When Hate Went Online
by Chip Berlet
Adapted from a paper presented at the Northeast Sociological Association, Spring Conference, Fairfield, CT: Sacred Heart University, April 28, 2001. Revised 7/4/2008
Advertisement and pamphlet for George P. Dietz's Info International Network, the first online computer system spreading White Supremacy and antisemitism
In 1984 hate went online. The source was a small computer bulletin board system (BBS) that carried online articles denouncing Jews and Blacks. Few people noticed. Fewer still even knew what an online computer system was, or how to connect to it. That same year I installed a modem at Midwest Research in Chicago (now Political Research Associates near Boston) to explore the possibility of using online services for transmitting text and data between progressive research organizations. It was a year before I even learned that hate groups were online.
Today it is hard to imagine that in 1984 the idea of non-profit organizations sending information between computers over phone lines was considered experimental. For instance, the Foundation News published an influential early article in September 1983, “A Certain Electricity in the Air,” that included the clearly tentative (and lengthy) subtitle: “Although some think the jury on telecommunications is still out, groups like the Telecommunications Cooperative Network are making believers out of more foundations and nonprofits” (Green, 1983: 32).
This was before there was easy access to what became the Internet. The national network of linked mainframe computers was still a text-only system (with USENET news groups on the side) primarily available to government defense contractors and academics. There were a few commercial online systems during this period such as Delphi, Genie, and The Source; and starting in 1985 there was The Well, one of the first non-profit public online networks that expanded and merged into the Internet.
Back in 1984, however, a major form of public online communications involved the use of individual (and usually home-based) computer bulletin board systems. BBSs were developed as a way for persons with a computer and a modem attached to a phone line to allow others with the same equipment to directly dial up and log onto a directory of files for downloading. Other features such as posting public messages, reading text, and exchanging groups of files were quickly added.
While investigating the assassination of Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg by neonazi White supremacists, the FBI began to unravel hate group telecommunications by tapping the modem telephone line of Robert Miles. This “inspired the computer networking scenes” in the 1988 film Betrayed (Sills, 1989: 146). According to Sills, some of the early media coverage of the neonazi BBS network was “exaggerated” (Sills, 1989: 146). The facts were bad enough.
Pioneers of Hate Online
The three earliest race hate BBS systems were: Info. International Network, Aryan Liberty Net, and White Aryan Resistance (W.A.R.) Net.
Info. International Network
George P. Dietz, a well-known publisher of racist and antisemitic literature, was apparently the first right-wing White supremacist to launch his material into cyberspace on a public BBS. Called variously Info. International Network or Liberty Bell Net, Dietz’s BBS probably went online sometime in early March of 1984. The Info. International Network system was run on an Apple ][e. with 64k RAM and a five megabyte hard drive. The system claimed it was “The only computer bulletin board system and uncontrolled information medium in the United States of America dedicated to the dissemination of historical facts--not fiction!”
Dietz, through his Liberty Bell Publications (located in West Virginia), had been mailing printed neonazi publications throughout the US; and to Europe where much of his material was legally banned. The early text on Dietz’s BBS consisted of articles from his monthly Liberty Bell magazine, published in print form from September 1973 until February 1999. One of the major contributors to both the print and online outlets was Revilo P. Oliver—an academic expelled from the John Birch Society (JBS) for making antisemitic and White racist comments in a speech at a JBS rally in 1966 (Mintz, 1985: 172-173).
In June of 1985 Dietz’s BBS carried the following sections:
1 = Prof.R.P.Oliver’s Postscripts
2 = Reports and Reviews
3 = Letters to “ Liberty Bell” Editor
4 = Historic Facts & Figures
5 = ‘Holocaust’:Fact or Fiction?
6 = Articles from “ Liberty Bell”
7 = The Jew in Review
8 = On Race and Religion
9 = Computer store (not implem.)
10 = WVA Real Estate Bargains.
Under the section headed “Prof. R.P.Oliver’s Postscripts” were the following subtitles:
1 = The Businessmen of God
2 = Truth is Stranger than Fiction
3 = The “Holohoax”
4 = The F.B.I. & a White Man
5 = Bobby Fischer & the Jews
6 = A Ham Actor in the White House
7 = The U.S. & Latin America
8 = The “Godly” of Cleveland
9 = The Jews & Saudi Arabia
10 = List of Patriotic Books
Aryan Liberty Net
Aryan Nations “Aryan Liberty Net,” went online sometime in the Spring of 1984, and quickly became better known than Info. International Network which preceded it. The network was implemented by Louis Beam, a leader of various Texas Ku Klux Klan (KKK) factions who worked closely with Richard Butler, the leader of the Aryan Nations Christian Identity compound in Idaho. Beam may have discussed the idea of a computer network as early as July 1983 at a meeting at Aryan Nations (J. E. Stern, 2000). Liberty Net was announced by Beam in an undated Spring 1984 issue of the Inter-Klan Newsletter & Survival Alert published from the Aryan nations compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho. In an article “Computers and the American Patriot,” Beam wrote “It may very well be that American know-how has provided the technology which will allow those who love this country to save it from an ill-deserved fate” (Beam, 1984a). Later, in an article titled “Announcing Aryan Nations/Ku Klux Klan Computer Net,” it is claimed “A special electronic code access available only to Aryan Nations/Ku Klux Klan officers and selected individuals is being implemented” (Beam, 1984b). The article continues:
At last, those who love God and their Race and strive to serve their Nation will be utilizing some of the advanced technology available heretofore only to those in the ZOG (Zionist Occupational Government) government and others who have sought the destruction of the Aryan people. (Ibid.)
Beam published the newsletters the Inter-Klan Newsletter & Survival Alert and the Seditionist.
It was in the the Inter-Klan Newsletter & Survival Alert that Beam proposed an international computer network linking White supremacists in 1984. Although Beam is often credited with launching the first online race hate communications system, it was Dietz whose system went online first, in early 1984, and perhaps as early as 1983.
Around August 1984 a one-page flyer circulated in Canada, announcing remote access (through the Aryan Liberty Net) to racist material otherwise banned under Canadian laws against hate speech (Wayne King, 1985; Bohy, 1985). The US-based race hate BBSs allowed people in Canada and in European countries, where distribution of hate literature is often restricted by law, to gain access to these texts through their computer. This was a major goal of the early racist BBS operators, with Beam bragging that his system had “ended Canadian Censorship” (Lowe, 1985: 2).
White Aryan Resistance BBS
Next to come online (in late 1984 or early 1985) was the White Aryan Resistance BBS in Fallbrook, California, under the auspices of Tom Metzger. Metzger announced the “W.A.R. Computer Terminal” in War ‘85, the newspaper of his White Aryan Resistance (Metzger, 1985). It originally ran on a Commodore 64 with a 300 bps modem (Sills, 1989). Today, most modems run at 56,000 bps, but back then, 300 bps was cutting-edge technology. According to Metzger, “Already White Aryan comrades of the North have destroyed the free speech blackout to our Canadian comrades” (Metzger, 1985). One of the first messages sent out by Metzger was directed at “any Aryan patriot in America who so desires” to arrange for local cable access channel broadcast of Metzger’s new cable TV program “The World as We See It,” later renamed “Race and Reason.” During this same period, there were over one dozen call-in telephone hot lines with recorded messages containing racist and antisemitic material.
[The full revised report is forthcoming]
Well, 1983 or 1984, See note 5. It’s a bit complicated to trace.
See Author’s Note.
For more about the early history of The Well: (http://www.thewell.org/aboutwell.html). For more on the early history of hackers, see Levy 2001. For a look at the libertarian roots of and influence on many online systems, see: Borsook 2000.
The first BBS was CBBS (Computerized BBS) created in 1978 by Ward Christensen and Randy Suess who had to solder their computer together and write their own software. Christensen wrote the Xmodem software protocol that allowed single computers to exchange files. Their history of CBBS” is at Suess’s website (http://www.chinet.com/html/cbbs.html).
Telephone interview with George P. Dietz, June 14, 2000. Dietz, when interviewed, could not recall exactly when his “Info. International Network” went online. He recalls it as perhaps late 1983, but it was not mentioned until the April 1984 print edition of his Liberty Bell magazine. A pamphlet titled “Command Guide” issued by Info International Network circa March 1984 contains a section of a printout from the Liberty Net BBS dated March 7, 1984. Letters dated March 1984 and printed in the April and May editions of Liberty Bell discuss the BBS, and there is an ad listing the BBS phone number in the April edition on page 52. Documents on file at PRA. As far as I am able to determine, Dietz’s Info. International Network preceded Beam’s Liberty Net which preceded Metzger’s BBS. I apologize for not being able to determine more accurately the exact dates. The first version of this paper picked 1983. This version is more cautious and picks 1984. Documentation nailing down the dates, text, and other information about these early systems that is sent to the author will be summarized and posted online at (http://www.publiceye.org/hate/earlybbs.html). In 2008, scholar Carol Mason sent me information from her research for a forthcoming book indicating that Dietz was at least testing his BBS online in 1983, and suggesting it was open for use by others in that year.
Quote and information about hardware from undated pamphlet (circa Spring 1984) circulated by Info International Network, “BBS—Users Groups Listing.” Document on file at PRA.
Liberty Bell eventually went online on the Internet, but could not be found on June 14, 2004.
For background on this period, see Corcoran, 1995 and Aho, 1990.
The Canadian flyer is attributed in the Bohy article to Alan Shefman, national director of the League for Human Rights of the B’nai B’rith, Canada. Shefman is quoted as saying “in late summer…I think August,” p. 20.
Downloaded from Aryan Liberty Net in 1985; text printout on file at PRA.
See various issues of WAR in 1984-1986.
Thanks to the staff of the Center for Democratic Renewal; Southern Poverty Law Center; Kenneth Spencer Research Library (Wilcox Collection) at the University of Kansas; Anti-Defamation League; Wisconsin State Historical Society Periodical Collection; and participants in the Militia Watchdog online discussion, for generously assisting in locating and dating primary source material. Special appreciation to Devin Burghart, Brian Levin and Carol Mason for sharing obscure information.
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