Thursday, October 05, 2006

Naming the enemy

In their desperation push back on the Predatorgate Scandal, conservatives are now even publishing the identities of some of the pages involved; the ever-execrable Drudge Report and Little Green Footballs have been leading the charge, but of course there has been a whole phalanx of little pilers-on. UPDATE: It's now spread to such leading lights of the conservative blogosphere as Glenn Reynolds and Roger Simon.

It's all part of a "blame the victims" routine (currently favored by Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage), as if that might actually convince anyone beyond the Kool-Aid addicts who lap up their every syllable. Problem is, this kind of behavior actually just further exposes their morality for the fetid cloaca it is.

You know it's a stinking heap of an idea when even Malkin is balkin'. And while it's good to see Michelle come around on this issue, it's amusing to see her characterize this as "sinking to the level of the liberal witch hunters." Oh, does she mean such "witch hunts" as the evil New York Times Travel Section plot to expose our national leaders to terrorists?

More to the point: just how, Michelle, does this qualitatively differ from those peace activists whose names and phone numbers you published?

Ah well. I suppose it's nice to see her come around, though getting her to admit she was wrong before will never happen.

At least she now understands that there is a real problem here. And that is the trend toward exposing individual citizens and their private lives, particularly in a way that invites invasion and retribution, and using the Internet to do it.

I'm sure that the cretins busy exposing the pages' identities think it's all fair in love and politics. But if you want to get a look at the kind of place this behavior takes us to, take a trip over to merrie olde England, where the Web is being used to organize physical attacks against liberals, journalists, and antiracist activists.

As this disturbing report from Matthew Taylor at The Guardian explains, a white-supremacist site called Redwatch has been posting photographs and private contact information about various targets of its wrath -- particularly people who are critical of the far-right British National Party -- and thugs are then carrying out attacks on them:
The attack, which left the long-time union activist with serious injuries, was the latest and most violent incident in a campaign of intimidation that has been waged against opponents of the far right in the UK over the past five years. Like hundreds of people who have spoken out against the rise of the British National Party and other extremist groups, McFadden's picture and home address have been collected by far right activists and posted on a website called Redwatch.

The site, which has links with the neo-Nazi organisation Combat 18 and a host of European fascist organisations, is hosted in the US but registered and run from the UK. It lists the personal details and shows the photographs of anti-racists - many taken during protests against the British National Party - alongside the slogan: "Remember places, traitors' faces, they'll all pay for their crimes." This month a delegation of MPs and union activists will visit the Home Office to call for the site to be closed down. It is a familiar refrain and in the past officials have argued that because the site is hosted abroad, there is nothing they can do. However, Redwatch's sister site in Poland, which was also hosted in the US, was recently closed down after collaboration between authorities in the the two countries, and Home Office minister Vernon Coaker has agreed to champion the campaign within government.

Redwatch was launched in 2001 and takes its name from a Combat 18 newsletter produced in London in the 1990s. For the first few years it was just another online talking shop for hardline racists and fascists, offensive and unpleasant but apparently not dangerous. However, in April 2003, those behind the site signalled that Redwatch meant business. Leeds school teachers Sally Kincaid and Steve Johnson had been involved in local campaigns against the BNP and other far-right groups for years. Then their personal details appeared on Redwatch following a demonstration they had attended in the Pudsey area of the city. A couple of weeks later they suffered a fire-bomb attack at their home, which left their car burned out.

The incident was a turning point. Those featured on Redwatch were no longer being subjected to threats and harassment but to physical attacks. In the months that followed, journalists, politicians and local anti-racist activists were listed on the website. Among those targeted was Peter Lazenby, a journalist on the Yorkshire Evening Post, whose picture now adorns the front page of the site. He has been a long-time opponent of the far right, and has won awards for his reports on the BNP, which gained its first councillor in Leeds in May.

Especially disturbing is how difficult it's proven to bring Redwatch's activities to a halt, even as evidence mounted of a massive campaign to target a broad range of private citizens at their homes:
Six months after the attack on the Leeds schoolteachers, an investigation by the Guardian and Searchlight shed light on the true nature of Redwatch, uncovering a secret hitlist of targets, including social workers, journalists and politicians. Only a handful of known neo-Nazis had access to the secure email network that listed the names and addresses of targets as well as plans for attacks on anti-racists in their homes or during public meetings. One subscriber, who called himself Mole Intelligence Bureau, wrote: "Redwatch has accumulated many names and addresses, along with pictures of the targets, many of whom have had nothing done to them. Now's the time to start a proper campaign of violence and intimidation towards those who seek to see us silenced or imprisoned for our beliefs."

... The network listed dozens of people "for further research", including the divisional police commanders for Dewsbury and Huddersfield, the chief executive of Kirklees Council, the director of a West Yorkshire health authority and housing officers. For many anti-fascists this was final proof that Redwatch represented a serious threat. Known neo-Nazis with violent criminal pasts were planning to step up their campaign of intimidation and were planning attacks against specific targets. The evidence was passed to the then Home Secretary David Blunkett and officials declared that action was imminent. But after examining the details, the Home Office again said that because the site was hosted in the US there was little they could do - listing public information online is not a crime and the website is full of disclaimers.

Following an initial meeting in August with a delegation of MPs, trade unionists and anti-racists, Coaker agreed to champion the cause. According to Home Office officials, he is in discussion with senior police officers, and contact has also been made with the US authorities to see if it is possible to take joint action. That appeared to come a step closer recently when it emerged that a new legal opinion published in the US argues that the site is not protected under the first amendment. In a separate development, anti-racist campaigners say they have identified the main Redwatch organiser and have passed his details to the police.

Of course, this situation echoes the one I described taking place in the Flathead Valley of Montana a few years ago. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the same sort of problem cropped back up again recently when locals decided to protest the presence of their new neighborsthe "Prussian Blue" Gaede twins:
The flyers Kushner-Metteer and her neighbors passed out read "NO HATE HERE" on the front, with a letter on the back explaining the Gaedes' politics. Local media covered the event, and since then, Kushner-Metteer and other families say they have gotten a frightening response.

Postings by members of and, community sites for those who share beliefs similar to National Vanguard's, included addresses and phone numbers for Kushner-Metteer and others involved in passing out the flyers. The sites also posted a photograph of a mother and her daughter, published by the Daily Inter Lake, as they distributed the flyers.

The information posted for Kushner-Metteer, though, is wrong. It turns out to be that of an elderly couple living in Kalispell whose last name happens to be Metteer. That couple, according Kalispell Police Chief Frank Garner, has received threatening letters and phone calls meant for Kushner-Metteer.

Kushner-Metteer says police shared one letter with her that reads, "Red-blooded, white, American men are going to come to your door and make you regret what you’ve done."

"We're very concerned about our safety," says Kushner-Metteer.

If I recall correctly, "red-blooded American men" were often described as comprising lynch mobs during their heyday. You've got wonder if we're creating a whole new generation of them.

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