A Space for Hate: The White Power Movement's Adaptation into Cyberspace

ABOUT Adam Klein

Adam Klein
Adam Klein, Ph.D., was most recently a visiting professor at James Madison University in the School of Media Arts & Design. He received his Doctorate in Mass Communication & Media Studies from Howard University, and earned an M.F.A. in Screenwriting from the University of Miami More...


A Space for Hate speaks to the media and information topic of hate speech in cyberspace, but more specifically, how its inscribers have adapted their movement into the social networking and information-providing contexts of the modern online community. While many books in recent years have addressed the notable ways that popular internet culture and cyber trends such as blogging have democratized the community of information seekers and providers, little research to date has addressed the darker element that has emerged from that same democratic sphere. That is, the huge resurgence and successful transformation of hate groups across cyberspace, and in particular, those that promote white supremacist ideas and causes. In 2009, hate speech and white power movement organizations in the United States are on the rise once again, fueled by new issues but with familiar themes. Among them, the nomination of the first African-American president of the United States, a national economic crisis that has triggered ethnic scapegoating, and an immigration debate centered largely on illegal Hispanic immigrants. These are just some of the emerging social issues by which today’s hate groups have framed familiar messages of blame, anger, fear, resistance, uprising and action.

The author's interest in this book project evolved from examining the powerful effects of what many media scholars commonly deem the “hypodermic needle” of mass communication – propaganda. Being the grandson of two Auschwitz survivors who documented their stories through oral and written tradition, his research in the modern day forms of hateful propaganda emanates from a desire to pursue the unanswered question of how the fever of racist sentiment can sweep over a civilized society as it has done so brutally in the past. A Space for Hate focuses on the white power movement, in particular, by using hate-based websites as a concrete and measurable field for examining racial and ethnically targeting messages in the age of information and technology. Perhaps nowhere is this phenomenon more widespread today than within the unguarded walls of cyberspace. The increasingly acceptable domain of racist and anti-Semitic expression within such commonplace websites as Wikipedia, an “information” tool, and YouTube, the younger web community’s digital hub, initially suggested the need to further research the way that cyberspace was allowing blatant hate speech to once again flourish within mainstream popular culture. That investigation led to an investigation of white power movement websites where the new face of hate, in fact, does not resemble the book burning rallies of the neo-Nazi banner but rather the popular forums, media convergence centers, and information tools of social networking websites.

A Space for Hate speaks to the interests of readers of media and information studies material by focusing on three central spheres of hate speech in cyberspace: the legal/ethical concern, the cultural context, and the information aspect, each of which leads into the main body of the study of a series of hate group websites. First, any work on hate speech must begin by addressing the ‘free speech versus hate speech’ debate that has always surrounded the issue of hateful rhetoric in the media, and is further currently being tested on new ground in the World Wide Web. Tied into the legal debate of hate speech on the web are the ethical issues of the internet space itself such as its unregulated content, decentralized and unaccountable domain, and limitless exposure to younger audiences. Second, and perhaps most relevant to this topic is the cultural youth element of cyberspace, specifically those popular trends that have allowed hate-groups to adapt and flourish often under the camouflage of a “user-friendly” social network community. Finally the book investigates exactly how these hate groups are entering into the mainstream media culture by playing on traditional formats which convey their movements as tools of information – educational, political, spiritual, and even scientific in nature.

May, 2010

"At a time when racist propaganda is again on the rise, A Space for Hate offers an important analysis of how the internet is being used to spread 'a modernized version of hate.'  Recalling the Nazis' extremely effective use of propaganda, Adam Klein shows how contemporary radical racists have effectively exploited what is certainly the most democratic medium ever known to spread hate and political violence."  
- Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project,                      Southern Poverty Law Center

September, 2010

"When I brought this intriguing book to my monthly reference staff meeting (six public librarians), I supposed that everyone knew more than I did about the presence of white supremacy hate groups on the Internet. But I found out that only one-third of us did-and the ones who had no idea were the decidedly older members of our staff. This small sample coincides with the most disturbing element of the research presented in Klein's book: not only are white supremacist Web sites and social networks ubiquitous and wildly popular, they are primarily targeting-and attracting-the younger generation.

Although hate speech and hate groups include far more than racist and anti-Semitic white supremacists, Klein's book focuses on these particular groups and their outreach to the “net generation.” The granddaddy of them all, Stormfront.org, has been in cyberspace since the web took off in 1995. While much of the book uses and quotes a wealth of research already done on these groups, thereby bringing a lot together in one volume, A Space for Hate claims its own contribution to the field by postulating a theory of “information laundering” to describe how hate sites use the unique “formats and constructs” of cyberspace to transform hate-based information into “acceptable web-based knowledge.” Maybe it seems obvious once we really think about it, but the normal Web paths such as search engines and links “can unwittingly lead an online information seeker to white power content that has already been designed for them as being educational, political, scientific, and even spiritual in nature.” The Institute for Historical Review (holocaust denial) and the Charles Darwin Research Institute (white race supremacy) don't engage at all in “hate speech” but present themselves as legitimate and respectable research operations. Classy Web design and function may lead those raised online to accept the legitimacy of the content based on appearance. One example might be the “metapedia” that, using the same format as Wikipedia and sophisticated language and choice of topics, seeks to bring white nationalist thinking into the mainstream rather than keep it out at the fringes. Typical hate speech and swastikas will not be found on these sites.
The book is organized thus: an examination of the legal debate surrounding hate speech in the context of the first amendment (the U.S. is a center of Internet sites devoted to this kind of speech, as it banned on servers elsewhere); the murky coexistence of information and propaganda online and how they are cunningly manipulated; the special attraction of hate-based sites to young people based on the various kind of social and cultural media that are proliferating in cyberspace (YouTube, music sites, etc.); an analysis and review of 26 white nationalist/supremacist Web sites and how they frame their issues for the target audience; and an examination of counterattack by monitoring and other sites devoted to exposing and counteracting them. Does it scare you to know that many of these sites getfar more traffic than the Human Rights Campaign site, or that of the NAACP?"

- Reviewed by Ann Sparanese - Social Responsibilities Round Table, of the American Library Association