Thursday, March 09, 2006

The fires of hate

There are, of course, many reasons to be concerned about the increasingly emboldened Nazis and other right-wing extremists who are coming out of the woodwork in greater numbers these days. After all, this hatred not only manifests itself in the mainstream and particularly among young people, but it also inspires extreme violence among the mor unstable, criminally violent elements of society.

But along with their effects on others outside their immediate circle of influence, their increasing boldness also means these extremists will themselves become more violent, more threatening, more thuggish. That's what they do. It's what they specialize in.

From our friend and frequent commenter Orac comes the news that, earlier this week in San Antonio, right-wing extremists apparently torched a building they believed housed the servers for The Holocaust History Project:
In the early hours of March 6, 2006, a fire broke out at a warehouse complex near San Antonio International Airport, causing extensive damage to the offices of The Holocaust History Project (THHP), an organization that has been, for the last ten years, in the forefront of confronting Holocaust denial online, in addition to providing educational materials to students throughout the world. Arson investigators now have confirmed that the fire was intentionally set and are continuing their investigation.

It was just the latest in a series of attacks with the apparent intent to silence THHP. For the past 18 months, the THHP website has been under an unprecedented Distributed Denial of Service attack. This cyber attack began on September 11, 2004, and is being carried out by a specially modified version of the MyDoom computer worm, programmed to target the THHP web server.

Fortunately, the attack missed its target. THHP's servers and other resources weren't kept at the warehouse location. Rather, the targeted business was the business address given for the project.

THHP has been doing yeoman's work in confronting the vicious historical revisionism of people like David Irving and other Holocaust deniers. For those efforts, it has been subjected to an extraordinary level of harassment, including the denial-of-service attacks mentioned in the press release, and described elsewhere at the site:
A worm was released onto the net which spreads through email with text like "The holocaust is a lie." Every one of the computers it has infected -- over a thousand -- has been bombarding our website with fake information requests, to try to overwhelm it and shut it down.

The criminals who released this worm did so for two reasons. The first was to shut down our website and prevent students and researchers from learning the truth about Holocaust-denial.

The second was to spread propaganda. As the worm infects each new computer, it invites its victims to visit Holocaust-denial websites, such as Ernst Zundel's site and the Institute for Historical Review, and it tells them that "the Holocaust is an outright lie."

This represents a new low for so-called "revisionists." They are understandably frustrated at not being taken seriously by the historical community, and by failing to publish even a single peer-reviewed paper.

Without getting into the technical details, this kind of attack overloads a website with fake information requests in such a magnitude that the website is unable to process legitimate requests and has to close down. It is the equivalent of overloading a circuit. Hence, it's name, a "distributed denial of service" (DDoS) attack. It is a deliberate and offensive thing to do, and its only purpose is to deny the victim website its freedom of speech. It is also a crime.

Some of THHP's leading figures, notably a Coloradoan named Sara Salzman, have been subjected to a steady stream of obscene attacks and death threats for their anti-revisionism work:
That same day, the home telephone numbers and addresses of everyone associated with the Nizkor Project, including Salzman, were posted to alt.revisionism. The Nizkor phone book was posted several times, in fact, under several names that all had the return address of Ellis's Later, Salzman's phone number and address were also posted to two neo-Nazi news groups -- alt.politics.nationalism.white and alt.politics.white-power. Someone identifying himself as RevWhite also posted a map with directions to Salzman's house, as well as the names, addresses and phone numbers of several of her neighbors, and encouraged people to call them.

... In recent weeks, the situation has escalated. Someone placed links on more than forty Web sites with messages claiming that Salzman's kids were planning to bomb an Aurora high school; placed a link on more than ninety Web sites with messages accusing Salzman of child abuse; posted messages saying that Salzman makes her daughter give men blow jobs to support the Nizkor Project; posted Salzman's father's name, office address, telephone number and e-mail address to alt.revisionism along with a threat to pay him a visit; forged Salzman's name on a threat to Mayor Wellington Webb's life that appeared on more than twenty Web sites; e-mailed a death threat to President Clinton in Salzman's name; and posted a message threatening to skin Salzman alive and use her skin to make a new holster for his gun.

Another message on alt.revisionism announced an upcoming Web site containing even more personal information about Nizkor supporters. "See where the anti-revisionist: lives, works, schools, shops," it claimed. "View the many images of their homes, car, children. Read facts about their: history, lovers, sex lives, medical records, criminal records." No such Web site ever materialized, but the names of Salzman's two children and photos of what someone thought was her house appeared on the Internet (the picture was of the wrong house).

There isn't any hard evidence linking the Tuesday arson to any particular group or person or, for that matter, motive. But the circumstances are such -- particularly given that the businesses that were targeted were otherwise innocuous, and placed in an out-of-the-way locale -- that, while other motives (including thrill-seeking) may have been involved, both investigators and the victims have to seriously suspect that it occured as retaliation for their anti-revisionism work, especially given the long history of escalating harassment they have already endured.

I spoke with Saltzman, who is acting as the press spokesman for THHP, yesterday, and she said that they felt nearly certain this was a message crime: "Given that they've been threatening this kind of action for some time, we'd have to be stupid not to suspect it," she said.

In the past, she noted, she tended to dismiss the threats. "Most of these guys are just bellicose cowards," she said. "When they've made threats, I've tended to just blow it off.

"But the problem is not the guys making the threats themselves, it's the people -- the guys on the fringes willing to take action -- who can be a real threat."

As Orac noted in his e-mail, "THHP itself is OK and we don't want to be perceived as taking advantage of this attack for donations. Its servers and library are unscathed, as they were not on site. It is Harry Mazal ( who has suffered the major loss, with his business and inventory being destroyed." So feel free to contact Mazal to offer help in whatever way you can.

In the meantime, it wouldn't hurt if the San Antonio press were to take notice and publicize the case. Otherwise, the perpetrators and the people who inspired them will just sit in their shadows and smirk.

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