HBO exposes hate groups in cyberspace

After the dragging death of Texan James Byrd, his sister decided that he would not die in vain. She set out to discover what could have nurtured the hate that killed her brother.

She found it on the Internet. "Prior to the death of my brother," Clara Byrd-Taylor says, "I had very little knowledge about hate sites and what was happening with the hate groups around the world. I had heard of isolated incidents, but I had not put all those things together."

" Extremists on the Internet," a new documentary from HBO (Oct. 23, 10-10:45 p.m.), shows the reach and impact of hate peddlers using the latest technology to target and recruit younger audiences.

"If [the] Oklahoma City [bombing] was a wake-up call on domestic terrorism," says Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center and narrator of the special, "this show would be a wake-up call to Americans about a virtually unknown kind of media that is targeting and reaching millions of very impressionable kids.

"I think parents and schools and educators and people in our community, in all walks of life, should understand the problem first, and then respond."

The program presents a chilling picture: a network of more than 350 hate sites preaching a gospel of neo-Nazi and white-supremacist propaganda, including sites that target women and children. One of the main messages of the HBO special is that while incidents such as the dragging death of James Byrd may seem infrequent and isolated, in fact they are not.

"The reality of the situation we face," says Kenneth Moore, an FBI supervisory special agent in the Hate Crimes Unit, "is that in 1998, the most recent year that statistics are available, there were over 7,755 hate-crime incidents reported to the FBI."

The filmmakers make the point that battling hate goes beyond the prevention of extreme incidents. "It also deals with the climate of intolerance in America," narrator Dees says. "Hate crimes that come out of hate Web sites are probably small compared with the overall bad feelings and divisiveness that it can have in our communities and our schools."

In conjunction with the film, HBO is sponsoring a cybercampaign, "Hate Hurts," featuring testimonies about the impact of hate and offering solutions for individuals and communities.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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