Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for distributing propaganda and recruiting, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups says their influence is growing.
The messages may be different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar, as were the results: Last week, a young Islamic extremist killed nearly 40 tourists in Tunisia, and a suicide bomber killed 27 at a Shi'ite mosque in Kuwait. In January, there was the massacre in Paris of 12 people at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said the acts are celebrated on the Internet and on social media sites used by extremist groups like the self-described Islamic State.
“They are showing remarkable agility in applying the cutting-edge technologies of the Internet in order to mass market and also in order to get to specific parts of the population,” he said.
He said the Islamic State group has a sophisticated propaganda and recruitment effort that includes videos from the battlefront and a slick online magazine. It even uses social media to connect its online visitors with its front-line fighters.
The Internet is also a force in U.S. hate crimes. Dylann Roof, who is charged with the recent killings of nine African-Americans at a Charleston church, absorbed his white supremacist ideology online.
Ex-extremist's New Mission
Former neo-Nazi skinhead Tim Zaal, who works with the Wiesenthal Center, said he sees the advocacy of messages similar to those he once believed. He said today's extremists often share a list of perceived enemies: “Zionism, the evil tyrannical Jew. Number two was the United States government, and the transnational corporations.”
Zaal said he used to meet with skinhead friends in a suburban park, where he met with VOA. He said that today, the Internet speeds the spread of hatred.
“Somebody can be in the middle of South Dakota, somewhere [there] is three feet of snow, and still have access to the narrative and the propaganda,” he said.
Cooper said the Web has produced an online echo chamber.
“It gives a sense of empowerment," he said. "It gives a sense of community — you are not alone. If you are thinking this way, you are not alone.”
Zaal said extremists hear the rhetoric of hate, but need to hear the other side of the story.
“There needs to be that voice," he said. "And I think the most important voices are voices of people such as myself and other former violent extremists who are doing what they can to bring about that counternarrative.”
The Wiesenthal Center’s Cooper said Internet social sites that host online hate speech need to be be part of the solution. Hate can be marginalized, he said, and online posts that cross the line from hatred to terrorism should not be tolerated.