EMU professor gives seminar on rise of hate speech

In the golden age of technology, people surf the Internet for research, leisure or keeping up with friends and family. Recently, however, a malicious trend known as cyberspace hate, where people use the Web to harass and spread animosity, has been on the rise.

Jack Kay, professor of communication, media and theater arts at Eastern Michigan University, has also used the power of media to inform the public on the rise of hate groups. He specializes in language and the stronghold it has on people.

Kay has done significant research, focused primarily on fundamentalist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations and neo-Nazi Skinheads. Not only has Kay’s research been published in academic periodicals, but his work has been cited in newspapers, radio and television.

On Aug. 15, Kay gave a seminar titled “Hate Speech in Cyberspace” at the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus in Farmington Hills. The seminar focused on the problems surrounding the insurgence of these hate groups.

Kay began the session by saying the journey he wanted to take the audience on wasn’t a pretty one; it painted a picture of “war, not love – hate and intolerance, rather than tolerance and pleasant thoughts.”

Kay said words are powerful, not meaningless, and people shouldn’t become indifferent to how they are projected.

“Words can be very dehumanizing. The power of the word is always influential,” he said.

Kay, the son of a Holocaust survivor, was invited to an Aryan World Congress event. For five days he participated undercover in the “celebration of white supremacist leaders and white supremacy.”

According to Kay, Bible training for children at the event consisted of showing young people derogatory pictures of Jewish men. The Aryan minister asked the children about what they saw in the photos.

Kay said a girl of about 7 years old answered the minister, saying the photo was a Jew rabbi, and Jew rabbis kidnap Christian babies at Easter time, cut their throats and drink their blood.

Using the written word as a way to spread propaganda, The White Aryan Resistance began The Insurgent newspaper.

While William Pierce, founder and former leader of the National Alliance group, wrote “The Turner Diaries,” a novel written in 1978 under the pseudonym “Andrew Macdonald.” The novel portrays a vicious revolt against the United States government that led to a race war.

After a while, the groups realized their ways of reaching the public were becoming irrelevant. Discovering other media influence, they took their stories to television, appearing on shows like “Oprah” and “Geraldo.” By the late 1980s, Tom Metzger, founder of WAR, began “Race and Reason,” a public-access television program that aired in multiple cities nationwide, venting WAR propaganda and interviewing other neo-Nazis.

Kay said Holocaust denial is vital on hate group websites, with them trying to debunk how gas chambers worked and how many people were killed. But the groups usually don’t claim that Jews weren’t treated badly, “They simply walk the fine line between debunking and contradiction.”

With the development of the intranet, the first prototype of the Internet, David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, began one of the earliest Web boards, Stormfront, which became www.stormfront.org. Other sites exist as well, including www.whitepower.com and www.whitehonor.com. These provide access to events, music, merchandise and subscriptions for people looking to join. Any of the talk shows the groups have appeared on can be viewed on these sites.

Another way the movement is growing is through music, which can be downloaded online. Groups like Nordic Thunder, White Pride World and Brutal Attack are a few bands that appeal to young people and seek to convince them to join the groups.

The National Alliance organized a record label called Resistance Records and ran Resistance Radio, a now-defunct Web radio station that played white power rock music 24 hours a day on the Internet.

Kay told the audience he is against hate speech, but has yet to reach the point of banning free speech because no one can really pinpoint where that line should be drawn. It’s protected communication and filtering it doesn’t seem to be the answer.

“The real solution is not banning free speech, but coming up with responsible speech that says, ‘Wait, what they’re saying is wrong.’ It comes down to a level of personal responsibility where each and every one of us should never look the other way. We need to take a stand,” Kay said.

Martin Shichtman, professor of English language and literature and director of Jewish studies at EMU, was also part of the seminar.

“What unnerves me is the degradation of our rhetoric,” he said during a question and answer session.

He called attention to the observation forums associated with Internet news articles, where people can spread hate through their comments.

Kay ended his seminar by saying that he thinks it’s important to use better tools in education to engage people on what is going on around them and to deal with the hate that is out there.

“In the beginning, there was the word, and the word can be used to do good and the word can be used to do evil. If these groups understand how to use the word to do so much evil, it becomes so important for people like us to use the word to do good,” he said.

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