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One of the most prominent white supremacist and Nazi destinations online, Stormfront.org, went dark Friday, likely at the behest of its domain host Network Solutions. This is just the latest in a wave of online hate-group account deletions and website closures in the wake of the Charlottesville, Virginia, rally that turned violent earlier this month.
Stormfront had been in operation since 1995, and according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, it was the first major hate website on the internet. Founded by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and Nazi Party member Don Black, the website was a forum for more than 300,000 registered members before it shuttered on Friday. “Our mission is to provide information not available in the controlled news media and to build a community of White activists working for the survival of our people,” Stormfront’s posting guidelines read.
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is taking credit for the closure. The committee sent a series of letters to Network Solutions arguing that Stormfront’s forum was in violation of the domain provider’s usage policies, which explicitly prohibits using their web services to “display bigotry, discrimination, or hatred in any manner whatsoever.”
In a 2014 report, SPLC traced nearly 100 murders back to Stormfront users, who flocked to the website to take part in hate-filled discussion boards. Most of those were committed by Anders Breivik, who murdered 69 people in Norway in 2011. In another incident, Stormfront user Richard Poplawski killed three police officers in Pittsburgh in 2009.
Beyond discussion boards, Stormfront was a place where members of the KKK and Nazi Party organized demonstrations and social gatherings, including Stormfront’s seventh annual “Great Smoky Mountain Summit,” which is slated to take place on Sept. 30 at an undisclosed location in East Tennessee. Sept. 30 is also Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism. KKK attorney Sam Dickinson and famous Klan leader David Duke were scheduled to speak at the event, which included a nature walk and Friday reception, according to the Sentinel. As of Aug. 20, the private message board discussing the summit had about 700 posts, and people were already making ride-share arrangements.
But now, with Stormfront offline, all the logistics and planning have been forced offline too. Same goes for the email addresses associated with Stormfront.org. I tried emailing Don Black at the Stormfront address listed under his name on various other white supremacist forums, and it bounced back. The archives for email addresses under that domain may be inaccessible, too.
The internet is now central to all forms of political mobilization, for white supremacists and anti-fascists alike. When web service companies decide to stop hosting forums for online hate groups, it becomes a lot harder for those hate groups to organize. Nazis largely organized the violent Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville earlier this month on the Daily Stormer, a website that has since been booted off the internet by various domain hosts and was dropped as a customer by Cloudfare, which was providing critical security services for the racist, anti-Semitic website. Now people who wish to continue to engage in the Daily Stormer’s activities have to do so on the dark web, where the website has relocated and which is much more cumbersome to access; it generally loads much slower than websites with a more public domain.
Long before this latest wave of Nazis and racist ideologues felt emboldened to march down the streets with torches and firearms in tow, they created communities online, where they validated and encouraged each other’s hate speech and actions. Now the tech companies that have long provided the white supremacists a home are starting to take action to shut them out, thus crippling their ability to build a cohesive movement. While that’s probably a good thing, it’s also quite possible that the sudden deluge of hate-group account deletions could serve to strengthen a budding white power movement in the U.S., which is already premised on the idea that they, the white people in America, are under attack.