A prominent online hate-fighter is turning into a lone wolf. A single day after the co-creator of StopDrLaura.com said his site was folding after achieving its goals, Hatewatch.org founder David Goldman announced his site was history as well. The move comes just months after Goldman tried to expand Hatewatch, founded in 1995 to monitor hate sites like Stormfront.org and GodHatesFags.com, into a full-fledged nonprofit.
Goldman decided the site had outlived its usefulness. “By and large, the Net is radically changing,” he says. “In some ways, Hatewatch is becoming an anachronism.” In the wake of withering publicity and even lawsuits, many online bigots have toned down their Internet rhetoric, turning their effort elsewhere. Goldman points to “lone wolves”—free agents fueled by racist rhetoric, online or off—who stalk, harass, or even harm their “enemies.” Goldman worked closely with one target, former housing activist Bonnie Jouhari who fought prejudice in Reading, Pennsylvania. Goldman helped Jouhari in her successful $1 million suit against her white harassers.
His usually affable voice turns angry when Goldman speaks of Jouhari, who is still hiding out from her online harassers, years after she was first threatened in a Usenet posting. “Bonnie’s life is still in danger,” he says. Through working with Jouhari, he learned how little law enforcement—from local police to the Justice Department—is prepared to do about cyberstalking, which often is directed toward women who speak out against bigotry. His education efforts had some effect, he says, but now it’s time to do more than gawk at repugnant Web sites.
“It might be very sexy to go after a Web site that has a flaming cross or a rotating swastika, but many online victims are never heard from, or given the support they need,” he says. “I plan to lobby on a federal level, unfortunately in a Bush administration, to revisit cyberstalking legislation.”
In Hatewatch’s place, he launched a new personal Web site, Paragraph175.org, which will report on hate and warn of serious dangers that come from sharing personal details on the Internet. The site draws its name from the section of the Nazi Germany criminal code that prohibited homosexual activity.
Without the monkey of fundraising on his back, Goldman says he will not pull any punches about existing civil rights groups and their mistakes. Already, he shows more willingness to be overtly political on the record than in the past, especially when criticizing the new presidential administration. “Bush has to be careful not to piss off the large majority of young people, who are tech savvy and dying to become activist,” he warns.
The Hatewatch founder, a Boston law librarian by day, has fielded blistering criticism over his determination to link users to bigots. His dissenters accused him of launching a “Yahoo of hate”; the critic Roger Ebert called Hatewatch a “virtual supermarket” of hate for impressionable minds. Goldman, though, still believes that a hatemonger’s words (and HTML code) are his worst enemy. He quotes essayist Logan Pearsall Smith: “How it infuriates a bigot when he is forced to drag out his dark convictions.” He adds: “On the Net, they are exposed and brightly lit before an active matrix.”
Gay rights will be at the top of Goldman’s new agenda, instead of being just thrown casually into the mix. The heterosexual activist wants to fill a gap: “Every major civil rights organization should have been standing on (Dr. Laura’s) neck and saying, “You’re a bigot,” he says. “It’s important that people stand up and walk to Selma, but for gays and lesbians.”
Goldman points to StopDrLaura.com and its co-creator, John Aravosis, whom he’s met once, as an inspiration for 21st-century Internet resistance: It’s not just about having a pretty Web site. He says people want to find fellowship through their wired activities—meaning personal e-mail alerts and text-based discussion lists instead of bells and whistles. “The major portal civil rights Web sites create no community,” he says.
Aravosis, who also ran a popular Matthew Shepard tribute site, agrees that effective activism must grow out of individual passion, not group-speak. Nonprofits tend to weed out the kind of chutzpah needed to grab and motivate people, he says.
Still, Aravosis’s new effort, RoevBush.com, is on behalf of the nonprofit Planned Parenthood, which is paying him to help mobilize the country against George W. Bush and attorney general wannabe John Ashcroft. The site is similar to StopDrLaura.com: punchy, humorous and packed with passionate calls to action. “I’m extremely proud of Planned Parenthood,” Aravosis says. “They’re willing to discuss civil rights and gay rights as well.”
Goldman, though, is content to go it alone and avoid further entanglement with the organized, funding-hungry nonprofit world. “It’s fraught with personality and agenda,” he says. By contrast, Paragraph175 “will be David Goldman’s Web page.”