lincoln, Neb., who claims to head the American branch of the National Socialist German Workers Party. Lauck, who spent time in a German prison after he was convicted of racial hatred, hosts about 80 German, Swedish and other foreign Web sites.
In interviews, Lauck speaks in great torrents in what reporters often describe as an ersatz German accent; in fact, Lauck says, he has had a speech impediment since childhood. Born in Wisconsin, Lauck says he has been a Nazi since he first read "Mein Kampf" as a teen.
For years, Lauck reportedly smuggled illegal Nazi flags, swastikas, propaganda and bomb-making manuals to Germany. In 1995, Lauck was arrested in Denmark and extradited to Germany for distributing the materials. A Hamburg court convicted him of inciting racial hatred and other counts, and he served a four-year term.
Nowadays, clients often approach Lauck through anonymous e-mails, so that even he doesn't know their identity.
"We'll say, 'OK, in the future, all you do is send an envelope with some euro bank notes in it and say this is for Web site XYZ,' " Lauck said.
One client is the Danish National Socialist Movement. While the Nazi party is legal there, it asked Lauck to host its backup Web site.
"We had an attack by left-wingers a short while ago," said party leader Jonni Hansen, "and our Web hosting by Lauck rescued us because we were thrown out of the Danish Web server."
Servers who do business anonymously or who say it is not their job to censor their clients frustrate groups seeking to shut down hate sites, among them the Anti-Defamation League, which combats racism.
The First Amendment prohibits the government from stepping in to close Web sites, but there is nothing to stop private businesses from refusing to host Internet extremism, the league says.