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Former Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard Don Black showed the world how the internet could galvanize hate beginning in 1995.
Now the website he founded that year, Stormfront — called the “first major hate site on the Internet” by the SPLC — is offline.
Domain provider Web.com has put a hold on the site after the Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law wrote a letter to the company’s CEO, pointing out that Stormfront violated Web.com’s policy stating “users may not … utilize the services in a manner deemed, in company’s sole discretion, to display bigotry, racism, discrimination, or hatred in any manner whatsoever” [PDF].
“[Web dot com’s] decision to terminate services to Stormfront.org demonstrates that the company would enforce its own policies in order to support its diverse customers and the online community as a whole,” the committee wrote in a press release provided to Mashable.
Black founded Stormfront in 1995 after teaching himself some computer programming during three years he spent in jail for “plotting to overthrow a Caribbean island government,” according to the SPLC. Upon his release, he built Stormfront into a haven for budding white supremacists to vent their rage online and to meet others who felt like them.
Black grew his forum to a membership of around 300,000, according to the SPLC. Though the number of active users was much smaller, some of the site’s readers have committed violent crimes.
Stormfront readers include Richard Poplawski, who killed three Pittsburgh police officers in 2009 as they came to his door after his mother called 911 following an argument; Richard Baumhammers, who went on a murderous rampage in 2000 — also in Pittsburgh — that involved killing his 63-year-old Jewish neighbor and vandalizing her synagogue with swastikas; and Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Oslo, Norway, by setting off a bomb and committing a mass-shooting at a political youth camp.
Black denied any influence his site had over the readers who visited it who became violent, similar to the way more modern white supremacists have sought to distance themselves from a neo-Nazi who allegedly murdered a woman named Heather Heyer during a white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month.
Stormfront’s disappearance is a blow to white supremacists.
Stormfront’s disappearance is a blow to white supremacists, and not the first to come to their internet havens over the past few weeks.
Following the Charlottesville riot, The Daily Stormer — something of a Stormfront evolution — has bounced around the internet in search of a home as domain hosts have booted it back and forth across the web.
The removal of such sites from the internet has been cheered with caution. While removing the megaphone from voices of hate seems ostensibly a good thing, many, including the EFF, worry that doing so will lead to a world in which domain hosts can remove any website they dislike at any time, for reasons they don’t have to necessarily disclose.